Blog Tour – Chaos – Patricia Cornwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very highly recommended.

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

Blog Tour – Summoning The Dead – Tony Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

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

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

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

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

Beloved Poison – E.S. Thomson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very highly recommended.

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

Darktown – Thomas Mullen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Not to be missed.

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

Blog Tour – Death At The Seaside – Frances Brody

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

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

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

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greatly recommended.

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