The Glasgow Orchestra is rehearsing to perform, but little do they know of the sequence of events happening backstage. When George Millar, the orchestra 's leader, is brutally murdered in his dressing room, his colleagues are shocked. But the show must go on. Enter DCI Lorimer and psychologist Solomon Brightman to investigate. What they uncover is a series of irrevocably tangled relationships between the orchestra members.
I am all over the place with this series, and I don't think that's helping my enjoyment of these books one little bit. Nor, mind you, is the line blazoned all over the front cover 'Glasgow's Answer to Ian Rankin'.... sorry, but that's setting the bar just a tad on the high side isn't it....? So high that you can't help feeling that, as a reader, you're going to be looking for reasons to jiggle that bar. Mind you, from memory, there was something similar screaming from the front cover of the last book in the series I read - which also did not live up to the expectation set.
There's something, unfortunately somewhat unmemorable about SHADOWS OF SOUNDS. Whilst reasonably competently plotted somehow the storyline doesn't quite fire with the assurance, or firmness of many recently read Scottish crime fiction tales. The character of Lorimer is developing a little (the last in the series I read seemed to have him more of a bit player), but somehow he's still grey. When writing this review, I notice that my notes on the book include how hard it is to draw an assured enough portrait of the man to aid recollection.
Not, I hasten to add, did I particularly dislike the book, or resent the time taken to read it. I just don't have much of a memory of it, and during the reading, I couldn't seem to get past the idea that if this is Glasgow's answer to Rankin and Edinburgh, Glasgow's not as edgy as I thought it was.
LAST NOCTURNE - Marjorie Eccles
What could make a successful, happily married man like Eliot Martagon take a gun and shoot himself? What made Theo Benton, a young artist on the brink of fame, throw himself to his death?
I always think of these books as Jane Austen meets Crime Fiction. Which is probably somewhere between extremely unfair and absolutely acceptable depending on your own particular point of view. LAST NOCTURNE is from author Marjorie Eccles - who is best known in these parts for the Gil Mayo series, which was made into a short TV series that became quite a favourite.
Whilst Grace Thurley's decision to break off her engagement to a rather pompous local man secretly pleases her mother, moving to London to take up the position of paid companion and secretary to Dulcie Martagon is regarded slightly more sceptically. Dulcie has been recently widowed, when her art gallery owning husband Eliot seemingly committed suicide. Whilst there's nothing immediately suspicious about the death of Martagon, why a supposedly contended, slightly conventional man would have taken such extreme action makes no sense to anybody. What makes even less sense is the suspected suicide of an up and coming young artist, whose only connection to Martagon seems to be the exhibition of his paintings in Martagon's gallery. As Inspector Lamb digs it seems that young Theo Benton's death isn't so easily written off as suicide. Meanwhile a connection to Vienna and the mysterious widow of independent means Isobel Amberly indicates that all was not as it seemed in Eliot Martagon's life, regardless of what his widow may think.
Set in 1909 this is a very classically styled tale with a lot of traditional elements. The son, Guy Martagon has to fall for the quietly competent paid companion Grace, although the romance doesn't get going until much later in the book. The young daughter of the household has to be a little bit of a tear-away at some stage. Dulcie Martagon has to be just a little bit not quite right for her station in life and poor Eliot has to be, well poor Eliot I guess. There are some twists from the expected though, and the reader is taken into the life of Eliot, in particular, his time in Vienna as well as that of Louise Amberly. The police investigation into the deaths runs alongside the various family machinations until all is revealed.
There's just a little touch of spice, although nothing risky or questionable for readers who prefer things on the slightly more chaste side, but overall the book has quite a feeling of the time and society in which it is set. Having said that, this is not my preferred sort of reading fare, and I will confess I struggled enormously with the predictability of much of the ancillary story lines - the romance and the high and mighty attitude of Dulcie come to mind immediately. But that's very much a personal reaction and I suspect that readers who are not adverse to a little romance will find the intrigue around Eliot's life extremely satisfying. Add to that a little feeling of the tensions and difficulties of Vienna in that period of history and this could be just the book for fans of this sort of historical crime fiction.
MAXWELL'S CHAIN - M.J. Trow
Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell is a very busy man; as Head of Sixth Form at Leighford High he does his best to resist Ofsted imperatives and mark GCSE coursework, whilst trying to cram as much History as possible into the reluctant heads of Nine Eff Gee and their like.
Australian readers could probably be forgiven for slightly different expectations when sitting down to read a book labelled "The New Peter 'Mad Max' Maxwell mystery". This isn't our Mad Max - this is a particularly English style of Mad Max more than a hemisphere away from our own version.
Peter Maxwell is a History teacher, head of sixth form, and a slightly older man with a considerably younger partner, DS Jacquie Carpenter. And a baby son Nolan, a love of bicycles, a decidedly cavalier attitude to keeping ones nose out of matters that don't concern you, and an almost stubborn inability to leave well enough alone.
Whilst this book isn't exactly a fit for the small English village style mystery, there's definitely a hefty dose of the English eccentric about Mad Max. And there is a lot of humour in these books - and there is absolutely nothing subtle about most of that. To the point where it does get a tad annoying, as there's something very predictable about Max's behaviour; Jacquie's reactions; Jacquie's bosses exasperation; everyone's relationship with young Nolan; the kids from school that Max runs into; Max's colleagues at school; Jacquie and Max's "unmarried state" and all those other little elements the reader is constantly beaten over the head with.
Now I will admit there were times reading this book that I could have lived with a whole lot less of the forced eccentricity of Mad Max, but it's not like the author makes any apology for that aspect of the books (I've read others before this one), and somehow, despite a niggling sense of irritation, Max is sort of endearing, and the quality of the plots, which aren't necessarily flat or single-threaded make these books very readable.
Undoubtedly another candidate for readers who are looking for something on the lighter side, the humour will appeal to many many readers, as will Max's relationships with his students and his young son. If you've not read any of this 'Mad Max' series and you like this very English style of book - then I can recommend them. As with most of these relationship based series, it wouldn't hurt to try to read the books in order, but it's also not going to matter that much if you dip in wherever you can get your hands on a copy.
BLOOD IN THE COTSWOLDS - Rebecca Tope
Thea Osborne and her faithful spaniel, Hepzie, have taken on a house-sitting assignment in the charming Cotswold village of Temple Guiting. But as always, an idyllic village can harbour a disquieting number of secrets and when a skeleton is discovered at the roots of an old beech tree, Thea is grateful for the presence of her partner DS Phil Hollis. There is no concrete evidence as to who the bones belonged to although it isn't long before theories and rumours abound. Thea soon finds herself drawn into a murder investigation - perhaps the countryside isn't that quiet after all.
BLOOD IN THE COTSWOLD is an entry in the (somewhat unimaginatively named, it has to be said) Cotswold Series from British author Rebecca Tope.
Central character Thea Osborne and her dog Hepzie house-sit. They do this quite a bit, and in this book they are in the quiet little village of Temple Guiting. Thea's partner DS Phil Hollis is joining them for a quiet, and hopefully romantic, celebration of their first-year anniversary. Of course nothing goes to plan, and Hollis puts his back out, meaning he's on the spot when an upturned old tree reveals a skeleton.
The discovery of the skeleton leads to a range of different possible identities and some local sleuthing, somewhat outside proper protocol by both Hollis and Thea, albeit with Hollis rather restricted in his movements because of his back.
There's some nice asides throughout this book taking you through some of the history of this village, and there's that light touch - not quite cozy (in the recipe and cat's vein), that you can expect from this type of very British, small town, "Midsomer" style of books.
And that's really the main point of this book - that small village; idyllic looking, murder and mayhem lurking beneath the surface countryside; slightly eccentric characters; with a combination of official and non-official investigators of which there are a lot of excellent examples in British crime fiction.
BLOOD IN THE COTSWOLDS fits right in with that whole sub-genre (whatever it's called). Non-confrontational stories, in this example with an up-to-date mature age relationship, it's not a stretch to imagine that this book (and the series) is just the thing for readers looking for a little romance, a little humour and a touch of murder and mayhem without the overt gore and angst of other forms of crime fiction. Even if you're not a dedicated fan of this style (and goodness knows I normally prefer to dance on the dark side), BLOOD IN THE COTSWOLD was a good, solid and interesting plot, with a believable couple at the centre of the investigation, dedicated but not overly romantic and unrealistic. All in all good fun, light entertainment and a very nice way to spend a cold winter's Sunday.
INNOCENT BLOOD - Elizabeth Corley
DCI Andrew Fenwick is on a tough case. The Choir Boy investigation, a project outside ordinary police jurisdiction, aims to expose an infamous and increasingly powerful paedophile ring. Moreover, with eleven-year-old schoolboy Sam Bowyers missing, every second counts. But is the investigation more complex than it initially seems? And could something buried alongside a child's corpse, twenty-five years ago, be a vital clue?
There are some authors who just seem to be able to consistently turn out good books, ones that engage your attention, sometimes create some discomfort in the reader, but invariably make you think. Elizabeth Corley is one of those authors for me, I remember her books long after I've finished reading them. INNOCENT BLOOD continues the standard.
DCI Fenwick's case - the Choir Boy investigations into a paedophile ring, was triggered by information from the USA, indicating that there is a paedophile ring operating in his area. This ring looks like it has been in existence for years and could very well have been involved in the murder of local boys. One boy's body, murdered and buried twenty-five years ago has already been discovered, and there is another boy who has been missing for a similar amount of time, as well as an eleven-year old who has recently disappeared. At the same time Major Maidment may have been hailed as a hero by the local community, when he shoots a conman when he pulled a knife on police, but Fenwick's friend and colleague Inspector Nightingale is looking at having to charge the Major with attempted murder. She's also convinced that Major Maidment is hiding something.
Some readers will may the subject matter in INNOCENT BLOOD disturbing, but the handling of it is sensitive, without sensation, whilst also revealing enough to ensure you're aware of the evil that is being perpetrated. There are quite a lot of books around at the moment that have paedophilia as the central crime and many of those don't do the subject matter justice. Sometimes you get the distinct feeling of the crime du jour being followed, not contributing anything much to the readers understanding of the central subject matter. That's not the case in INNOCENT BLOOD as the book conveys a number of aspects of the crime, including a series of saddening and differing points of view, but ultimately the message is clearly that whilst paedophilia itself is incomprehensibly sick, there's something considerably more chilling in the organisation and joint participation in such activity. The men in INNOCENT BLOOD who perpetrate these crimes are undetectable in their day to day lives - uncomfortably normal.
Whilst the subject matter may trigger an automatic skip in some people, the book is extremely well done. Tight, taut, uncomfortable, sensitive, caring INNOCENT BLOOD isn't what you could call an enjoyable read, but it was exactly the sort of book that you can expect from this author, and really worth sticking with.
CLOSER STILL - Jo Bannister
Detective Superintendent Jack Deacon doesn't take kindly to personal threats. So when a local gangster starts taking an interest in his partner Brodie Farrell and their infant son. Deacon is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect them.
Jo Bannister has an impressive back catalogue to her name with over 20 novels now, standalones and in a number of series groupings. CLOSER STILL is the 8th Brodie Farrell book, released in 2008 with LIARS ALL the next in the series, released in 2009.
It's probably worth getting this out in the open up front. I'm not a fan of Brodie Farrell, and that's not just because she's one of those "gifted" amateurs who seem to climb over the backs of the cops. In particular, her "partner" Jack Deacon who seems to do most of the graft and take most of the professional hits, whilst Brodie does the "solve the crime" using deduction alone stunt right at the end. Whilst it is possible for that sort of scenario to work - it may require less of the smugness that seems to go along with Brodie. To say nothing of the complicated private lives that seem to overshadow everything - even a possible terrorist plot.
In CLOSER STILL there's actually quite an interesting plot development going on. The death of a local gangster (who has recently threatened Brodie and their baby son) gets Jack into all sorts of warm water. Who killed Joe Loomis, is the death connected with drugs or is there a more sinister terrorist plot? Unfortunately the investigation ploughs on under the increasing melodrama of the vision problems of Jack and Brodie's baby son, the ongoing angst of their not really partnership, the unrequited love of Brodie's business associate Daniel, the self-imposed angst of Brodie as the lure of work over motherhood rears its head and, well you're probably getting the picture by now.
Unfortunately the plot just disappears, and whilst events leading up to the resolution are undoubtedly slightly outlandish, in these days of terrorist activities there was something compelling and strangely plausible about the whole thing. Mind you, Jack Deacon is not a man to be messed with and his confrontation with extreme danger towards the end of the book is an absolute highlight. Having said that, this leaping in and solving the puzzle when poor Jack's trying to keep mind, limb and the town in one piece is probably just another example of what is so annoying about Brodie. One day I must read one of Bannister's non-Brodie books as I really do like the police aspects of these books - the main character just puts me right off unfortunately.
Books by Jo Bannister:
The Winter Plain
A Cactus Garden
The Mason Codex (Unlawful Entry)
The Lazarus Hotel
From Fire and Flood
Fathers and Sins
Brodie Farrell series:
Echoes of Lies
Depths of Solitude
Requiem for a Dealer
Liars All (2009)
Clio Rees / Harry Marsh series:
Striving with Gods (An Uncertain Death)
The Going Down of the Sun
The Fifth Cataract
Mickey Flynn series:
Shards (Critical Angle)
Death and Other Lovers
A Bleeding of Innocents
Charisma (Sins of the Heart)
A Taste for Burning (Burning Desires)
No Birds Sing
The Hireling's Tale
Rosie Holland series:
The Primrose Convention
The Primrose Switchback
STILL WATERS - Judith Cutler
Detective Chief Superintendent Fran Harman has never been happier. Her relationship with Assistant Chief Constable Mark Turner is going well and they are buying a house together. At work, a former protégé, Simon Gates, has just become her new boss.
The second DCS Fran Harmon book I've read, there is such a lot that that you'd think would make these books unlikeable. Fran is almost too cheerful and nice, she's the sort of person that it's not hard to fantasise about as a victim of brutal crime. Mind you, she's also refreshingly not like your stereotypical angst ridden, difficult boss - she actively supports and encourages her subordinates, both in a day to day work sense, and as part of her ongoing police policy work. She's got her own boss problems though, and she handles them (mostly) with aplomb. There's a big concentration on Fran (and Mark's) personal life - which whilst not totally idyllic, is love's young dream enough to drive you mildly nuts, especially if you're slightly allergic to that level of the personal in the middle of your police procedural. And finally, in STILL WATERS, there is the classic multiple unconnected threads that end up converging.
But for some strange reason STILL WATERS (and the other book I've read in this series) are quite entertaining reads. On the less than confrontational side, there's something very engaging about Fran and Mark, their ongoing love story, their investigation methods, the station in which they work, and in all their colleagues. Sure things are a bit busy in places, who is who and where they fit in the police structure can be hard to follow at points, and Fran - as you'd expect from somebody of her personality type - has a tendency to talk way too much, but the basic plot of the investigation was nicely done, and cleverly drawn out - right to the end of the book.
STILL WATERS is the latest in the Fran Harmon series, and reading the earlier books will give you a total view of who she is, where she came from, although you could also pick this book up on its own without any problem. There is enough back story filled in, without it being tedious if you have read earlier books.
There's some really entertaining storytelling in STILL WATERS, despite all the things that you'd think would drive you slightly bats, Fran is the sort of overly cheerful character that even this grumpy reader can happily spend some time with.
OFF TRACK - Clare Curzon
Research biologist Piers Egerton has been working on a top-secret project for a number of years and has finally realised it is something he wants no part of. But the people he works for think he knows too much and he realises his life is in danger.
Clare Curzon began writing in the 1960s and has published over forty novels under a variety of pseudonyms, with twenty or so of these in the Superintendent Mike Yeadings series. OFF TRACK is the first time I've come across this series.
It has been a long while since I struggled for months to finish a book, but reading OFF TRACK turned out to be a very disconcerting experience. The basic plot is that Lee Barber, a train driver, leads a perfectly normal life until one night he overshoots a station and a passenger reports him. When a drunk Lee then comes across the man he decides has reported him, he attacks him. The hapless passenger isn't anything to do with the report, but he does turn out to be a disgruntled biological scientist, Piers Egerton, on his way to tell a newspaper reporter the dreadful secret of his work.
The reporter is, in turn, the partner of a Thames Valley police detective, who reports the scientist missing. When the daughter of the train driver is also snatched, the Thames Valley Serious Crimes Squad is involved in the search for two missing people (the daughter and the scientist), and ultimately, the death of a stranger who dies after breaking into the Barber home. At some point in the middle of all of this, the scientist and the train driver (the attempted killer and the victim that is) join forces, but to be perfectly honest, that was the point at which I completely lost the plot.
Whilst I don't have a problem with a certain level of co-incidence, and a reasonable suspension of disbelief I struggled from very early on with the level that was required to get involved with OFF TRACK. Not just the idea that the Egerton would be so willing to throw his lot in with the maniac (or sad loser) that just tried to kill him, there was simply too much unrealistic behaviour going on. Why you'd suddenly turn a simple report of a driver incident into a killing vendetta was never adequately supported by the rest of Barber's behaviour; the supposedly discontented Egerton - he of the explosive potential secret, just didn't feel right - tense or even reflective of his position; Barber's wife did manage to raise a little suspicion about her husband's behaviour, but then she becomes so disconnected from events around her children she lost all credibility.
Whilst there are a few in the supporting cast that came across as a little more believable, the general feeling of unreality made it almost impossible to find anybody to sympathise with. The complications of the plot seemed to slow the whole story down, rather than create a tense thrilling experience, and the combination of both didn't help make the book engaging or interesting. Add to that some plot points, that despite the interconnected nature of everything else in the book, just seem to lob out of left field and hang around forever, and the book just didn't work for me on any level.
Not having read any of the other Mike Yeardings books, it would be unfair to judge the entire series based on this single entry. Any series that has twenty or so entries in it just must have something going for it. Perhaps it would be best to start out somewhere else and get to know the main characters properly before giving OFF TRACK a go.
ANGELS UNAWARE - Mike Ripley
Roy Angel is a Private Investigator. He is the token male at an all female agency. His wife, a successful fashion designer, has recently given birth to their first child.. But there’s a fly in Angel’s blissful ointment. The Agency is insisting he is not entitled to extended paternity leave and his mother has descended upon them to “help” with the baby. Angel’s mum is a bit eccentric. She’s a hippy with a penchant for trouble and has the maternal instincts of a doorknob. Angel takes on the job of searching for a missing script writer. The bank financing the film is getting jumpy because the final draft of the script is past due and the writer hasn’t been seen in nearly two weeks. The investigation takes Angel out of his comfort zone of London into the wilds of Yorkshire. He is aided by fellow PI Ossie Oesterlein, a very large man with an even larger appetite, who lives at home with his mum and is into line dancing in a big way. So just how does a search for a missing man end in a murder hunt with Angel staring down the barrel of a loaded gun contemplating his own death? And what does a Polish porn star have to do with it?The story is told from Angel’s perspective. As the narrator, Angel’s voice is highly amusing; particularly the banter between himself and Ossie. These two are about an unlikely a pair as you’ll ever come across. His wife’s increasing exasperation and annoyance at Angel’s extended absence from the martial home is also very entertaining, as is his mother’s antics. The author, Mike Ripley, deftly changes both the tempo and mood of the plot as what begins as a routine missing person case and a jaunt to the north becomes a matter of life and death for Angel. ANGELS UNAWARE is a light-hearted detective yarn with a somewhat dark centre. I was surprised to learn that ANGELS UNAWARE is the fifteenth in the Angel series. I must look out for more. Mike Ripley’s Roy Angel has slipped under my radar until now. Don’t let it slip under yours.
MURDER ON THE BRIGHTON EXPRESS - Edward Marston
It is Autumn 1856 and trains are making the population more mobile. Brighton has become one of the main destinations for recreation.The increase in rail traffic has coincided with a rise in derailments and the death. When the Brighton Express is derailed, killing the driver and eleven passengers and injuring many more, the railway company conducts a cursory investigation.
MURDER ON THE BRIGHTON EXPRESS is the fifth in the Railway Detective series and it’s easy to see why the series is popular.Colbeck is a progressive and broadminded man; a rarity in Victorian times.It is easy to visualise the Victorian world that the author Edward Marston has chosen for his characters. Marston paints little vignettes of life in England in the mid-nineteenth century through his characters.
MURDER ON THE BRIGHTON EXPRESS is not going to set the world on fire, but it does offer an engrossing mystery with diverse characters to make for a light, entertaining read.