The Red Road – Denise Mina @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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BLURB: Power, abuse, love gone horribly wrong – and a crime that stretches back two decades…

A girl who has seen more darkness than most.

A Scottish lawyer waiting to be killed.

A fingerprint discovered at a murder scene, from a man who couldn’t possibly have been there.

As DI Alex Morrow investigates the death of a young businessman, she uncovers a vicious network of power and corruption that reaches back to Glasgow on the night Princess Diana died. And to a fourteen-year-old girl sat in a car with a dead body, the murder weapon still in her hand.

I found this book really compelling, especially given the main subject matter – the dreadful prospects for children brought up in care. It encompasses a 20-year conspiracy and demonstrates how much power some people wield.

When Rose Wilson, whose been dealt a rotten deck in life – witnessing her mother’s murder; her five younger siblings, separated and adopted; herself living in a children’s home at 14 – is shown the slightest bit of affection, she clings to it. “Sammy the Perv” befriends her and is soon pimping her out at parties to older and powerful men. When Rose stabs him to death, on the night Diana died (a night everyone remembers where they were) she calmly waits for the cops. She’s assigned a lawyer, Julius McMillan, who promises her he’ll get her off with as light a sentence as possible, that he’ll visit, and be waiting for when she’s released. He keeps his word, giving her the job of nanny to his son’s three children, his daughter-in-law Francine being unwell – but is he being truly altruistic? Or does he too see something in Rose that could be useful?

Fast forward 20 years and DI Alex Morrow is wrapping up a case involving Michael Brown, an unpleasant guy who was sentenced to life for murdering his brother Michael (“Pinkie” – on whom Rose had a crush) – coincidentally, also the night Diana died. They too were care home kids, and knew Rose, who lived in another home close by. Currently out on licence, Brown has been caught with guns buried in his garden, a million pounds in cash, and 40 iPhones in his house with receipts taped to them. To Morrow and her team, this reeks of a Pakistani “hundi” operation, an informal way of moving money from country to country. It’s done for innocent reasons, like when family members don’t have bank accounts, but it is also a highly effective way of moving illicit funds – mostly for heroin. She knows Michael Brown will have his licence revoked and return to prison for a very long time – until she gets a phone call saying fingerprints matching Brown’s were found at the scene of a murder the previous week. It is that of Aziz Balfour, a charity fundraiser for earthquake relief in Pakistan. When several checks reveal they are in fact a match to Brown’s dabs, and could not possibly have been planted there, Morrow is left with a mess to clear up – it looks as though Brown suffered a miscarriage of justice, and should never have ended up in prison. Possibly he would not be in the extremely sticky situation he’s now in, had he not been to the college of crime, where he learned all the scams from fellow cons. It also means that Pinkie Brown’s murderer is still out there, and still active – 20 years on. A third victim, though, has time to point Morrow in the right direction…

Meanwhile, Robert McMillan, Julius’ son, who’s like a brother to Rose – despite the fact he always felt his father favoured her – has discovered his father’s secrets, revealed on his death bed. However, confused, it seems like McMillan Sr thought it was in fact Rose he was talking to (his funeral takes place in the opening pages of the book, “Rose saw the funeral cars skulk back into the stream of traffic, panthers returning to the hunt.”) This leads to him discovering his father’s secrets. He does what his conscience tells him is the right thing to do, then disappears immediately to the Isle Of Mull to hide and await his fate (in beautiful Calgary Castle, with the famous beach below – I had to tweet Denise to check I was right!) He is aware his actions will cost him his life. And the man who’s tasked with organising the elimination of Robert MacMillan may surprise you…

Denise Mina books generally aren’t too gruesome, and although there are a number of deaths throughout the course of the book, this is more about figuring out the lies and corruption that’s gone on over the years, and who’s on the side of the angels (not many!) It’s highly topical too, involving care homes, long term conspiracies, and abuse by members of the highest echelons of (Scottish) society – men meant to be pillars of the earth. Sound familiar?

From Lord Anton Atholl QC (with whom Morrow has a slight flirtation…), to guys like Michael Brown, hardened from years in prison, to Dawood McMann, mover, shaker and all-round dodgy character, to Rose – still not fully accepted into the McMillan clan by matriarch Margery – Mina’s characters are always pitch-perfect. Her ability to write how Glaswegians of every social strata speak is unmatched, and this authenticity, which has always been in her work – through the Garnethill and Paddy Meehan series –  is what will always have me coming back for more. I’ll leave you to find out how everything pans out, but in this novel there are no winners.

The follow-up to this book, Blood Salt Water, is available in the UK from September 2nd in hardback and now on e-book formats.

For fans of: Caro Ramsay, Catriona McPherson, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney

Own copy.

Keep The Midnight Out – Alex Gray @BloodyScotland Build-Up

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BLURB: When the body of a red-haired young man is washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull, Detective Superintendent Lorimer’s tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow is rudely interrupted. The body has been bound with twine in a PoPghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since.
As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation, Lorimer tries to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years.
As the action switches dramatically between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch a cold-hearted killer. Has someone got away with murder for decades?

I’m doing my best to read as many authors who’re appearing at Bloody Scotland and trying to get the reviews up before I go, and Alex Gray had to be part of the list as: a) she’s one of the founders, along with Lin Anderson (look out for her latest being reviewed next week!); and b) this book is actually set on the island where I was born and brought up, so I’ve been “saving it” to read. I’ve by no means read all of Alex Gray’s DSI Lorimer series, of which this is the twelfth, but I’ve read enough of them over the years to know I’m in safe hands, plot-wise.

If you haven’t met DSI Lorimer and his wife Maggie, who’s a primary school teacher, then welcome to one of the few solid relationships in crime fiction. But there is however the fact that they were unable to have children, Maggie suffering a series of heartbreaking miscarriages. The other main characters, Dr Rosie Fergusson, a pathologist, and Dr Solomon Brightman, a lecturer who helps the police in cases involving profiling if required, met while working cases with Lorimer in the early books. They’re now married with a toddler, Abby, who is Maggie and William’s adored god-daughter.

The book begins with Lorimer, out one morning, noticing seagulls surrounding what appears to be the corpse of a young red-headed man. He’d heard talk of the red-haired boy who’d been working at Kilbeg Country House Hotel and had disappeared after a dance in Tobermory’s Aros Hall, and with few violent or unusual deaths on the island, it doesn’t need a policeman to assume this is the same young man. To Lorimer’s eye, it doesn’t look like a straightforward drowning as the victim had, at some point, been restrained, plus the body had been dumped above the previous night’s tide line. It also puts Lorimer in mind of a case involving another red-headed boy, hog-tied in a similar fashion, 20 years previously when he was just a DC…

The local DI, Stevie Crozier, appears over from Oban to take on the role of Senior Investigating Officer, as Lorimer is on holiday leave (and outwith his area of command.) However, the ambitious, but pragmatic, Crozier realises that Lorimer’s help is crucial, from getting extra resources, to his local knowledge from holidaying here for so long.

Of course, Glasgow being the nearest big city, 100 miles away, it’s Dr Rosie Fergusson who is despatched to do the post mortem. Solomon and Maddy accompany her, ostensibly for a holiday to “Balamory.”

A suspect is identified, but as crime fiction readers know, if it’s too early in the book it’s either the wrong man, or they can’t make the charges stick. Old-fashioned attitudes and misunderstanding and lack of communication almost cause more death. Meanwhile, a possible witness is murdered. There’s a number of interesting local characters who contribute to the storyline and definitely fit into the Mull landscape. Gray gets the Mull accent perfectly (cara-van; post-office) and her love of the beautiful island and its surrounding area, and the incredible amount of animals and birds you can see there, shines from the pages.

Solomon is valued by Lorimer for his psychological insight, and in this case, as ever, he picks his brain, haunted by the images from 20 years ago. There are intriguing flashback sequences to the Lorimers expecting, and losing their first child – and the first, never identified, dead red-haired boy.

Did I guess “whodunit”? (My acid test!) Nope! When I spoke to @AlexinCrimeland here earlier this year, she asked me who I thought was the perpetrator. I was on page 113, but I’d a good guess and revealed my reasoning. All she said was, “Interesting!” Well Alex, you got me!

For fans of: Police procedurals, especially series. The rural setting will appeal to fans of Aline Templeton and Ann Cleeves. Also, Lin Anderson and Caro Ramsay.

Gore factor: Low

I’d like to thank Sphere/Little Brown for the ARC of this book, in return for my honest opinion.

The Mistake I Made – Paula Daly

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BLURB: The Mistake I Made is the latest page-turner from one of the England’s most captivating new thriller writers. In her provocative and riveting third novel, Paula Daly focuses her masterful eye for psychological suspense and family drama on an indecent proposal that has fatal repercussions.

Single mother Roz has a reached breaking-point. After the dissolution of her marriage, Roz’s business has gone under, debts are racking up, the rent is late (again), and she’s struggling to provide for her nine-year-old son, who is starting to misbehave in school. Roz is in trouble. Real trouble.

When Roz returns home from work one day and finds an eviction notice, she knows that it’s time for action—she has two weeks to find a solution otherwise they will be kicked out of their home. Increasingly desperate, Roz doesn’t know where to turn. Then the perfect opportunity presents itself. At her sister’s fortieth birthday party, Roz meets Scott Elias—wealthy, powerful, and very married. But the impression Roz leaves on him is indelible. He tracks her down and makes Roz an offer to spend the night with him—for money. He wants no-strings-attached intimacy and can guarantee total discretion. Could it be as simple as it sounds? With that kind of cash, Roz could clear her debts and get her life back on track. But as the situation spirals out of her control, Roz is forced to do things she never thought herself capable of. Can she ever set things right again?

I’d utterly forgotten I was meant to be reviewing this book I read a couple (er, several) weeks ago. Myself and a few other female bloggers with whom I’m friendly (and who, like me, clearly have no other plans on a Friday night!) did a “buddy read”, if that doesn’t sound too American. I think I was probably the last to finish, on Sunday morning, but it was fun and it’d be good to do again. We are all fans of Paula Daly, author of Keep Your Friends Close (read) and Just What Kind Of Mother Are You (have; unread.) Paula’s work is what is commonly-known as domestic noir – don’t yawn, she’s one of the best proponents. Why? Well, priumarily it’s her characters – they’re real. They’re not perfect. They’re funny. They’re bright, capable, qualified. But they f*** up, for a variety of reasons – blame some on the Fates, some on circumstances or crappy luck, and some, to a certain extent, on their own denial. It’s a perfect storm, and our protagonist’s at the centre. Roz is a physio, and she’s skint. She’s also a single parent (with a feckless ex, whose cheeky charm I could just about see the attraction of, although I often shook my head…) In the past, Roz had borrowed a considerable sum of money from her parents’ in order to start up her own physiotherapy practice. However, due to the recession, Winston (the ex) was paid off, the marriage went down the pan, the practice went bottom up, their house was repossessed, and she’s still paying off all Winston’s unsecured debts. Her parents ended up unable to enjoy the retirement they’d saved for. Her sister Petra and her husband Vince have helped her out a bit in the past too, but Petra has warned her their parents can’t be put under additional stress, financial or otherwise. By now Roz is employed by a physiotherapy chain, working longer hours further away for less money, and bringing her 9-year-old son George up pretty much alone. However, at Petra’s birthday party Roz meets Scott Elias, a married man in his early 50s, who makes his interest in Roz plain. He makes an urgent appointment at Roz’s clinic, asks her to go for a drink, which she refuses. The next day he returns and says, “I’d like to pay to spend the night with you”.

At this point, Roz has had her furniture repossessed, and George has been caught stealing at school as he’s aware of their problems. When the final straw is about to hit the camel’s back, she relents (although possibly she knew, short of a miracle, she’d always have to, in the end.) But she’s disgusted with herself…

Of course, the money doesn’t last long, and Roz is soon seeing Scott again. It’s a dangerous situation – they live in the Lake District, a rural area, where, as I know from childhood, it’s pretty much impossible to keep a secret. But her desperation outweighs her reservations. Add in the added complication of Scott and his wife Nadine being friends socially and you just know that it can’t continue.

So when someone finds out, and then a murder is committed, Roz realises just how out of her depth she is…

Daly excels at these “wolf in sheep’s clothing” / charming psycho – call them what you will – characters; as does she the “everywoman” in an impossible situation, making the reader ask themself how they’d react. The men are generally slightly gormless, as well as led by their dick, so there’s accuracy right there – we recognise that type too (some of us may be in a relationship with one; I’m not, I’m happy to say, although he is crap at some things…I jest, obviously!)

This is one for when you’ve a night in or a day off, as you really don’t want to put it down without discovering what fresh hell is in store for Roz – I wouldn’t have put it down, except I’d Important Stuff to do. Plenty of humour and natural dialogue make it a real joy to read, too, and you’ll fly through the pages. They also add to the feasibility of the story. The only downside will be waiting on the next Paula Daly.

And girls, let’s do a group read again sometime very soon!

For fans of Colette McBeth, CL Taylor, Samantha Hayes, Paula Hawkins.

Very highly recommended.

Many thanks to the publisher Corgi and NetGalley for allowing me access to an early proof of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion.

BLOG TOUR Murder In Malmö – Torquil MacLeod

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A gunman is loose in Malmö and he’s targeting immigrants. The charismatic head of an advertising agency is found dead in his shower. Inspector Anita Sundström wants to be involved in the murder investigations, but she is being sidelined by her antagonistic boss. She is assigned to find a stolen painting by a once-fashionable artist, as well as being lumbered with a new trainee assistant. She also has to do to restore her professional reputation after a deadly mix-up in a previous high-profile case. Then another prominent Malmö businessman is found murdered and Sundström finds herself back in the action and facing new dangers in the second Anita Sundström Malmö mystery.

Apologies all for the slightly late posting of this review – this was due to Mr C having a horrendous tummy bug last night, which, through his moaning and groaning, I told him was likely a 24-hour bug. It didn’t of course stop him screaming about ambulances and dying (and I must admit at a couple of points I did find the histrionics amusing, they were so OTT. Does that make me a dreadful person??! And yes, don’t worry, he’s fine now. “Mother” knows best, and all men are useless when ill, is what we have learned from the event.) So all plans for finishing the book and writing the review last night went to hell in a handcart.

So here we are – first admission: I didn’t have time to read Meet Me In Malmö, the first in the Anita Sundström series. Cleverly, MacLeod dripfeeds just enough into the storyline to make you feel that you must read the first in the series, even if, like me, you have to go back to it. Although the story’s repercussions are continued into Murder In Malmo, which sees Anita visiting a killer in prison and admitting to her therapist she is in love with him. I felt that the author, very cleverly, tempted me with just enough information to intrigue me into reading the first book very soon. I’m impressed.

In this book, Anita Sundström, our main character, is just returning to work after the events that ended the first book. She’s irritated when Moberg, her boss, sidelines her into an investigation of stolen art – a Munk. She has also an unarmed trainee officer to show the ropes, Hakim, despite it being not her turn to do so. She had hoped to inveigle her way into a murder investigation into the death of Tommy Ekmann, through gas in his shower. Then another prominent businessman is murdered in an obviously staged suicide, also made to look as though it involved being gassed, but by carbon monoxide. When a third man’s throat is slashed, and his Munk also stolen, Anita’s stalled art investigation, which had led to her doing some work on the murder cases, looks like it’s gained new life. But given that this is another prominent Malmö businessman found dead, are there links between the art robberies and the murders? And what motive exists, for any of these crimes? Fortuitously Anita’s schoolgirl friendship with Karin Munk, the artist’s daughter, gives her an opportunity to ask her and her father’s opinion on the thefts, and the paintings’ owners.

Also, in this same period, another murder squad are desperately searching for the “Malmö Marksman”, a black, hooded figure who has committed several shootings of those he believes not to be true Swedes. The city is on high alert. And when the voice which instructs him points him in the direction of the Swedish detective, Anita Sundström, and her new partner, Hakim, who came to Sweden from Iraq while still a child, we can be assured of some action before the three cases are wrapped up. This isn’t your typical police/action/thriller – there is some action, but it’s more the kind of book I enjoy for the requirement to be, like Anita Sundström and (some of!) her team, ultra vigilant, if you want to solve the crimes. All the conclusions seem perfectly feasible to me, and although on a couple of occasions I figured out what was going to happen, the final result I would never have arrived at. So if you have an enjoyment of intelligent police procedurals, Murder In Malmö should hit the spot. Or why not do the sensible thing – unlike me! – and start at the beginning and read Meet Me In Malmö first. I’ll wager you won’t be disappointed. And, please, roll on Missing In Malmö, the third in the series!

For fans of: intelligent Nordic Noir – Henning Mankell did occur to me, although this is considerably shorter than most of his novels, and is slightly faster with less character development. Anyone who enjoys an intelligent, well-plotted police procedural, like a Mark Billingham, or if you prefer female protagonists, try Jane Casey or Angela Marsons. High praise, I know, but this book deserves it.

With thanks to Linda at McNidder & Grace for supplying bloggers with review copies and organising this blog tour, in return for an unbiased review. Many thanks.

The Good Girl – Fiona Neill

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BLURB: The Number One bestselling author is back with a dark, compelling and controversial novel of one family’s darkest secrets.

Fallen in love?
Yet for straight-A student Romy, Ailsa’s teenage daughter, there’s no escaping the intense attraction she feels towards their youngest son, Jay.

Trusted a stranger?
So when Jay tells Romy his darkest secret, she only wants to help.

Destroyed your family?
But Romy’s actions could be the catalyst that tears her world apart…

I gulped this novel down in one 24-hour period, over two sittings, despite the fact that it’s a 470 page book. However, it’s a fast read, and I didn’t feel that it flagged at any point. There was enough going on for me to keep turning the pages doggedly into the small hours. Fiona Neill is best known for her “Slummy Mummy” columns in The Times, and the book that followed, but this is very different, although her sardonic eye for detail, as well as her trademark humour, is intact. It’s the story of the Field family: mum Ailsa (hyper-organised; ambitious at work – she’s a secondary school headmistress; keeps the family running smoothly – but who’s keeping an explosive secret); dad Harry (neuroscientist; drops in quite fascinating facts about the brain at any opportunity; a good dad, especially with Romy, who shares his passion for science. He loved his job as a lecturer in London – so why did he leave it to relocate to Norfolk with his wife for her new job?); son Luke, who, next to his sister, comes across as a total slacker with more interest in bedding girls than passing exams; daughter Romy, the “good girl” of the title, who becomes distracted with the arrival of an attractive new boy who moves in next door; and lastly Ben, a precocious – but not irritatingly so – nine-year-old, who is somewhat obsessive about collecting strange things and fancies himself as a spy.

And just as Romy and Ben start to wonder about the inconsistencies in their parents’ story of why they had to move to Norfolk, the new family arrive next door, the Fairports. Romy is instantly drawn to Jay, the youngest of the two brothers. However, Ailsa isn’t so keen on the family – Lovedale and Wolf are successful sex therapists, who take a very relaxed view to parenting. They plan to build a “sweat lodge” in the large back garden and run sexual healing retreats, which as you can imagine, is the sort of idea practical Ailsa finds ludicrous.

With Ailsa preoccupied at work, and Harry and the rest of the family enjoying the Lovedale’s company, the stage is set for a string of events – a domino effect, almost – which end in disaster, and are partly initiated by the lies told by Ailsa and Harry regarding the move, despite the fact they were only trying to protect their family.

There are also some other great characters – Ailsa’s dad Alan, mourning the death of the wife he feels he treated badly throughout much of their marriage, moves in, drinking too much and driving Harry, who’s trying to write a book and is left to cope with him all day, to distraction; and Rachel, her sister, who tries to shirk her responsibilities to her father, still resentful for the way she feels he treated her mother, leaving Ailsa with even more on her plate. She also has a disastrous track record with men, which is compounded when she starts dating someone a bit too close for Ailsa’s comfort.

Neill has a fine understanding of families and the different dynamics within them, and this is one reason why the book is such a pageturner. When describing Ailsa looking for an alternative for her father when it becomes clear he is no longer safe living alone, she writes,
“…she reluctantly flicked through a couple of brochures for old people’s homes with optimistic names that belied the fact that they were places where people went to die. Ocean Heights. The Pastures. Sunshine Dreams. With all their talk of staff ratios, singing groups and puréed food they sounded like the nursery schools she had scouted for Ben in London.”

Ultimately the book is a salutary warning about the dangers of social media and internet pornography. As Jon Ronson showed us in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, these things are like genies – once they’re out of the bottle, they’re impossible to get back in.

This is a compelling read, and I can easily see it being one of the big hits for late holidays. In fact, even if you’re staying at home, I’d suggest you grab a copy. I rarely get through a book so quickly, so that speaks for itself. I just couldn’t put it down.

Recommended for fans of: Paula Daly, Liane Moriarty, Nicci French standalones.

My copy was supplied by Penguin Random House and Mumsnet in exchange for an honest review.