The Day She Died – Catriona McPherson

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Long time followers of this blog will recall me reviewing Dandy Gilver And The Case Of Red Herrings, which, to my surprise, I totally adored. This book’s by the same author, but is a very different beast – for starters, it’s set in the present day, and rather than being a “cosy”, like the Dandy Gilver series, it’s a psychological novel-cum-thriller (the word thriller to me suggests guns; car chases; stuff like that, and that’s not what this book’s about – it’s a thriller about the dark recesses of the mind…so just my cup of tea! )

Jessie is our main character and heroine, telling the story from a distinctive and amusing first person narrative. She works in Dumfries, a large town in the south of Scotland, in a church-run charity which gives clothing to those in need. It’s not a charity shop; items are free, but you have to be referred by Social Work, a church, a homeless charity, etc. Jessie’s the only paid staff member, and the boss. The other two are volunteers: Dot, who’s a wee bit older, gets paperwork – and a lot of other things – mixed up easily, but is kind, and easy company. And Steve (“who’s taken every Social Science course the Open University ever invented”) and tells the women off for being inappropriate or unprofessional at any opportunity – while he “nicks the stock if he sees anything he fancies.” Meanwhile, Jessie has a closely guarded secret – she suffers from chronic pterenophobia (brownie points if you know what it is without Googling it, although the story does get to it!) It’s fear of feathers, which, on first consideration, doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Just stay away from birds, hens, etc. Simple. But they also pop up in mattresses, and of course in quilts and pillows…Or on beaches. And in lots of films…

Jessie’s a sympathetic character. She’s lonely, and more than a little naive. All she wants is a happy family: a nice husband, a couple of kids, a place to call home with them. Her own childhood was horrendous: she was brought up in a highly-religious household, and the scriptures were drummed into her, to the extent that she still knows them all. However, she now has a new, highly amusing spin on the Bible… There was corporal punishment, but it went way beyond what was acceptable in the 70s, and was closely tied to the religious fervour that gripped Jessie’s mother – and which eventually drove Mr Constable away, although for propriety’s sake, Mrs Constable pretends to be a widow.

On her way back from work one day, Jessie pops into M&S Food Hall. In there, she sees a man she knows she’s seen on four occasions in town (so he obviously made an impression!) “When I recognised him, my throat got a sudden lump in it, like the thing people call their heart leaping. It’s hard to say why. I mean, he’s tall and broad, but he’s got that kind of sandpapery skin that sometimes goes with red hair. Except not as bad as that sounds.” (It sounds pretty bad to me, but hey, different strokes…) Yet he doesn’t appear to recognise her at all.

This guy’s obviously having a bad day. He’s arguing on the phone to a “Becky”: “Becky, for Christ’s sake.”; “Its not forever, Becks. It’ll stop again.” When Jessie comes round the aisle, he’s sitting, slumped, on a low shelf, head-in-hands. Being an inveterate interferer, Jessie stops to check he’s ok, and he tells her, “She’s gone…She’s left me…My wife.” He’s smashed his phone, is in a terrible state, and so Jessie, ever the Good Samaritan, offers to finish off his shopping, then drive him home.

It turns out, though, that home is not in town – where there’s high drama, with a big police operation involving divers searching the River Nith – or anywhere near. It’s out in the Galloway countryside – “Can’t fling a stick without hitting an artist’s studio, or a cheese-makers’ commune, or a stone barn that’s been turned into a theatre” is Jessie’s take on the area. By the time they arrive at the seaside cottage, they’ve been driving for 50 minutes – lot longer than you expect any helpful bystander to drive you home. And they’re in his car, so Jessie’s basically stuck in the middle of nowhere. Plus, there’s a surprise waiting for them at Stockman’s Cottage. Becky’s car is missing – perhaps she has left. But the real surprise is inside – 2-year-old Dillon, left on his own, with a filthy nappy. “She left him…She locked him in and left him…How long?” asks his dad.

Looking round the untidy, but cosy, bedroom, Jessie spots a note, propped up so it’s easily seen, “I’m sorry. can’t go through it again. I can’t go on.”

He calls the police, but only at Jessie’s urging – and finally introduces himself to her, as Gus King. He gives the details of Becky’s car, mentions the note, and gives his address. Once off the phone, he fills Jessie in on Becky’s note’s meaning – she’d suffered from severe post-natal depression with both children, worse each time, and that morning found out she was pregnant again. Hence the, “can’t go through it again” bit. As he starts preparing something for the kids to eat, the police arrive. “I phoned Castle Douglas,” said Gus. “How did you get here so fast?” In the kitchen, Jessie “felt it right through my feet and up to my teeth when Gus King heard the news and hit the floor.”

Becky had driven her car right off a cliff into a body of water, in a presumed suicide attempt. The cop see the suicide note, they ask Gus to accompany them, and Jessie is left alone with Ruby and Dillon. When he returns, with the police, the cops make it clear that Jessie should stay in the meantime to take care of the family. So she’s stuck, in Nowheresville, looking after the kids of a man she only knows by sight.

Jessie does her best, looking after the children, although she’s not used to it. She also comforts the bereaved husband – yes, you guessed it, like that. They get into a routine. She uses his car to get in and out to work, and on her days off he deals with all the officialdom a death brings. Very soon, Jessie is imagining a “happy ever after” with her own ready-made family. She quickly falls in love with the kids – but Gus is odd. He twists things she says, making it sound like she suggested something, when in fact he did, then gets narky when she doesn’t acquiesce – mind games, leaving Jessie doubting herself. He also claims to be a “sculptor”, describing previous works of art that had sold for a lot of money. He shows her one piece, but keeps his “studio” locked, and warns her that no-one is allowed in. There’s also the mystery of a Polish man who keeps appearing, desperately trying to ask Jessie about something, but his English is so bad she can’t understand him. However, his fear of Gus needs no translation. Becky’s best friend Ros, a Polish girl, has also disappeared – gone home, says Gus. No way, says the Polish guy. Steve has a different view – he thinks Becky may have killed herself as Ros was her lover, and left. “Practically everybody was gay in Steve’s world, but nobody was just getting on with it. Everyone was sublimating and repressing and suffering. Everyone from Billy Bunter to Jimmie Krankie. Anne of Green Gables and Henry the Eighth. Everyone you could think of – except, of course, Steve, who was just interested in the subject in an objective way. And was single. And hung out with a load of women in a clothes shop all day” – it’s passages like these that make Jessie so witty and likeable. But oh dear, so gullible…

It’s clear to anyone reading this book that Gus is dodgy. But to what extent? Is Jessie just a convenient babysitter-cum-sexual partner, or is he planning on being with her for the long haul? Or something else? Are these odd arguments about who said what when, and the flashes of temper she thinks she sometimes sees in his eyes, just one of his quirks? Or, as she sometimes senses, is there something much darker about Gus?

Well, I’m giving no clues about the depths of Gus’s “oddness”; that’s for other readers to find out…but I’ll just say it’s pretty damn deep, and will keep you turning pages to find out just what he’s done, and what he has planned next. Jessie, however, is a joy of a character – original, spirited, very very funny, and refusing to let the crappy hand life’s dealt her beat her down. Catriona McPherson is fantastic at writing the Scottish female working class voice – her only rival, that I’ve read, is Denise Mina. This book reminded me slightly of a modern version of a Margaret Millar -so you’ll know that, psychologically, you’re in for a treat. Do investigate Catriona McPherson – in my humble opinion, she’s criminally under-rated and deserves to be a lot better known!

Huge thanks to Midnight Ink Books for giving me a copy of The Day She Died to read and review, in exchange for my honest opinion. I should also mention this book was nominated for Best Paperback Original in the 2015 Edgar Awards.

So do you fancy giving The Day She Died, or any other Catriona McPherson books a go? And who would you say are your favourite writers of “psychological thrillers”? I know there are a lot of quality candidates out there, so let’s hear who you rate!

Touched – Joanna Briscoe

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This book is now out in paperback, so I thought I’d republish my review of it from last year. It’s the latest in the series of novellas by established authors under the name of the now-rejuvenated Hammer horror brand. I’m not sure if books featured in the brand’s previous reincarnation, being a little too young, but films and tv films certainly did – one, The House That Bled To Death, haunted my nightmares for years!

Joanna Briscoe is the latest to release a title, following in the footsteps of Helen Dunmore, Jeanette Winterson, Julie Myerson, and Sophie Hannah. I vaguely recall reading Joanna’s novel Sleep With Me, and really enjoying it. Hers is the story of the Crale family, set in 1963, who have recently moved to the picturesque village of Crowsely Beck. Creating a house large enough for the whole family – parents Douglas and Rowena; teenage twins Jennifer and Rosemary; then the eccentric Evangeline; Bobby, a toddler; and Caroline the baby – means making a difficult decision. Douglas’ mother, also Evangeline, is no longer safe living alone, so they make the decision to send her to her god-daughter, who runs a boarding house, in Scotland. As No. 2 has been purchased by the Crales, they intend to knock through to No. 3, Granmamma’s old home. This plan is met with anger by Evangeline, known as Eva, who shrieks at them for “stealing Grandmamma’s house”. She insists on dressing in her gran’s old, Victorian style clothes, and disappears for hours on end with her imaginary friend, Freddie.

For the renovations, Douglas has engaged a local builder, Pollard. He lives in a nearby dilapidated farm with dozens of outbuildings, with his childminder wife. He immediately strikes up a rapport with the three older girls, inviting them to visit his sprawling farm and see his wife’s charges.

However his building work is less successful. The wall adjoining the two cottages, doesn’t seem to want to come down. There are strange smells, and puddles of damp. Wife Rowena feels ill, and increasingly finds herself avoiding the old Mrs Crale’s side of the house whenever possible. Bobby,who sleeps there, talks of people laughing and talking. And where is Eva? She’s always wandered, and made her own fun, but she’s barely been seen for days. Then another of her daughters disappear, and Rowena asks herself, should they have been so eager to take her mother-in-law’s home?

I really enjoyed this book – as well as the main characters which I’ve mentioned, there’s a number of minor characters who add substance to the story – or should that be stories? Because, as well as the spooky happenings in the house, there’s plenty more going on in Crowsely Beck. Nothing is wrapped up tidily, but reveal any more and I’ll be a spoiler.

I’ll say no more, other than recommend this book very highly. If, like me, you enjoy the odd ghost story, mixed in with mystery, then this is for you. It rattles along, and would be perfect for a wet Sunday afternoon – or a windy night! (Although I’m praying they’ll be absent for a bit!)

Many thanks for the review galley from Random House UK, Cornerstone in exchange for an honest review.

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

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I’m not going to mess around here – I loved this book! Sinead Crowley, author of the super Can Anybody Help Me?, commented to the author on Twitter that, of all the books being bandied about as “the next Gone Girl”, this came closest. And she was absolutely right. But more on that later…

The book begins in an airport lounge in London Heathrow, where two people whose flight to Boston is delayed, strike up a conversation. One is Lily, a striking redhead, and the other is Ted, who’s looking for a sympathetic ear. In one of these bizarrely open “I’m never going to see this person again anyway” conversations, fuelled by a few martinis, Ted confides in the delectable Lily that his wife of three years, Miranda, is cheating on him with Brad, the man they’d hired to build their large new holiday home on the Maine coast. Ted’s a wealthy man, through clever investments in internet start-ups – in fact, he’s so wealthy he’d never need to work again, if he so desired. When they met, Miranda was some kind of artist, but not successful and certainly not at all wealthy. So she certainly landed on her feet with Ted. He tells Lily that, even if he divorces Miranda, she’d still walk away with a lot of money, prenup notwithstanding. The thought of this, not surprisingly, makes Ted really angry. We get a clue to the similarities in the two characters in one short passage:

‘[She] closed her book…The Two Faces Of January. By Patricia Highsmith.
“How’s your book?”
“Not one of her best.”…
“What are you reading?” she asked.
“The newspaper. I don’t really like books.”
“So what do you do on flights?”
“Drink gin. Plot murders.”
“Interesting.” She smiled at me, the first I’d seen.’

By the time their flight calls, Ted has told Lily how he found out about Brad and Miranda, including all the (very sordid) details, and tells her, “What I really want to do is kill her.” Most people would laugh, thinking it’s just one of these exaggerated things people says when they’ve had one too many. But Lily is not most people. She responds, “I think you should.” From that moment on, they embark on what they think is a foolproof plan to dispense with Miranda, fuelled mostly, it must be said, by Lily’s careful planning. One might even wonder if she had experience in these sort of things! We also, in various flashback chapters, learn more about Lily’s background and childhood. But of course, what we really want to know is, why would Lily risk everything by helping a total stranger murder his wife?

Of course, we all know about, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”, and the fact that they rarely turn out as anticipated…and that is of course the case with this book. Add in a totally unexpected twist at a totally unexpected point in the novel (à la Gone Girl), a rather smart policeman called Henry Kimball, characters all trying to think several moves ahead of each other in a game that could best be described as a murderous version of chess, and you have the recipe for what could easily be described as Thriller Of The Year (so far, at least.) It has, as many reviewers have mentioned, shades of Hitchcock, as well as Patricia Highsmith (note the nod, early on, to her Two Faces Of January), as the plot is, initially at least, a modern-day version of Strangers On A Train. In the parts which feature Lily as a teenager, the Agatha Christies she’s reading are cited.

Not surprisingly, the film rights to this have already been snapped up (it’s original title was The Lonely Lives Of Murderers, which I must confess to rather liking – it’s very noir.) For fun, on Twitter I asked Peter Swanson who would be his “dream team” cast in the film. He chose Amy Adams as Lily; Michael Fassbender as Ted; Jennifer Lawrence as Miranda; and Chris Pratt as Brad (I do hope he doesn’t mind me quoting his answer here!)

In case you’re wondering where this title originated from, here’s a bit of philosophy from Lily: “I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, sounds like the kind worth killing.”

Because so much of this plot is dependent on unexpected twists, there’s very little I can add to my review. As soon as I can, I’ll be getting a copy of Swanson’s debut thriller, The Girl With A Clock For A Heart. But as for the rest of you, I’ll leave you with three little words: READ THIS BOOK!

Reviews can also be found at CleopatraLovesBooks and northerncrime (click to link to them.)

A resounding 5 out of 5

With thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, Faber & Faber, for allowing me access to an early digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Good Girls Don’t Die – Isabelle Grey

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DS Grace Fisher has moved from Kent Police to Essex, hounded out of her old job after informing on a dealer who happened to be supplying steroids to a dangerously erratic member of her team. She has also split from her husband, who was a close friend of the officer, and who brutally assaulted Grace. None of the rest of her team stick up for her – she is bullied, cold shouldered, and made to feel as though SHE is the criminal. So she makes a fresh start, demoted to a DC, with the Major Investigation Team in Colchester, starting the job just as a university student, Polly Sinclair, is reported missing after a night out to celebrate the end of her exams. She appears to have vanished without trace.

A couple of days later, the body of a young woman is discovered. However, it isn’t Polly – it’s Rachel Moston, a law student at the same university. There has been no attempt made to conceal her body – on the contrary, it is laid out close to the town centre, on a piece of waste ground. She is intimately posed with a bottle, but, conversely, has a jacket tucked under her head like a pillow – as though the killer wanted to ensure she was comfortable.

With no sign of Polly yet, the team concentrate on finding links between the two girls, which proves easier than you’d imagine. For one, they shared the same landlord, Polish builder Pawel Zawodny. Also, the man Polly went home with on the Thursday night – the night previous to when she disappeared – happened to be a law lecturer, Dr Matt Beeston, and Rachel was one of his students. The university is more interested in saving their own reputation than helping the police investigation, but rumours soon reach the police that Dr Beeston was a bit of a “player” – with students! But is he a murderer? Pawel Zawodny is also of interest, particularly when it emerges he has his own boat – but apart from this, he appears to be nothing more than he claims to be: a hard-working builder, in the UK to make his fortune, then sell up and go home to his family with plenty of cash.

Meanwhile, Grace, feeling somewhat lonely in her new posting, meets up with an old university friend, Roxanne Carson, who just happens to work for the local paper. To be honest, I thought this was incredibly naive of Grace – bearing in mind what happened in Kent, I would’ve thought she’d have done everything by the book – and that certainly doesn’t include fraternising with newspaper reporters! Roxanne is also befriended by Ivo Sweatman, an old-fashioned Fleet Street hack. Seeing Roxanne’s ambition, he uses that to his advantage, getting her to use her local knowledge to flesh out his stories by promising her shifts on his national newspaper, the Courier. Ivo also has a history with the SIO, DSI Keith Stalgood, from Stalgood’s days with the Met – and through the AA. They have a difficult relationship – they may not particularly like each other, but realise that they can be useful to, and sometimes need each other. I really did enjoy Ivo’s character; he was probably my favourite in the novel – he came across as the archetypal old-school reporter, with a fondness for too much alcohol and a string of broken marriages, but underneath it all he has more of a heart than he cares to admit…

With very little progress being seen to be made in the investigation, a Murder Review Team is brought in from another force to ensure that all that could have been done, had been done, and no leads had been missed. Grace is gutted to see that one of the Review Team members is DCI Colin Pitman – her old boss at Maidstone. Will she have any chance of her theories being listened to now?

Then a bittersweet celebration to mark missing Polly’s 21st is held in a local park. It’s to ensure to ensure she isn’t forgotten, and is one of those public displays of grief that have become so prevalent since the death of Diana, and absolute grist for the red-top mill. Incredibly, despite the huge crowds and large police presence, another young woman is murdered at the gathering…It appears the murderer is running rings around the police…

Grace Fisher is a welcome new character in the police procedural market. She’s tough, but not too tough, like some female detectives – with Grace, it’s more because she’s learnt she has to be, through being too trusting in the past (e.g. the ex-husband – who we actually meet in this book!) Despite a tentative, somewhat unsure start – due to jungle drums in the police network, doubtless – her partner DS Lance Cooper proves he could become a loyal friend and work partner…but that’s something we’ll discover in the next book. One minor quibble – I could well be wrong here, but Grace left Kent Police, then applied – and was accepted for – a job in Essex Police. I always assumed you were either in the police, or not. Also, seasoned crime fiction readers will soon identify the real culprit – but it’s a great journey while we catch him! A bit of psychology is involved too, which is something I always enjoy. The lovely Isabelle Grey assured me on Twitter a couple of days ago that, “More Grace Fisher is on the way,” so I’ll be holding her to that (not in a threatening manner, honestly!), and hopefully we don’t have too long to wait. If you fancy a good, solid police procedural (which bodes well for more books featuring Grace Fisher) then you could do a lot worse than check out Good Girls Don’t Die.

Cleo also reviewed this really well, as ever, at CleopatraLovesBooks here.

4 out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, Quercus, for allowing me access to an ARC of this, in return for my honest opinion.

Have you read Good Girls Don’t Die, or any of Isabelle Grey’s other books? Or do you like the sound of it? Can you cope with another series with a female detective, or is the genre getting crowded? (In my opinion, the cream will always rise to the top – like this book.) All coments – on anything book-related – are welcome below!

Top Ten Non-Fiction Favourites

I saw this while blog-hopping on Tuesday, and the theme of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is non-fiction books. So, somewhat late, but without any further ado, here’s my favourite non-fiction titles, in order of preference – well, today, anyway!

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1. The Hare With Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal. I utterly adored this book. It made me wish I lived in Vienna at the turn of the century, and want to visit Odessa. Most of all, it made me want a netsuke collection. It’s the unbelievable, beautifully written story of a family’s history, told via the travels of the netsuke collection owned by the author’s ancestor, which the family, incredibly, managed to keep intact, through wars and international moves.

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2. The Missing – Andrew O’Hagan. This book was written in the immediate wake of the discovery of bodies at the home of Fred and Rose West in Gloucester. O’Hagan was particularly disturbed that some of the victims had never even been reported missing. The book investigates the myriad ways people can go missing, both voluntary and – mostly – involuntary. He reflects on a small boy who disappeared where he lived when he was a child just a few years older – it’s still unsolved, with no body, no suspects, nothing. At one point he visits the family of a boy, Lee Boxell, who went missing on his way to a football match. His room is untouched. They’ve had various alleged sightings of him over the years, all well-meaning, but ultimately false. There’s one part where Lee’s father talks of seeing a boy they’d been told looked like he could be Lee. His father went to the market stall in Brixton where the young man worked, “This boy was so like him…I was beginning to think maybe I should ask him to come and live with us; he was so like him. Just come here and be our son.” This part always makes me cry.

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3. Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil – John Berendt. This is ostensibly the story of an investigation into a murder in Savennah, Georgia, but it’s so much more. It’s a travelogue, and also a tale of all the bizarre people Berendt meets throughout his investigation. For some reason, I always think of Kevin Spacey’s House Of Cards voice reading the book to me (and for all I know, that’s totally the wrong accent!) Languid as a Southern summer, it’ll have you booking a holiday there and singing Johnny Mercer songs before you know it.

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4. The Kid Stays In The Picture – Robert Evans. Film producer, playboy, husband to seven women (including Ali McGraw, who famously left him and their son for Steve McQueen) – one of the last of “Old Hollywood” dishes the gossip in this autobiography. He started of as an actor, picked out because of his good looks (a bad one, he admits!) before going into production, working on The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and Love Story. He’s a funny and self-deprecating writer, and, now 84, can often be found on Quora, answering film-related questions.

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5. Justice: Crime, Trials And Punishment – Dominick Dunne. A notorious high-society gossip, Dunne’s job as columnist for Vanity Fair covering high-profile trials meant he got information from the most widespread sources, from waiters to aristocrats; nurses to lawyers. After the murder of his beloved daughter Dominique by her abusive ex-partner, he was voiciferous in his belief for more support and rights for victims’ families. He was also crucial to the re-opening of the murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, who was murdered by her neighbour Michael Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedys, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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6. Courtesans – Katie Hickman. This is a fantastic book, about women who might have been regarded by other women as mere prostitutes. However, they were so much more. They were fashion icons and musicians; well-read and intelligent; and ran their own households, managing their own money, at a time when all women’s possessions became their husbands upon marriage. They held salons, and, yes, they slept with rich and powerful men, who would pay their bills, and buy them the latest dresses and hats, and the best jewellery. It’s a few years since I’ve read this, but it’s definitely time for a re-read. Fascinating stories about five different courtesans.

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7. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – Peter Biskind. An encyclopedic account of the film industry in the 1970s, this is manna for anyone who enjoys gossip about film-making, and top directors and actors. From the hell that the filming of Apocalypse Now descended into, to the havoc that cocaine wrought on Hollywood, this book details the making of all the big films of the 70s – the last time directors called the shots, as opposed to the studio system – and the last time truly original films were made on a regular basis.

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8. Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey. The story of the bizarre, feuding Fitzwilliam family, and their ancestral home, Wentworth House, which has 365 rooms, and is the biggest house in the UK. The family fortune came from coal, and a brief history of the coal industry is interspersed with tales of court cases, accusations of illegitimacy, and the burning of all the family documents in 1972, in an attempt to hide the scandals that Bailey nevertheless uncovered. A corker of a read for those interested in Edwardian history, and the end of the reign of the aristocrats.

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9. Joe Cinque’s Consolation – Helen Garner. I’m going to review this soon, but, in short, it is the Australian story of a bright, attractive law student, Anu Singh, and her friend, Madhavi Rao, who bought rohypnol and heroin, and murdered Anu’s boyfriend, Joe Cinque – who took an agonising weekend to die. She had told several of her friends of her intention to murder Joe, and even invited them all to a farewell dinner party. The innocent victim, however, was oblivious to her plans, and, incredibly, no one, despite them all being law students, contacted the authorities.

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10. The Invention Of Murder – Judith Flanders. This is a hefty, scholarly tome about how murder first became newsworthy in Victorian times, and also went on to be referred to in popular song, sketches and theatre. It tells the background story of many of the most infamous murders of the times – the most interesting part for me – and then their impact on the popular culture of the time. It demonstrates that our fascination with gruesome crimes is far from a recent development.

I was going to add the titles of the “also-rans” – the ones that almost made it, and probably would have on another day, with me in a different mood…But I decided that could be kept for another post, on another day.

Instead, I’m asking you: what non-fiction reads would you recommend?

Silent Scream – Angela Marsons

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Last year, it was Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin. This year, the debut crime novel that’s got all crime fiction fans chattering is Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream. Like Hilary, the main surprise is the fact that this is a debut novel; they both read like they come from the pen of seasoned crime writers. This is Bookouture’s first foray into crime, and they’ve unearthed a corker of an author, who if my memory serves me correctly, they’ve wisely tied up in a four book deal.

I’m assuming it’ll be a series featuring DI Kim Stone, which would be fantastic. Kim’s a complex character – her closest, indeed only friend, is DS Bryant (whose first name, as far as I can ascertain, we never learn.) Having grown up in care after her (possibly schizophrenic) mother left her and her twin brother Mikey to die in horrendous circumstances (which Mikey did), she decided to never let anyone close. When a couple who wanted to adopt her when she was around 12 were killed in a car accident, Kim’s wall came down again – this time seemingly for good. She spends her time rebuilding motorcycles, and listening to classical music – but most of the time, she works.

This case must have triggered harrowing memories for Kim. It begins with the death of a private school principal, Teresa Wyatt, by drowning – and not naturally. Then a recovering alcoholic, Tom Curtis, finds a bottle of expensive malt on his kitchen table. He knows another drink will kill him, but can’t resist. However, before he can finish it, his throat is cut. Investigations into the victims’ pasts reveal a link – they both worked at the same time at Crestwood House, which was a home for particularly troubled girls in the care system, until it was gutted by fire in 2004. These murders are taking place just when local archaeologist Professor Milton has been given the go-ahead to excavate the grounds, in the hope of finding valuable coins. There have been objections launched by a local lawyer’s firm, and, before she died, Teresa Wyatt, the school principal had contacted Professor Milton. But then his dog was poisoned, and, terrified, he went into hiding. Someone clearly doesn’t want any digging to be done in the grounds of Crestwood House – which makes Kim and her team, which also comprises DC Stacey Wood and DS Kevin Dawson, all the more determined to unearth the secret that someone is prepared to kill to keep…The Prof, plus Cerys Hughes, an archaeologist and forensic scientist, and Dr David Matthews, are brought in to see what exactly someone will kill to keep hidden, plus forensic pathologist Dr Daniel Bate arrives to examine the bones they find (from the prologue, we know a body was buried, and that five people were involved in the burial, so that’s not a spoiler!) A few sparks fly between Kim and Dr Bate – a possible love interest for her in future books? (If she’ll allow him to get close…!) Kim and Bryant go to work tracking down other ex-staff members who may be in danger, but also who may be able to shed light on why former staff are being targeted – and, needless to say, who just might be suspects themselves. Stacey’s job is to find any of the residents from back then, who may recall something crucial. She locates Nicola Adamson, an “exotic dancer” who lives well from her earnings in an upmarket “gentleman’s club”, and she does her best to help with figuring out who may be buried in the grounds. Her twin sister, Beth, though, later appears at the station, and is decidedly unhelpful, telling Kim to keep her sister out of the investigation – which only piques Kim’s interest more. Why would one twin sister object to aiding the enquiry, when the other is doing her best to help?

Needless to say, there are more murders, as well as attempts at murder, and Kim and her team realise they are in a race against a very determined – and it must be said, very lucky – killer…No-one appears to see them coming and going. They could be a ghost for all the traces they leave behind…

It’ll be interesting to discover in the next book in the series if Kim is always this driven, or if it’s because this particular case holds a personal interest. She remembers being a child in care: “She knew the pain of these girls’ past. Not one of them had woken up and chosen the future mapped out for them. Their behaviour could not be traced back to an absolute year, month, day and time. It was a progressive journey of peaks and troughs until circumstances eventually stifled hope.

“It was never the big things. Kim remembered only ever being called ‘child’. All of them had been called ‘child’ so the staff didn’t have to remember their names.”

And regarding the case: “Kim would not fail these girls because damn it, they mattered to someone. They bloody well mattered to her.”

The end of the book, as expected, surprises – I wasn’t sure “whodunit”, so cleverly did Marsons leave the possibilities open. There’s also plenty of drama and danger, when Kim, true to nature, heads off to do some solo investigation. Then, just when you’re satisfied you know what happened, Marsons throws another curve ball. And true to crime fiction “rules”, the clues are peppered throughout the book.

Kim, her team, and DCI “Woody” Woodward, her boss, are interesting characters, with potential for further “fleshing out”. They have their little quirks – like Woody’s need for a stress ball whenever Kim is in his office, and his hobby of building model cars. He clearly knows Kim’s driven, but also is aware she occasionally goes off piste – but, as she gets results, he’s willing to protect her, to a certain extent, from those above, the paper-pushers and the budget-conscious. Kim also has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way, with her abrasive, straight-to-the-point interview style, and has no truck with handling well-connected members of society with kid gloves. This investigation includes a politically and legally well-connected local family who may hold part of the key to this case, but, with Woody’s support, Kim has no qualms about treating them like everyone else, much to their chagrin.

The next book in the series is called Evil Games, and my advice would be to catch up with DI Kim Stone and her team before it comes out. As it’s currently 99p on Amazon Kindle, you’ve no excuses. It’s probably the best book bargain you’ll get this year!

4.5 out of 5

With thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for allowing me access to an early ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Night Hunter – Caro Ramsay

I’m a big fan of Caro Ramsay. I’ve read all her Anderson and Costello series, bar one, although this is only the fifth. One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is that Argyll, the county where I live, is always mentioned in them, and it’s not an area that features hugely in the crime genre (although I’d love to fix that! Just to clarify – not by committing murders, but by writing about them!) This one is a little bit different, in that DCI Anderson and DS Costello, usually the main characters, take a bit of a back seat, and the main character in this investigation is Elvira “Elvie” McCulloch. We see the police investigation from her viewpoint, and that of ex-DCI Billy Hopkirk, who joins her investigation as there appears to be parallels to a case he has agreed to take on in his new career as a private investigator.

Elvie’s investigation is into the disappearance of her sister, Sophie. She never returned from a run, which is the same way the girl Billy is investigating, Gillian Porter, disappeared. Elvie takes a year’s deferment from her degree in medicine, determined to find her sister. In the meantime, she takes a job working in the remote luxury home of Alex Parnell, ostensibly as a nanny for his son Charlie, but it’s clear she’s really there as Alex’s eyes and ears, to keep an eye on his wife Mary, who is basically a prisoner in Ardno (which appears to be close to Lochgoilhead.) As Alex’s girlfriend before Mary, Natalie (who was also Mary’s best friend), was murdered, he claims to be paranoid about losing another woman close to him. Also, as a successful builder/owner of a security company, who moves in somewhat dodgy circles, his fears of his wife or son being kidnapped seem realistic, if a bit over-the-top. But Elvie soon realises this is an abusive marriage, with Mary barely allowed room to breathe (she’s quizzed on car mileage anomalies, for example.)

On the way back to Ardno one night, at the lights at the Rest And Be Thankful, a road that’s prone to landslides, Elvie sees a panicking car driver, with the body of an emaciated girl on his bonnet. He claims the girl basically fell out of the sky, over the clifftop above. Elvie is unable to save the girl. Furthermore, she recognises her as Lorna Lennox, from the police showing her her photograph – as she also disappeared while out running. But the big question is – where did she come from? All that’s nearby is hundreds of square miles of moorland. Has she escaped from captivity – from the same place where Sophie, Gillian, and possibly other girls, are perhaps being imprisoned? They search all crofts and households in the area, with no luck. Later, another woman disappears, but the MO is slightly different to that of The Night Hunter – has he got more audacious, or could this be a copycat crime?

If this wasn’t enough for Elvie to deal with, her family are about as dysfunctional as they come, despite living in Eaglesham (which is one of those areas where people answer with an impressed, “Oooh!” if you say you live there, like Kilmacolm and Thortonhall.) Her mother is basically drinking herself into oblivion; her brother Grant, who has always had mental health issues, is bereft at the loss of the sister to whom he was closest; and Rod, their stepfather, is burying himself in a social media campaign designed to find Sophie. Eric, their longtime neighbour and friend, is trying to give the family as much support as he can – including finding Elvie her job with Alex Parnell, who is a friend of his from way back. A quote from Elvie, when she reluctantly eats at home, “And so I go slowly downstairs for another meal for badly cooked pasta with a huge side portion of angst for dessert.”

There’s loads more going on in this book, which is plotted to within an inch of it’s life (that’s a compliment, in case you’re wondering!) The “bad guy” isn’t hard to spot for seasoned crime fiction readers, but there is SO much more to this book than that. His crimes are seriously creepy and total nightmare material – I’ve read plenty of gruesome books, with sick perpetrators, but The Night Hunter’s up there with the very worst. Elvie, though, is a perfect heroine; one of my favourites ever – ballsy, smart, fearless, never giving up, fit – she’s a runner too. She and Billy have an amusing love/hate relationship, but work brilliantly as a team. I had a slight minor niggle, when Elvie (and Billy, who’s an ex-copper) were allowed to sit in on police discussions about the investigation, even as new relevations came in. But, hey, sometimes you have to just roll with things like that, for plot purposes.

Ramsay is very observant, particularly regarding Glasgow, which she clearly knows well: “It is a typical semi-detached house in Pollok near where they took down the old psych hospital. It’s the kind of place that looks posher than it is. Everything is a bit too small, everybody has their driveway at the expense of a front garden.” And, from Alex Parnell to Elvie, regarding his obsessive “protection” of his family: “You’re…nice; you’ve grown up in a nice world. Nice detached house in Eaglesham with your mum and dad, your sister, your brother, the family Volvo, the university. This little piggy went to law school, this little piggy went into medicine. Mary was cosseted, protected from the evils of the world. She sees it as a nice place and she’s wrong. The security, the anonymity you take for granted I have to buy. [Charlie and Mary] are something of value.” Meaning to other people, as leverage against Parnell, and, perhaps, his money.

If you enjoy clever, well-plotted, fast-moving crime thrillers (and who doesn’t?) the you’ll love The Night Hunter, especially if you have a weakness for “tartan noir”. As per usual, I stayed up to a ridiculous time reading it. Despite being labelled an Anderson and Costello thriller, they are very much of secondary importance in this novel. This is definitely Elvie, and Billy’s, story, and can be enjoyed as a standalone. I loved it – and I’d love to see more of Elvie!

4.5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for an ARC of this book, in return for my unbiased opinion.

Have you read any of Caro Ramsay’s books? Or any other “tartan noir” authors? If so, who are your favourites – I’d love to hear your recommendations!