Alexander Fitzpatrick is one of the most wanted men in the Western world. Wealthy, handsome, charismatic and supremely dangerous, with numerous aliases, Fitzpatrick is a drug-trafficker who has eluded arrest for more than thirty years. For the past decade there has been no sightings of him.
DEADLY INTENT is the fourth book in the Anna Travis series, made up of ABOVE SUSPICION, THE RED DAHLIA and CLEAN CUT. It's been a series which I've really enjoyed... up until this book, which I have to say disappointed.
Anna is a dogged sort of a detective character, who has had a complicated personal life - having had a short-lived but dramatic affair with her previous boss - James Langton. She is still feeling the loss of that relationship and finding dealing with Langton on a daily basis very difficult. When he steps into overall control of the investigation of the death of Brandon, she's dealing firstly with a very complicated case with no apparent leads, and secondly with her fragile personal feelings. Langton is more shadowy than ever in DEADLY INTENT as well, which is going to make it difficult for any reader new to the series to understand, for a start, what Anna could possibly have seen in him, or in his defence, why he is like he is. There are hints throughout but they just didn't seem to help that much. For such a big, hefty book there are a number of underdone major characters throughout which is disappointing. DCI Cunningham has a touch of the wonderfully acerbic, grumpy female seniors about her, but she bounces in and out of the narrative so much it's hard to get a good look at her.
The case is quite clever - the connections that slowly have to be built up to explain why Brandon was in the drug squat, what would lead to his presence being so threatening that somebody would blindly shoot him through a closed door, how the other bodies turning up are connected and onwards is actually nicely baffling and quite interesting. But it drags on for too long. There are too many connections and "coincidences" which aren't - and they obviously aren't, and it all grinds to a halt in the personal lives of all and sundry too frequently.
Another major distraction is that whilst in the earlier books there is a lot of concentration on the relationship between Travis and Langton, it's rise and ultimate fall fitted into the storylines well, not distracting from the main aim of the books which was always to solve a baffling crime. Unfortunately in this book - with the definite end of the relationship the constant soul-searching of Travis just gets in the way - there were way too many times when the reader was told all about how conflicted she is having to work with Langton, how she still loves Langton, how a new relationship will be complicated by the pain she felt when Langton left her. And she does form a new relationship in this book - and it is a bit of a highlight in the storyline for a short while.
Ultimately the biggest problem with DEADLY INTENT is that there is a a good crime and investigation buried in the middle of 641 pages - but there's not 641 pages of it. The book meanders, there's too much fill-in, too many unbelievable red herrings, and, despite being a fan of unresolved loose ends, there are too many threads in this book which are left frustratingly, unjustifiably and inexplicably dangling. It all smacked just a tiny bit of... In The Next Episode.
If you've not tried the Anna Travis series, then don't let my thoughts on DEADLY INTENT put you off the first three books - they were terrific. Perhaps don't start with this one though as there's a lot of the personal things that may not make sense, and the book could give you a slightly skewed view of Anna, who is really a very good central character.
A DARKER DOMAIN - Val McDermid
It seemed like an unsolvable mystery at the time: a wealthy heiress and son kidnapped in Fife, then a botched payoff, leaving her dead with no trace of the child.
So when, over twenty-five years later, a possible clue is discovered by a journalist in Tuscany, cold-case expert DI Karen Pirie doesn't hold much hope of unraveling the infamous enigma.
Val McDermid has tackled some social history that is obviously very dear to her own heart in A DARKER DOMAIN, and it has to be said, she's done it with considerable style. Not only does this book give you a fascinating glimpse into the social chaos and personal pain caused by the Miner's Strikes in early 1980's Britain, it carries the story of three unfathomable disappearances.
Cold Case squad detectives DI Karen Pirie and DS Phil Parhatka are initially looking into the disappearance of Mick Prentice - reported missing 22 years after he supposedly broke ranks and joined the scabs in the devastating miners' strike of 1984. There's also the baffling disappearance of Mick's mate Andy about the same time. Unfortunately Karen's boss thinks that new evidence in the case of the dead heiress and missing son (and grandson) of a wealthy and powerful man is more important. Karen isn't all that fazed by pressure from on high though, and she's able to dance a fine line between both investigations.
The action in this book does take a couple of overseas trips to Tuscany, but mostly it stays within the small mining community of East Wemyss (a place that Val spent time with her grandparents as a child), and the way that the setting is portrayed in this book is wonderful. Not just the look and layout of the place, but the psyche of the place. The damage that the miners' strike caused, within families, throughout the community, the fractured lives demonstrated was really moving in some places, but at no stage did it become sentimental or overblown. There's also romantic element to this book which is also well done and quite funny. In fact that is something about this book which you wouldn't expect - there is a sense of humour amidst the sadness that lifts the story beautifully.
DI Karen Pirie is a tremendous character, with (hopefully), real possibilities for an ongoing series. An archetypal maverick police officer maybe - she's just not afraid to manipulate, defy and flat out be as devious as she needs, to do what she thinks is the right thing. Phil as her offsider is perfect, less emotional, equally as determined, they are a really good team.
An extremely solid and nicely twisting plot; a couple of very engaging central characters; an interfering and weak boss; a powerful man who wants to know where his grandson is; a daughter who needs to find her father; a wife who cannot forgive; and a sister who is grief stricken 22 years after the unexplained; there's an enormous amount in A DARKER DOMAIN. But at the base of it is a community that was destroyed - to the point where the abnormal was accepted as the normal, and there's no sign of recovery. Beautifully done, A DARKER DOMAIN is simply and utterly a wow of a book.
THE ART THIEF - Noah Charney
Rome - A magnificent Caravaggio altarpiece disappears at dead of night.
Paris - In the basement vault of the Malevich Society curator Genevieve Delacloche is shocked to discover that one of its greatest treasures has vanished.
London - The National Gallery's newest acquisition is stolen just hours after it was purchased for £6.3 million.
As three separate investigations get underway, Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot in Paris and Harry Wickenden of Scotland Yard begin to suspect that what at first appears a spate of random thefts is nothing of the kind.
THE ART THIEF is crime fiction where the crime is not murder or mayhem. The author of this book is (from his blurb) considered the world's leading expert on the history and study of art crime, so the point of this book seems to be to explore the nature and motivation for high profile art thefts and forgery.
There is a rather complicated plotline going on here. Firstly an altarpiece disappears in Rome. A valuable, renowned abstract painting is stolen in Paris from the vaults of the society charged with protecting the legacy of the painter Malevich. Then a new Malevich acquisition is stolen in London, after a lot of chicanery with the computerised alarm systems of the gallery. Now where things get really complicated is whether or not the painting stolen in Paris is the same painting that was purchased in London, and if it was - which one is the forgery? Or are both of them forgeries? It's possibly a little hard to tell as the paintings are all famous examples of White on White.
Inspector Jean-Jacques Bizot is leading the investigation in Paris, helped by the curator of the Malevich Society, Genevieve Delacloche, whilst Inspector Harry Wickenden is in London, assisted by National Gallery chief Elizabeth van der Mier. There is also art expert and former Carabinieri officer Gabriel Coffin who is attempting to track down the missing altarpiece from Rome. All of this occurs in a welter of anonymous phone calls, obscure biblical quotes and other clues, fake Malevichs, hugely self-indulgent gourmet feasts (Paris of course), and tea and austere living (London of course). Confused?
Lurking deep within this book there were some highlights. Obviously the author knows a lot about art theft, and some of the aspects of that knowledge were interesting. The problem really is that the plot gets convoluted and there were times when I felt I needed a mindmap to keep track of the who, what, where, when and whys. There was definitely some humour in some of the characterisations but there was also caricature - the French gourmand was frequently too gross, the English tea drinking Inspector too ascetic.
THE ART THIEF definitely provides an interesting glimpse into the world of Art Theft, and for those looking for a crime fiction book that provides some education about that, then this will definitely be the book for you. It could also appeal to somebody looking for a yarn, with a zero body count.
BLOOD IN THE WATER, Gillian Galbraith
'If it was me, if I was the murderer, Alice thought, where would I go? What would I do? The job he had set himself was unfinished, he must be aware that his luck could not go on forever. It was a simple calculation; at best, a lifetime in prison, at worst he'd be killed by the police whilst attempting to complete his self-appointed task.'
Okay, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, what DO they put in the water supply in Scotland. Or maybe it's because of the notoriously dire weather - people are indoors and a percentage of them turn to writing. Don't know. But whatever it is, I hope they keep it up as there are some terrific books coming out of there.
BLOOD IN THE WATER is the first Alice Rice mystery - the second WHERE THE SHADOW FALLS is now also available. In this debút, there's an interesting character being formed. She's a little sketchy in some places in this book, but in compensation there is a tricky plot with members of the professional elite - Barristers, Doctors, being murdered. There is an obvious killer connection, as similar styled notes are being left on the bodies, but the connection between all of the victims isn't immediately obvious.
A police procedural, BLOOD IN THE WATER features Alice Rice as a disillusioned cop. A loner not by choice, she has a nothing sort of a personal life and it worries her very much. Her relationships at work with her colleagues is better, and there are glimpses of an interesting team within this book. The plot of this book is nicely complicated by the search for a connection between the victim's and the way that Alice unearths it. There are some nice touches throughout the book that give a glimpse into the character of Alice, but in some places she's a bit sketchy, a bit ethereal. Possibly more may be revealed in the second book (or at least I hope it is as Alice is somebody who is interesting).
All in all, I really enjoyed this book - you have to cut it a little slack as it's a debút with a few faults, but a lot going for it. It's a good story in a mercifully tight and reasonably sized book, with a central character that is really going to be worthwhile catching up with again.
DEVIL'S PEAK - Deon Meyer
What makes a book special for you? For me it’s when the characters and the story stays with you after you’ve closed the book. All too often once the book is finished , the details begin to fade almost immediately. Not so with DEVIL’S PEAK by Deon Meyer
The alcoholic detective is something of a staple in crime fiction; to the extent that it frequently becomes a cliché. Not so Benny. Meyer writes about Benny’s struggle , self-recrimination and the realisation of the full impact of his drinking on his life, his family and his colleagues with a great deal of sensitivity . We feel Benny’s pain, guilt and despair as struggles through “one day at a time.”
DEVIL’S PEAK was written in Afrikaans and translated by K.L. Seegers. Not only is the translation spot on, but Seegers has retained enough of the Afrikaans slang and dialect for the reader to easily imagine an Afrikaans accent.
The sense of place and culture are also very strong. There is no way this book could be set anywhere but South Africa. DEVIL’S PEAK is not only well written with a nicely honed plot, but the author has also seamlessly incorporated a history lesson, a clear idea of diverse cultures and characters you won’t forget in a hurry. These all combine to make DEVIL’S PEAK a memorable read on many levels.
The second week of 2009 isn’t over yet and already I feel I’ve read one of my top books for 2009
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF - Jenny White
Constantinople, May 1453. In the dying days of the Byzantine Empire, as 7000 armed men prepare to defend the city against the might of the Ottoman Turks, Isaak and his family are entrusted with a purple velvet bundle. Inside is a silver reliquary carved with the figure of a weeping angel and an inscription 'Behold the Proof of Chora, Container of the Uncontainable'. It holds proof of God's existence.
I have to be honest and say that initially the idea of another historical crime fiction novel, set within the Islamic and Christian worlds left me somewhat underwhelmed. Fortunately there is a lot more going on in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF, although I will admit that a large part of the attraction of this book was the central character - Magistrate Kamil Pasha, who is my idea of a detective. A little grumpy, a little shambolic, a man who is able to think through a situation and sees the clues that others may gloss over.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF starts out with the rescuing of a precious reliquary - supposedly containing the Proof of God - smuggled out of a city under attack. Centuries later, the reliquary is in the protection of a shadowy sect - the Melisites, who have kept it hidden in the Sunken Village, built below the city, occupied by the Habesh. When the reliquary is reported as stolen, Kamil must deal with the sect priestess, Balki, who is desperately unwell and her daughter Saba, to whom Kamil feels an instant attraction. When the person who originally told Kamil of the theft is brutally murdered, Kamil's investigation becomes all the more urgent.
The story weaves through events around the sect and into Kamil's investigation from there on. Kamil has been placed in a very difficult position, as he is well aware of corruption in his society. He is also increasingly attracted to Saba and to the beautiful refugee artist who his sister has taken into her home.
What we have in THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is a number of pretty standard crime or mystery fiction elements - a secretive society used to its own counsel, a romantic entanglement with complication and a police investigator who must solve the crime despite his superiors lack of support.
Kamil is also, despite his historical setting, somewhat of a typical police investigator as mentioned. That slightly put upon persona, prepared to do whatever it takes to solve the case, complicated in love figure, grumpy, shambolic, but dedicated and with his own brand of cleverness and vision. He's certainly one of the great attractions of this book as he is a character that it is very easy to understand, sympathise or at least empathise with.
The sense of place in this book is reasonably good, although action outside the sect perhaps isn't particularly "Turkish 1800's". The religious elements set the book firmly in a world that is very different from a standard Western society - historical or not.
There are parts of the story that drag a little, and there is sometimes a little too much wallowing around in the comings and goings of the sect and their priestess which certainly add to the historical aspects, but slows the pace too much to remain enjoyable. Having said that, there is exoticism in the story and the character of Kamil is definitely worth sticking with it for.
THE ABYSSINIAN PROOF is the second novel featuring Kamil - the first was THE SULTAN'S SEAL which was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award. You certainly won't be lost if you haven't read the first book, but Kamil is somebody that you might want to get to know a little more. I will be keeping my own eyes open for a copy of the first book.
DEAD AND KICKING, Geoffrey McGeachin
When a movie about an Australian war hero takes Alby Murdoch to Vietnam, he discovers that some old soldiers never die and that it's not just the camera doing the shooting....
You have just got to love a book that has an opening scene that takes you deep into the Vietnam jungle, right into the conflict and deep into the complicated politics of the war.
Or at least that's what it could have been like.
Some things are just never what they seem and Alby is now working as a still photographer whilst serving a suspension from the "day job" - photographer and spy with a covert Australian government department. He is never going to get on with the bureaucracy. The problem is that the movie he is working on is based on the life of a dead Australian hero. A soldier whose heroic acts during the Vietnam war were the stuff of legends - legends being told by people very close to Alby himself. The problem is that one of Alby's snaps could blow the legend apart.
If you've read any of my reviews of the 2 earlier books in this series (D-E-D Dead! and Sensitive New Age Spy), you'll know that these books are thrillers, liberally dusted with humour and fabulous food. DEAD AND KICKING follows on in that tradition, although I have to say, the food descriptions in this outing are enough to make you swoon with delight - Vietnamese food fans will be craving Pho to the core of their very being.
Part of the attraction of these books - aside from the way that they are funny, fast paced, and Alby is bruised not battered most of the way through, is the sense of place. That sense is provided partially from the brief glimpses of the surrounds, but mostly by the way that the action is immersed in the location - in the cafes, the restaurants, the roadside food stalls and the city streets and country roads. The food, the look and feel of a place is visual, dare I suggest written from a photographers point of view. At stages you'd swear you can smell the place. All of that is done with great skill though - the book doesn't read as a travelogue or get bogged down in long detailed descriptions.
The other part of the attraction is a tremendous character set - Alby is an Australian bloke - a spy, a photographer, an almost glamorous, bullet proof sort of a figure who can still manage fall flat on his rear end in front of a maximum number of witnesses. He's not exactly an all-hero figure though, he's more of a determined sort of a sod, who is not going to let go of something once he's got his teeth into it, even if he's chewing like hell. As you'd expect in this sort of book, there is a healthy sprinkling of glamorous women - most of whom are either dangerous or slightly mad; although in some cases definitely handy to know. Alby's supporting cast is beautifully eccentric, and more than once, there just in time to save the day.
DEAD AND KICKING is just the ticket for those long hot days of summer, a book to lie back and savour. Pick up a copy, have a seriously good laugh, barrack for the good guys, boo at the baddies, worry that the bloke is going to lose the girl (again) and dig out the directions to your closest Vietnamese restaurant.
THE MURDERERS' CLUB - P D Martin
Sophie Anderson takes a week off to visit colleague and friend, Detective Darren Carter, in Tucson Arizona. But she's not in Arizona for ten minutes before murder interrupts their well-laid plans - and her visions suddenly return for the first time in six months.
Sophie and Darren investigate the murder, and a week later the killer strikes again - there's a serial killer in Tucson. The pair follows leads to Chicago and Las Vegas, trying to find out what the victims had in common and why the killer targeted them.
Opening Sentence: "...BlackWidow has entered the room..."
PD Martin's second novel is simply amazing. It is so chillingly plausible it leaves you feeling very uncomfortable. Most internet users belong to some sort of online discussion group or forum. Many of these forums are for the use of its members only. THE MURDERERS' CLUB opens in one such forum - only this one consists of four members - and they are all established serial killers.
Australian FBI Profiler, Sophie Anderson, is taking a break in Arizona with a colleague and friend, Detective Darren Carter. He knows her secret. That she can mentally connect with the victims through visions and dreams, she actually sees them through the eyes of their murderer.
No sooner has Sophie arrived in Arizona than a body shows up at the University - followed by a second and a third. Darren is assigned the case and Sophie joins him in the investigation . Can her visions of a woman's horrific death help solve the crime and stop any more victims?
The story is propelled through two main points of view. The investigators and the murderers. The reader soon knows what is going on - there is a group of captives that are locked away in an underground bunker. They are being watched by the four members of the murderers' club as they vie for the chance to murder their favourite captive through an auction. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you read the lighthearted discussions between the criminals - the complete lack of compassion and guilt.
Sophie and Darren have to work out the secret behind their latest serial killer and then try and catch them and stop them. There are twists and turns right up to the very end.
PROMISE NOT TO TELL - Jennifer McMahon
Returning to where you grew up is never an easy thing. The summons comes to Kate Parker - her mother's mental health is on the rapid decline and Kate is expected to step in and assume the parental role. Something terrible happens on the night of Kate's home-coming. A young girl is murdered in such a fashion that brings back vivid memories for Kate and the kids she hung out with in her youth. Back then, the "Potato Girl" was something of dawning urban legend.
There is always one kid who doesn't fit in, and Kate's secret friendship with the odd Del never came to light, even after her death. The knife edge of guilt has been blunted by distance and the passing of time but it all comes back with a rush as the investigation into the heart of a close community continues. It was thirty years ago but the people are all still about; it was only Kate that upped stakes to pursue a life beyond Vermont. The dementia ramblings of Kate's mother give Kate great concern - what does her mother know, and is it still locked inside where secrets can remain safe?
This book received a fair bit of sleeper hype in the Land of Oz, and the printing of the book with reader's notes for book clubs in the back of it certainly has helped. It seems to give the idea that the book is deep and meaningful enough to warrant serious discussion.
PROMISE NOT TO TELL seems to battle with wanting to indeed "tell", while at the same time it's a bit scarce with material in which the reader can build a "case" on as to who both past and present killers may be. The obvious will seem TOO obvious. Wondering about the market pitch here - it would seem to be written for young adults rather than adult readers who are used to whipcord tight plotting and atmospheric stages on which their fictional murders are set. Not saying that all young adult mystery novels lack this by any means, but there is a childish simplicity in the manner in which this tale has been related, bringing to mind the carelessness of girlish confidences and the overblown melodrama with which the majority of teens and pre-teens live their lives. There is a certain dreaminess in which the story unfolds which does a nice turn in lulling the reader into a false sense of security that nothing else disturbing can happen - and then of course it does.
This novel plays with what we remember of our childhoods when events were exaggerated by the enthusiasm for new, even frightening experiences. Younger minds would always thirst for the gorey details. Marrying up the past to the present never quite works in this novel but taken separately you either have a women's hometown drama or a young teen novel of why secrets only get bigger the longer they're held in. Your teenage daughter will probably love it but unless you haven't progressed beyond the novels of the type you read in the back room of the classroom on the sly - you won't be as enamoured. This read will blow the cobwebs away if you've been falling into a reading rut of late but as it is a little maddening overplayed, is perhaps not a spin to be taken beyond the time spent on a short novel.
THE FINAL BET - Abdelilah Hamdouchi
Casablanca. Othman, a handsome young Moroccan man, returns home to discover his elderly French wife, Sofia, brutally murdered in their bedroom. Highly educated but unemployed, Othman had been in desperate straits before meeting Sofia, who pampered him with fancy cars, expensive clothes and access to her mansion in the most exclusive neighbourhood in Casablanca. But living with a woman more than forty years his senior was too much for Othman - before his wife's murder he sought relief in a steamy affair with an attractive young aerobics instructor, Naeema.
Remarked upon often as the first Arabic detective story translated, THE FINAL BET is a very slim volume that has a strong central message. The book really isn't particularly about Casablanca the place, or even the people. It's very much targeted straight at the way that the Moroccan legal system functioned at the time that it was written - and you can pick that thread up very clearly even without reading the afterword by the translator of the book - Jonathan Smolin.
Othman has often thought about killing his elderly wife. The marriage is complicated by the difference in the ages between them, and because Sofia holds the purse strings and she therefore holds the power. Othman is an educated man - he studied law - but for some reason he was unemployed and destitute when he met Sofia. She had been married and had a son, but when her first husband was killed, she received a very substantial insurance payout. There was one other younger husband before Othman as well, but Sofia cut him off when she discovered he was cheating on her. Othman feels even more trapped - he wants out of the marriage, he wants his mistress, but he doesn't want to lose the luxury that money gives him.
He returns home late one night from his regular dog walk (where he meets with his mistress), to find Sofia lying on their bed. Stabbed and dying. He claims she tried to speak to him, gestured to the knife. He pulled it from her stomach as she dies, so his fingerprints are on the knife. Needless to say, he's aware of what that will say to the police, and the police are pretty well convinced they've got their man. It is only when Othman finally engages a lawyer that somebody listens to Othman's pleas of innocence and looks further.
The point of THE FINAL BET seems to have been to illustrate the brutality of the legal system at the time - that circumstantial evidence is easy to accept, and that suspects are often too overwhelmed by their situation to affectively advocate on their own behalf. In fact, in the afterword, Smolin points out that at the time of writing this book, Moroccan law didn't require a suspect to have legal representation at the time of police interview. He further explains that during the period of the 1970s and 1980s there were grave human rights violations - a time known as the Years of Lead. Knowing the background makes the point of the novel considerably clearer, although, it works as a fictional writing in its own right.
THE FINAL BET is a very small book - 148 or so pages (including the afterword), and it is very reminiscent of early hard boiled police procedural novels (or at least that's what it triggered in my mind). There isn't a lot of sense of place, but then there is a significantly different focus within this book than the location. It's very much a story of illustration, social commentary and an attempt to cast light into some very dark places in the world being written about.