The Reckoning – Jane Casey

The Reckoning

The Reckoning is the second, after The Burning, in the Maeve Kerrigan series by Jane Casey. Now, although I’m well behind most bloggers in the Jane Casey series, it’s easily apparent that Casey is a very popular author among the crime fiction blogger set. So, to be honest, this review seems superfluous even before I write it!

It’s so long since I read The Burning that I’m not really able to compare the two, although from what I can remember it seems as though there’s a far better developed plot in this second book, as Casey finds her feet as a novelist (she also wrote a standalone crime novel prior to The Burning, called The Missing. Loved it too, but also don’t remember much apart from that!) The majority of the novel is from Maeve’s POV, although later in the book we get a few chapters in Rob’s voice, to reveal what happens on occasions when Maeve isn’t present; it also helps give us a flavour of him as an individual. In her personal life, Maeve is trying to stop seeing Rob (again – your guess is as good as mine as to why…!) and has just moved (again!), to a large house shared with a bizarre mix of people: a computer games reviewer, a dope-smoking landlord, an OTT actor from a kids’ TV series, and a couple more.

This novel essentially consists of two separate investigations, which end up seguing into one. The first involves the brutal torture and murder of paedophiles, all within a certain area. The torture and murders all reflect the crimes the victims committed: for example, a collector of child pornography has his eyes gouged out; a paedophile priest is burnt with heated rosary beads.

The trail left by PNC searches mean Police IT workers manage to identify the person who accessed a list of names, beginning with the initial victims, and get a copy of the rest of the list. The police decide to check on the health of them – and this results in DC Maeve Kerrigan and her opinionated, mouthy (and not unamusing!) new boss, DI Josh Derwent, a great new character, walking straight into the next torture scene. After some drama, the scene is secured, and, among the arrested, there’s a familiar face – Mr John Skinner, over from the Costa del Crime, where he’d been evading justice. He was on a family mission – his 14-year-old daughter Cheyenne had disappeared 5 days previously. Cunningly, the cops had held back on announcing much news on Cheyenne, hoping to tempt Skinner out of hiding in Spain and back into the UK to face outstanding charges. So what began as a murder investigation evolves into the case of a missing teenage girl.

Immediately prior to disappearing, Cheyenne had updated her social media to say she was going to a “pop-up club” – but who did she meet there that caused her disappearance? Maeve’s team combine with the Missing Persons unit, and decide to visit the warehouse where the club night was held. There is what they’d feared finding since hearing about Cheyenne’s disappearance – her dead body, which had been replaced in the warehouse after the police search.

It’s the result of the post mortem that really shocks the team, though, as Cheyenne wasn’t murdered – she died from an asthma attack. (My son has mild asthma, and, at 21 and always in a big hurry, is dreadful at not taking an inhaler out with him, so I found this part really tragic.) Also, there’s saliva on Cheyenne’s hand – but it belongs to a woman who’s been missing for 18 months. Just how did it get there?

This is when the investigation really heats up, and of course, when left behind on the trip to arrest suspects, Maeve heads off on what should be a cursory investigation of a house belonging to a relative of the arrestee. She is accompanied by DC Liv Bowen, who has been working with Rob, and of whom Maeve was initially jealous. However, at the house, the two women find far more than they bargained for…

I love Maeve Kerrigan, and can’t wait to get into the next book in the series. Jane Casey almost gives you two-books-in-one, with the initial paedophile case leading into another investigation altogether. If that’s not enough for you, there’s also a subplot involving Maeve being stalked. Casey is really finding her feet as an author when it comes to plotting, taking her time with it. All the characters are well fleshed out, even the most minor, although Maeve, and Rob, are the ones we obviously get to know best. Unlike many “romances” in police procedurals, theirs doesn’t feel “tacked on” to make up the word count.

I’m aware I’m pretty much preaching to the converted here; indeed, most of you are probably way ahead of me when it comes to the Maeve Kerrigan series. But if there’s anyone out there reading this who’s missed this series, do grab a copy of The Burning – although that’s not to say The Reckoning doesn’t work fine as a standalone, as it’s not hard to pick up on who’s who. But Casey’s characters, and their interactions with each other, work best when you read the books in sequence – I’m especially looking forward to getting to know DI Josh Derwent, who’s Maeve’s new boss and quite an interesting character. And, of course, I’m dying to know what happens between Maeve and Rob. So, once I finish my current reads, I’ll be diving into The Last Girl.

The Other Typist – Suzanne Rindell

Product Details

This book is told from the perspective of Rose Baker, who is a typist in a police precinct in New York in 1924, at the height of prohibition. Her job is to take down the confessions or statements of suspects on a stenography machine in the interview room, before translating it into a typewritten record. At the beginning of the book she works alongside two other typists, of which we learn little, the Lieutenant Detective (of whom Rose is none too keen), and the Sergeant (who Rose sees as a man of strong moral fibre, comparing him to herself.) Rose has had a tough upbringing. She was brought up in a convent, but did well in her education, and is a fast and accurate typist.

Then into the precinct comes Odalie, a new typist. From the start, Rose is fascinated by her – she is glamorous, fun, and attractive, and seems to lead an exciting life. In short, she is everything dowdy Rose is not. Rose quickly falls under her spell, and after lunching together several times, where Rose confides in Odalie the awfulness of her room-mate, she is soon asked by Odalie to move in with her. Odalie stays in a hotel suite, and clearly is not short of money. Odalie explains to Rose that her father pays for the hotel suite, but asks her to keep this quiet down at the precinct. At this point completely in Odalie’s thrall, Rose would agree to do anything for her. However, there are already rumours flying about the station – that Odalie is a bootlegger’s girl, in the precinct to spy for her other half. Rose has also heard Odalie give other people different explanations for her being so affluent – particularly in regard to two diamond bracelets she only seems to wear while at home in the suite – so knows her new friend is economical with the truth.

The descriptions of the speakeasies Odalie takes Rose to are also fascinating. Initially Rose assumes they are merely customers, and that the establishments are run by Gib, a paramour of Odalie’s, but as time as goes on, she suspects Odalie has more of an involvement in them than she first suspected. However, she is so dazzled by her, and the glamorous lifestyle she has opened up to Rose, that she ignores her better instincts, and does pretty much all Odalie desires. But little does Rose realise how dangerous this new friendship will be for her, and how her naivete and poor judge of character (initially seen in regard to the Sergeant and the Lieutenant Detective) will lead her into a web of intrigue and deception from which she will be unable to escape…and which, she eventually realises, began when she first saw Odalie, on the day she came to the precinct to be interviewed. From that day, when Rose picked up a beautiful brooch that Odalie “dropped”, her fate was sealed.

This book reminded me, in parts, of The Great Gatsby (and indeed, at the end of the book, the writer admits she paid deliberate homage to her favourite novel.) There is one particular outing Rose and Odalie go on, to a house in the Hamptons, which particularly made me think of Gatsby’s mansion, and I’m sure any other readers will see the similarity.  At that party, the two girls meet a young man who clearly recognises Odalie, and she is desperate to avoid him at all costs. But he has an interesting story to tell Rose, about a mysterious car accident which resulted in the death of his cousin, and the disappearance of the cousin’s fiancée. It seems likely he will not be palmed off by Odalie’s claims she grew up in Santa Fe, and had never visited Newport, where this accident occurred, and, indeed, he isn’t.

I really adored this book. It is so easy to see why Rose is dazzled by the delightful (on the surface, at least!) Odalie, when Rindell describes her glamorous life, her laugh, her fashionable haircut, her apparent generosity. But as the Russians say, “The only free cheese is in a mousetrap.” She is, as I said earlier, being bound into Odalie’s life until Odalie no longer has any use for her. The atmosphere, of New York, of the police precinct, of the hotel, and Rose’s cheap boarding house, comes across as highly authentic (although I’m no expert on 1920s Prohibition-era New York!) So assured is Rindell’s writing I found it hard to believe this was a debut novel. Now I KNOW I’m guilty of having said that of a number of writers this year! But Rindell’s prose really is particularly sparkling and fluent, and very atmospheric. I do have “issues” with the ambivalent ending, and would be interested in comparing thoughts on it with anyone who’s read it already. But to write any more here would take us into spoiler territory.

I absolutely cannot wait to see what Rindell comes up with next – I’d love it if she stuck with the 1920s as a setting; it’s a decade she clearly adores and is knowledgeable about. If you missed The Other Typist, or have it sitting on your shelf or Kindle, please do yourself a favour and get round to reading it!

4.5 out of 5

(It would have been a definite 5, except for the end!)

Dandy Gilver And The Reek Of Red Herrings – Catriona McPherson

When I was kindly sent this book by Hodder and Stoughton, in the summer, I have to confess that initially I thought it probably wasn’t my cup of tea. I assumed it was what is called a “cosy” (although having never read any such books, I’ve no idea how I came to that conclusion!) However, I finally got round to it…and I absolutely adored it! I’ll do my best to explain why, and perhaps I can persuade you into giving Dandy a whirl.

Dandelion “Dandy” Gilver, a well-to-do, married woman in her 40s, with two almost-grown sons, and her friend, Alec Osbourne, who’s a bachelor of 35, investigate crimes, or odd happenings, in an unofficial capacity. There’s no hint of impropriety; it’s just that Dandy is clearly too bright and sparky to be a 1920s society matron, paying visits to neighbours or doing charitable deeds (her husband, Hugh, comes across as rather dull, and a bit of a figure of fun, poor sod!) Hence the duo’s investigations, all of which appear to find them, through word-of-mouth. They’re often called upon when the matter is delicate, and requires discretion, meaning the police can’t be involved. Also brought along for the ride is Dandy’s adored ageing Dalmatian, Bunty.

On this occasion they are called to Aberdeen by a Mr Birchfield, who is a well-to-do merchant of herring, buying barrels from fisherman from the ports of Gardenstown (known as Gamrie) and Macduff, who follow the shoals of herring all over Scotland throughout the year. However, he has had horrific reports – of several barrels of herring he has sold on containing body parts! Thus far he has managed to keep it quiet, and as so many livelihoods would be at risk if this scandal were to become public, Birchfield wants Dandy and Alec to go to Gamrie and investigate. They know the barrels originated in Gamrie, as they are always stamped with the town of origin, and as the boats land a catch there in July, their intention is to try and discover whether anyone disappeared in the area around that time. In order to find all the fisherman from that area at home, they must go there at Christmas, when wedding parties, with age-old traditions take place.  Also, Mr Birchfield reveals there is a possibility of one – or even two – barrels containing body parts still being out there…

So Dandy and Alec (and Bunty) head to Gamrie, having booked into The Three Kings lodging house. Their landlady is Euphemia Clatchie (what a fabulous name!), who’s very frugal, which doesn’t result in the most comfortable of lodgings. She is the first of a huge collection of fascinating characters they meet. They present themselves as philologists, documenting the traditions and folklore of different communities. The people of Gamrie are tight knit, interrelated, and many have the same names, to cause even more confusion, although they use “tee names” to differentiate one, say, Margaret Mason from another – one might be known as Meg, the other Nettie. And being fisher-folk, they have dozens of superstitions, all followed carefully in the hope of keeping everyone, but particularly the fishermen, safe. There are also the bizarre elderly brothers, Durban and Warwick Searle, who are expert taxidermists, and live in a huge dilapidated manor house on the clifftop called Lump House. They create bizarre scenes with taxidermy, such as a Garden of Eden, which Dandy, particularly, finds horrific and repulsive, rather than admirable or a source of entertainment. Dandy and Alec also meet a couple of English artists just along the coast, at Crovie. So Gamrie consists of quite a mix of people, although they all know each other, and almost all their business. You would imagine it would be easy to find whether anyone is missing, and it is. The problem is, they end up with up to seven possible candidates…

I don’t want to give away any more about the mysteries, but I will say that Dandy Gilver And The Reek Of Red Herrings is very funny, and Catriona McPherson is fantastic at creating the most bizarre and intriguing characters, in the strangest places. I’d really love to read more of her adventures to see what jinks Dandy and Alec get up to. As to the central mystery – the missing person (which became the missing people) – it is resolved in a completely satisfactory way, and, although I guessed one, small, part of the mystery, the rest came as a complete and utter surprise. There was also a highly dramatic and exciting ending. So I can only suggest that, if you’re a fan of good, witty, well-researched historical crime fiction, PLEASE do go and investigate the charming Dandy and the dashing Alec in one of their adventures!

5 out of 5

I would like to thank Hodder and Stoughton for sending me this book to review, in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Weight Of Blood – Laura McHugh

Product Details

The Weight Of Blood is Laura McHugh’s debut novel, set in the small town of Henbane in the remote Ozark mountains in Arkansas, USA. The first sixteen chapters are alternately narrated in a time-split, by Lucy, in the present day, and her mother, Lila 19 to 20 years earlier. We know that Lucy’s mother is very probably long dead, having disappeared one day in a local cave with a dangerous network of tunnels and passenges running from them, back when Lucy was almost one. We also know she had a gun at the time. What happened after that is a mystery to the folks of Henbane – or nearly all of them. And I call them that because that’s what they are – “folks”; old-fashioned, hard-working people who run the same farms or do the same jobs their ancestors did, and they don’t need no outsiders. Lila’s mother was an outsider. She came in response to an advertisement by Crete Dale looking for a waitress-cum-farmhand. She was an orphan, and then had been shunted around various foster homes, but didn’t talk much about her past – which of course made folk suspicious. She looked exotic, with long dark hair, olive skin and green eyes – just like Lucy. Her beauty led to talk of her being a witch.

The book begins, however, with the discovery of the body of an 18-year-old girl, Cheri, a local who had disappeared a year previously. Her body is found stuffed into a hollow tree opposite Dane’s store, owned by Crete Dane, Lucy’s adoring uncle. Crete is an important man in the community, with plenty of money, some of it from questionable sources, and plenty of people frightened of him. Cheri had initially been in Lucy’s class at school, but had learning difficulties. When she had been younger, she had hung around Lucy’s house – where she lives with her dad Carl, Crete’s younger brother – as though she didn’t want to return home to her mother’s nearby trailer home, and her succession of redneck boyfriends.

One day, when working for her Uncle Crete, Lucy ends up being sent with Daniel, a boy who also works for him, to clear out a trailer which had belonged to her uncle and been on his land. In the bedroom there’s a large stain on the floor, and in the bedroom closet Lucy finds a distinctive necklace she’d gifted Cheri – distinctive as it was slightly chipped, as was this one. Lucy starts to wonder exactly where Cheri had been for the past year, and feels she’s let her friend down. She persuades Daniel to help her investigate Cheri’s disappearance – the police are uninterested as Cheri’s mother said her daughter had run away, and she’d assumed she’d return sometime. So who was renting the trailer from Crete? And who would keep a teenager hidden for a year, only to ensure she was found quickly after her death? Why not dispose of her body deep in the mountains?

Also haunting Lucy is what happened to her mother, who wouldn’t have been much older than Cheri when she disappeared. Everyone in the community assures her her mother adored motherhood, and was happy to be married to Carl, and the photos Lucy treasure seem to confirm that. In the second part of the book, when chapters are narrated by other local characters, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Many people have guilty consciences, some worse than others, and the picture the puzzle creates is a far from pretty one. Lucy ends up with two investigations on her hands, with too many similarities. And some people feel they’ve been keeping secrets for long enough…Then another girl disappears, and Lucy can’t help thinking she knows where she might be, and who could be responsible.

There are all sorts of apparently odd, eccentric characters in the township of Henbane – a midwife-cum-nurse, Birdie, who treats Lucy like a granddaughter; Sarah, Daniel’s mother, who is some kind of herbalist. There’s talk of drugs, specifically in connection with a man called Emory, whose large estate is guarded by ferocious dogs. There’s Ransome, an elderly farmhand who’s seen too much but has no-one who’ll listen to her. Gabby, a good-time girl who’d been Lila’s best friend, and whose daughter, Bess, is now Lucy’s. There’s Ray Parker, town lawyer, then judge, who’s one of the few locals not intimidated by Crete, and is a good friend to Carl and Lila. There’s James, involved in the local drugs trade, but who long remembers a random act of kindness – something he’d had little of in his short life – from Lila, when she was a beautiful newcomer. And there’s Carl, who took time to crawl out of the bottle after Lila disappeared, but is now a devoted Dad to Lucy. My feeling though, is that none of them were quite eccentric enough to make you feel the place was quite that strange, and isolated, and suspicious of strangers. I’d have preferred some much more odd folk peopling the Ozarks. I felt in that respect the author missed a chance to create a really, spooky, atmospheric area. But the themes the author touched on – What limit would you go to for someone who is your kin, your blood? When – for different people – does family ties and debts trump morality? How would you choose, if you had to, between your birth family and your new family? – worked well within the book. Most of the characters, but particularly Lucy and Lila, are well drawn. It’s not a book it reminds me off, a little, but a TV series – Top Of The Lake, which was on maybe a year ago. It was written and directed by Jane Campion, and starred Elisabeth Moss (Peggy in Mad Men), as well as Holly Hunter and a scary Peter Mullan. Moss returns to the remote area from whence she came (in New Zealand, in this case) to see if her insider knowledge can help with an investigation into a missing girl. In doing it she has to confront her past, and the fact that although she’s left her home way behind, it’s still part of her. It did a similar thing, but better.

Still, for a debut novel, The Weight Of Blood’s storyline and writing impresses. It seems Laura McHugh’s name joins the (long!) list of authors who I’m looking forward to reading more of.

3.5 out of 5

This copy was provided by NetGalley and publishers Cornerstone/Random House in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Weight Of Blood? Did you enjoy it? Did it remind you of any other books, or anything else? Please leave any comments on it, or anything else book related below!