Seventeen-year-old Haley McWaid is a good girl, the pride of her suburban New Jersey family, captain of the lacrosse team, headed off to college next year with all the hopes and dreams her doting parents can pin on her. Which is why, when her mother wakes one morning to find that Haley never came home the night before, and three months quickly pass without word from the girl, the community assumes the worst.
Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission, to identify and bring down sexual predators via elaborate - and nationally televised - sting operations.
Dan Mercer knows he shouldn't be entering this house. But CAUGHT by Harlan Coben starts out with him going into that darkened house, ignoring his misgivings and walking straight into a nightmare. A seventeen-year-old girl has simply vanished into thin air, and there is nothing that a dedicated policeman can find that that will solve the mystery. Dan's problems, however, are easier to quantify - he's been caught in a televised sexual predator sting - run by journalist Wendy Tynes.
As the story builds the possibility of a link between Dan and the missing Haley, the life of Wendy in particular gets a hefty concentration. Starting Wendy off in the role of vigilante is a risky act on the part of this author as it's not too hard to imagine that she's going to be a unsympathetic character for some readers. There is some blurring of the harder edges of her characterisation with the story of her own life - the death of her husband at the hands of a drunk driver, her relationship with her teenage son and her father-in-law (the father-in-law was a standout character for this reader at least) and her ultimate acceptance that perhaps she'd unfairly accused Dan (too late for him of course). There's absolutely nothing wrong with an overtly unsympathetic central character however, and there are elements of Wendy that make perfect sense (taking a moment to consider whether I could forgive a drunk who killed my husband - and well let's just hope I'm never put in that position as I'm not too sure how I'd go), but something didn't completely ring true for me. I don't have a problem with characters that I don't personally warm too - but I have to be able to believe in them implicitly. There's something about the various epiphanies and circumstances of Wendy that simply didn't ring true - was too convenient.
From the opening scenes of this book - the sting, then a missing young girl, you could be excused a sense of overwhelming inevitability that's very very hard to lose. CAUGHT is very much a thriller style book and there is a lot happening as the many threads work their way towards a conclusion. There is quite a sense of pace at points throughout the book, but it could be a little patchy, with not quite enough to distract me from the overt engineering of many of the plot elements. There are a lot of supporting characters and it did seem at points that we were heading off into territory that might have been vaguely amusing (if you like aging white rappers and unemployed men sitting around in coffee shops), but there were points when I got a distinct feeling of frustration as we headed into a lot of twisting and turning passages without the magic word.
As a reader not adverse to a thriller, I found myself struggling with CAUGHT. Perhaps things didn't get off to a great start for me with the vigilante TV show sting, and it went downhill as I found the only character I could believe in (the policeman investigating Haley's disappearance) fading more and more into the background. For a thriller to work for this reader I've got to be able to suspend disbelief, and there was something about the plot that didn't quite carry me forward regardless, and something about the characters that didn't let me forget or forgive their flaws and go with the ride.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE - Joseph Boyden
Fifteen years after the death of their patriarch, the Bird Clan finds itself struggling to survive on the hardscrabble reservation it calls home.
On Christmas Day, the youngest of the clan, beautiful Suzanne Bird, leaves by snowmobile with her boyfriend Gus Netmaker, against both families' wishes, hoping to find purpose and a better life in Toronto. When word from Suzanne and Gus suddenly ceases, the Netmakers and Birds fear the worst and tensions between the two families escalate to violent levels.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE isn't the first book it's taken me quite a long time to read, it's not even the one that took the longest to read, but it did take many attempts before I was able to get any traction. This attempt I read the blurb first-up and did a little Google hunting - something I normally try not to do. But this time I really needed it to find out what on earth was going on. Then it dawned on me why I was having so much trouble getting into the book.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE is a family story, told from two main points of view. Annie is the sister of the missing Suzanne, as per the blurb. She's the one who did come home, after a whirlwind time in the big cities which started off with her looking for Suzanne and ended up with her almost living Suzanne's life. The other main narrator is their Uncle Will, a man haunted by loss, old, looking back at his life and the disastrous outcomes surrounding the disappearance of Suzanne. The book launches into these individual voices very quickly, and there's no real hint at the start as to what the story is about, and where the reader is being taken. It's a controlled, contained, almost placid book to start off with, beautifully evocative of life in a harsh and difficult environment and the joys and tensions of living in a small community. It draws a series of wonderful, thoughtful, sometimes eccentric, often quite poignant characterisations. At no stage does THROUGH THE BLACK SPRUCE give anything unnecessary away.
And that is why the book may have been so difficult to get any traction on. There is no indication at the start where this is going, even for a while who is narrating; what has happened; how anybody got to the position they are in, or even what exact position that is; where the story is leading. This is immersion reading, and in a way extreme faith reading. The reader has to simply give in to the author, allow this world and these people to slowly, very very slowly emerge, draw their pictures, cohere into a tale of violence and extremes, kindness, love and compassion. Once you do give in, allow this book to work it's way into it's own story and draw you into the world, it's often rather beautiful. Uncle Will is a marvellous old character, wise and stupid, kind, stubborn and game as. Annie is very much a survivor, whether that's in the modelling studios and parties of New York and Toronto or deep in the frozen forest in the hunting camps, setting traps and coaxing the old snowmobile into one more trip, she's strong and very very like her Uncle.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE is not however, a perfect book. It's strengths are most definitely in Will's world, as he narrates his life, as he moves through the Canadian wilderness, as he goes backwards and forwards through his past and his present. Less convincing are the times that Annie spends away from forest, in the cities and the modelling life. This is more sketchy, flat and bland, hard to follow, less immersing. Because of that there's frequently a lack of balance in the narration. Will became a real focus, allowing the reader to understand and accept his connection to his home, the land and the creatures around him. There was less of that connection with Annie - maybe because of the Indian spiritualism which worked well for Will but didn't seem to have such authenticity in her city based world. Once she's back in the forest, at her Uncle's side, and once the events surrounding the disappearance of Suzanne start to clarify, Annie starts to make more sense. But it was hard to shake a slight suspicion of contrivance.
But that's a minor quibble. Ultimately I really liked this book, once I'd figured out how to read it. It's probably not a book for a more traditional crime fiction fan - it's definitely about the journey and not the destination, but once into it, once I'd figured out who was who and that I wasn't supposed to have the slightest idea what was going on for most of the book, I just went with it. And along the way there were some glorious moments.
BEYOND REACH - Graham Hurley
Crushed cranial vault. Visible extrusions of brain tissue through multiple scalp lacerations.
She tried to keep up, tried to focus on the fat grey threads of jelly that laced what remained of this man's head. Memories, she told herself. Intelligence.
The very stuff of what we are, of what we do. Billions of nerve cells that should have warned him to take care when crossing the road.
She closed her eyes and took a tiny step backwards, secretly glad that something like this could still shock her.
Some reviews are just flat out hard to write. Normally it's because the book is good, and I'm in real danger of gushing. Particularly in this case, where gushing got dangerously close to an understatement.
BEYOND REACH is the 10th Joe Faraday and Paul Winter book from British author Graham Hurley. The series started out as a police procedural, with a good strong "villain" character - a bit of a rough diamond in drug lord with a decent streak, Bazza Mackenzie. Joe is a long-term cop, once completely content in his role as a DI, single-parent to his profoundly deaf son. He is a widower with a passion for bird watching, poignantly tentative in his love life, not so content anymore. Paul was a young cop struggling within a system which he ultimately chucked for the dark side. At this point the series moved from a really good police procedural to something much more. The focus on Winter intensifies, although the police side remains involved. An edge comes in as the two main characters play off each other - sometimes directly, more often indirectly. Their strong-points and weaknesses are contrasted. Events are seen from the two viewpoints, the difference between "knowing" and "guessing" on both sides is explored, there's some murky lines between good and bad, black and white. All of this is just getting better and better with every book.
Winter, working as Bazza Mackenzie's right-hand man, has been involved in some stuff he wishes he hadn't seen. He's also involved in some positive changes in Bazza's life, as the Mackenzie family attempt a little genuine intervention work with the underprivileged youth of Portsmouth. Whilst Winter is uncomfortable in the position of working closely with those kids, he also finds he is being drawn closer and closer into the family. It's this closeness that helps take these books somewhere different. Winter has a view from within the camp, but not immersion in the life, he's an insider and an outsider all at the same time. Friend of Bazza's he's also still a friend of his old colleague Joe Faraday. He's involved with the day to day operations of Bazza's network and family, but he's also not necessarily a crook. He's taking an interesting path into the world of part-enforcer, part-right hand man, part conscience, part advisor, part observer, part player. Tricky to have so many parts!
Meanwhile Faraday's got things going on in his own life. The current case he's working on - the hit & run death of a local thug, seems like it's going to be a simple case of following the obvious. This victim is a man universally regarded as a bully and the murderer of a young boy, but that police investigation was never able to find witnesses or evidence. Faraday's biggest problems are in negotiating the politics within the force, and the complications of his home life when his beloved girlfriend packs up and heads overseas on a University secondment, seemingly with little regard to what it will do to their relationship. Faraday is lost at home, and dispirited at work - the pressures of the force's political and petty power struggles seem to be getting to him. Because of his general dissatisfaction there's always that elephant in the room - what next for Faraday?
One of the things that this author does incredibly well is provide multiple intersections for the lives of the cops and the villains. Winter's current project is to find out the facts about Bazza's daughter Esme's affair with a top ranking cop. A cop that has been involved in major investigations into Bazza's empire. A cop that Faraday knows. The kidnapping of Esme's son causes everything to go very pear-shaped, that investigation pulling the two sides uncomfortably close together. Faraday's hit & run case is close to Bazza's empire - the wild and dangerous world of the housing estates, the drugs, the under-privileged, right into the same environs as Bazza's illegal activities as well as his charity project.
Another thing done well is the way that Portsmouth (or Pompey as it's known affectionately) is portrayed. The urban decay, crime, desperation of some areas played off against the wealth and privilege of others. Bazza, as a character, striding through both environments - his wealth earning him a place in the privilege, his background making him more relaxed in the decay. And it's striking how apt this title is - there's so many things in this world that seem BEYOND REACH. Peace of mind, pride, escape, retribution, justice, survival. In different ways, for just about every character in this world, there's something somewhere that's just slightly beyond their reach.
If you're new to the Faraday and Winter series, then dive in somewhere. It would be better if you could start a little earlier in the series to get you up to speed with the history of these characters and their earlier encounters. But if you're having trouble getting hold of any of the earlier books - then start with BEYOND REACH. But if you're a fan of really good English crime fiction - then make sure this series is on your reading lists.
Faraday / Winter Books:
Cut to Black
Blood and Honey
The Price of Darkness
No Lovelier Death
Rules of Engagement
The Devil's Breath
Thunder in the Blood
The Perfect Soldier
STILL MIDNIGHT - Denise Mina
It's the case that could make DS Alex Morrow's career, it would make any cop salivate. A home invaded in the dead of night, deep in the heart of the cosy suburbs, a hard working family at the heart of it and a vulnerable old man taken hostage. It's high profile: a black-and-white case and it shouldn't be too hard to solve...
The attackers were slovenly. The two strangers who forced their way into the warm comfortable home demanded millions the family didn't have and shouted for a man nobody had hear of. It had to be a mistake, and a bad one at that.
According to the famous names quoted on the back of STILL MIDNIGHT, Denise Mina is the crown princess of crime, past winner of the John Creasey Memorial Prize for her first crime novel GARNETHILL. She certainly is a writer that deserves a wide fan base, as she is undoubtedly one of the great writers of the nuanced central character.
STILL MIDNIGHT introduces one such new character - DS Alex Morrow. Morrow is prickly, raised by a single mother suffering from chronic depression, there but for the grace she's somehow kept herself out of trouble. She's somebody who the hierarchy think can't be trusted - she shoots from the hip too often, offends people, loses her temper, has a mouth on her and is simply not able to not use it, despite the need for politics and tact. What the hierarchy don't seem to realise is that she's way harder on herself than they could ever be. But she's badly rattled when she's not given responsibility for the sort of case that Detectives dream about. She would have been the perfect officer - a home invasion and the kidnapping of an elderly man - has happened right on her childhood stomping ground. She's knows a lot of the criminals in that area, she still has contacts, yet she somehow finds herself reporting to DS Bannerman - would-be surfer dude, political player, bosses mate. Morrow does what she does best, setting out pretty much on her own, doling out the snarling and insults as she proceeds, she rides roughshod over anyone who gets in the way. All the while struggling with the problems in her personal life.
The interesting thing about STILL MIDNIGHT is that there's a lot of ground in here that it seems frequent readers of crime fiction will have travelled before. Difficult central police characters; unthinking / unsupportive hierarchy; family problems; racism; troubled youth; lone wolves. Put these elements in the hands of a writer with the skill of Mina however, add a villain with an almost whimsical view of the world; a cock-up that puts the villains in a nothing to lose scenario and you have something that's edgy, involving and really really good.
Fans of Mina's GARNETHILL trilogy will find something vaguely familiar in STILL MIDNIGHT. There's something all too real in all of Mina's characters that might make you squirm just a little bit! Sure Alex and Maureen come from different sides of the law, but they are both flawed, complicated and frequently annoying characters who seem somehow familiar and extremely sympathetic. Add to that strong procedural elements, a great sense of place and pace, and STILL MIDNIGHT is a terrific book - let's hope it's the start of a new series.
NO LOVELIER DEATH - Graham Hurley
While Crown Court Judge Peter Ault is away on holiday with his wife, his teenage daughter Rachel throws a party. The invite goes out on Facebook and before she knows it over a hundred kids from all over Portsmouth have descended on the house in the leafy affluence of Craneswater. The party turns into a riot and the property is trashed.
NO LOVELIER death is the ninth and latest entrant in the DI Faraday series of novels from Portsmouth based author Graham Hurley. If you're a fan of British Police Procedurals, then chances are you already know about these books - if not, you're in for a treat.
NO LOVELIER DEATH starts out with an issue that many urban dwellers are all too aware of these days. A teenage party, advertised on a social networking site, is overrun and quickly gets out of control. This party is being held by the daughter of a tough local judge, in the leafy and exclusive location of Craneswater. Not too exclusive mind you, local crime boss, Barry MacKenzie, lives next door and he's less than impressed when he and his wife return home from a dinner party to absolute chaos. Bazza's particularly put out as he'd promised his neighbour he'd keep an eye on things whilst the judge was on holidays, but he quickly finds there's s no respect these days when he scores a bit of a hiding trying to break up the party. Worse is yet to come when Bazza's wife finds the judge's daughter, Rachel and her boyfriend, dead beside the MacKenzie's pool.
The police have an absolute nightmare on their hands - as a house full of rioting, drunken, out of control teenagers, become potential suspects or witnesses that have to be processed. Bazza's also not a man to take an affront to his stewardship lying down, and having ex DC Paul Winter on staff means that he can run his own investigation. Soon Winter and Faraday are on similar ground, each trying to identify the killer from the midst of the carnage. The difference in effectiveness comes down to who has the most contacts and influence - the police or Bazza MacKenzie.
This direct comparison - Faraday and Winter on different sides - is particularly interesting. Winter was a rising star in the police until events conspired to push him into working for MacKenzie. Earlier books cover these events, although revelations dropped into NO LOVELIER DEATH explain much of what has occurred. A new reader to the series is going to be able to catch on, is even going to be a little ahead of the game if they start with this book. Both are interesting men in their own right. Faraday is a little standoffish, keeps himself to his family more than his colleagues, an obsessive bird watcher, father to a profoundly deaf young man, he's not overly angst-ridden, rumpled or "difficult", differences commented on by other characters in the book. Winter's a similar personality in many ways, although more of a loner, capable, loyal, fundamentally a good bloke, he's in a difficult position. Loyal to Bazza as Bazza has been loyal (in his own way) to him, Winter's is forced to come to grips with the reality of working for a gangster.
Alongside the good characterisations (and a very dark but fascinating sense of the setting in Portsmouth), there's a very good plot working through NO LOVELIER DEATH. It covers a lot of ground - the growing instances of "organised" party gatecrashing; the nature and psychology of a society that seems to have lost touch with itself; obligation and debt; pride and revenge. NO LOVELIER DEATH does switch a fair amount of the focus from Faraday to Winter, establishing very clearly Winter's change in circumstances. Along the way it uses a number of different lines of enquiry, and the peripheral involvement of Faraday's partner and his son, giving a range of possible solutions from which the reader can draw some interesting conclusions.
The Faraday and Winter book (as now billed) really are excellent examples of the British Police Procedural. The added twist of two experienced police investigators working the different sides of the law bodes well for where they'll go in the next book.
SEPULCHRE - Kate Mosse
One girl in the past, one girl in the present.
SEPULCHRE certainly appears to be a formidable prospect when you consider the weight of historical content, and of course simply the weight of the edition as it is another house brick sized novel (as was the hugely successful LABYRINTH). Both novels have utilized the same tact of luring in an audience expecting some riveting tease of a mystery lost in time and then found again by the present day heroine. SEPULCHRE is pretty vanilla flavoured in that regard, and what could have been a wonderful sub plot with Debussy is sadly never explored. There seems to be other pieces of writing debris left by the wayside in this novel and it is a shame, for with their inclusion, a lot more readers would have been compelled to drive on through the extra unnecessary few hundred pages. Now, that is a lot. Mosse loves her adopted home of southern France and her passion for its people through the ages drives a narrative onward that could have otherwise become quite dry and barren in different hands.
Do not let the size of the book turn you off - much gets said about authors waffling on and losing their audience as SEPULCHRE, despite stretching the concentration of the entertainment seeking reader a tad thin, is such a charming read, geared obviously to appeal to the feminine of the reading species, that the time just skips by. Think of those three hour movies that really only seem like 90 minutes long - SEPULCHRE is like that. Mosse does a sterling job in informing without lecturing and all possible details of the freshness of a new day to the dust of the road are imparted with such enthusiasm that you can't help but be enchanted.
It is just one opinion that Mosse would have done better to ditch all premise of a mystery and instead concentrate on the human dramas of a girl from long ago; the people who lived in this part of France throughout the ages and the contrast with the dilemmas of the modern working girl. Similar paths trodden, centuries apart, that sort of thing. As the last five years of publishing in popular fiction would seem to have proven without a doubt, throw together a chase or two, mysteries hidden in paintings or pieces of music, the odd castle or religious artefact and bang there you have it, a runaway success on your hands. And lets preferably leave out the woo-woo, unless you are John Connolly.
SEPULCHRE has been crafted by loving and respectful hands, this is evident from the very first chapter. Whether it is your cup of mead or not may depend on what you were expecting from the novel as SEPULCHRE being hyped as a historical mystery probably didn't do it any favours, yet it is such a sweet and engaging read as it takes you on a gentle ride through the French countryside. Not an enormous deviation from what we would deem an historical drama, but a well informed and entertaining book that has deservedly been so popular.
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 NINTH CIRCLE - Alex Bell
A man comes round on the floor of a shabby flat in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There's a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is.
Reading THE NINTH CIRCLE was a weird experience and that's not just because the subject matter dipped into the supernatural very quickly.
THE NINTH CIRCLE is partly a mystery and partly fantasy. When Gabriel wakes up on his own floor he has no idea who he is, where he is, or where the money came from. He does have some memories of how to function, how to feed himself, how to go out and slowly discover the more intimate details of his life - it's like his own personal past has been knocked out, yet everything else in the world works. Slowly, via a series of circumstantial discoveries, and later from hints or the revelations of a mysterious lurking character, he does identify that he's living in Budapest, he works out that his full name is Gabriel Antaeus, he finds that he can speak and read a lot of languages fluently, he discovers he is capable of extreme and deadly efficient violence and ultimately, he finds out what caused his loss of memory, and who and what he really is. As he slowly tries to re-integrate himself into society - all the time having no idea if somebody is looking for him, if somebody is waiting for him, strange events happen to him. A burning man haunts his dreams, he finds he thinks increasingly violent thoughts, and his pregnant neighbour always appears to him surrounded by a golden light.
THE NINTH CIRCLE starts out almost as a discovery journey - as Gabriel works his way back into a life. As he slowly finds contact with people and establishes his own coping mechanisms (or not coping mechanisms depending upon your viewpoint), strange events and people reveal themselves. And then we're well into the fantasy part of the novel, where Gabriel is caught in some sort of epic battle between good and evil - angels and demons, where the religious aspects of the battle are revealed in the surrounding characters and their actions and circumstances.
Whilst THE NINTH CIRCLE really was a fascinating book, there were a few odd problems with it. Gabriel is a pretty ineffectual character for all his violence and brooding nature, and frequently he was almost annoyingly passive. Despite the epic nature of the plot elements there's also very little sense of real menace - even to Gabriel himself. Finally there's absolutely no sense of place - the setting could easily have been anywhere so why Budapest wasn't immediately obvious.
Despite those few minor niggles, THE NINTH CIRCLE definitely was a page-turner which I couldn't put down. It could definitely appeal to mystery fans who don't mind a bit of a dabble in the supernatural.
THE PRICE OF DARKNESS - Graham Hurley
THE PRICE OF DARKNESS is the 8th in the DI Joe Faraday series - a series that deserves to be considerably better known. Slower paced than some, equally balanced between the personal life of DI Faraday and the investigations he is involved in, these books are more in the "to be savoured" arena than a "wild ride".
THE PRICE OF DARKNESS starts out with the funeral of local "identity" Bazza Mackenzie's brother - Winter is now on the inside of the Mackenzie firm - after a drink driving incident has him thrown out of the force. Back in Portsmouth, Faraday and his team investigate the execution style shooting of Jonathan Mallinder - a property developer, who, apart from running a very successful business, doesn't seem to have done anything to anyone. He's got a loving wife and family, a business partner with no problems with him, and a background as a talented and cool negotiator. So who were the two people in the stolen car who seemed to know exactly how to avoid the CCTV cameras? As the investigation into Mallinder's death crawls along, a government minister, on a visit to Portsmouth, is assassinated in a brazen shooting. Faraday soon finds himself moved off that investigation, out of the station completely, to work on the Mallinder case only.
Whilst the investigations into these two cases are proceeding, Winter is working his way into the Mackenzie firm further and further. Mackenzie is trying to rebrand himself as a legitimate businessman and an entrepreneur, but under it all a gangster is still a gangster. As things get more and more risky, Winter wonders more and more about his future - as a cop or as a crim.
Whilst it takes a while to get everything set up in THE PRICE OF DARKNESS, the early slowness gives way to a pretty complicated plot with the two main characters - Faraday and Winter - at the centre of their own little maelstroms. There's a deftness to the way that the situation for both players is worked out and a nice twist and hanging conclusion that makes you look forward to what's going to happen in the next book.
If you have read the earlier books in the series then you'll know all about Faraday - his family and his bird watching obsession; as well as Winter and his story. Knowing that back-story will definitely enhance THE PRICE OF DARKNESS. If you haven't read any of the earlier books, then track them down - there is nothing like a great classic English police procedural series.
The earlier books are Turnstone (2000), The Take (2002), Angels Passing (2003), Deadlight (2003), Cut to Black (2005), Blood and Honey (2006) and One Under (2007).
ROME BURNING - Sophia McDougall
ROME BURNING is the second in the ROMANITAS trilogy, based in a Roman Empire that still exists today. This version of the Empire is a mix of the ancient traditions and stylings, alongside technology which bears some, limited, resemblance to current day. The Earth is divided into different and very large nation states and the tension between these states continues to grow, following on, albeit 2 years later, from ROMANITAS - the first book in the trilogy.
This trilogy is a big and rather complicated undertaking for the reader to dive into (I think you'd definitely have to have ROMANITAS before starting on ROME BURNING). For a start there's the nature of the story which is part mystery and intrigue; part epic power struggle; part science fiction / fantasy. The setting is in a world that whilst it's Earth - it's not the one that we know. The world is divided into large nation states, one of which is the Roman Empire. The timeframe is more current day though, but it's not current time as we'd recognise totally. For a start there's the layout of the nation States, but more disconcertingly is the combination of the Roman Empire and technology. The technology is again not quite what we have in the real world, but it's sort of close. Car's of a type, longdictor's (video communicators) go alongside less than advanced medical technology, ancient Roman names and rites. All in all it's a complicated undertaking.
McDougall writes well and that helps the reader of ROME BURNING progress, otherwise there are elements of the book that are slightly off-putting for a reader who is not expecting that alternative history or does not usually read those sorts of books. The thing that the quality of the writing can't quite cover up is some of the melodrama. McDougall likes to put some of her characters through the full wringer of events and emotions and at points it can read a bit like a soap opera.
The beginning of the book incorporates a map of the world with the nation States outlined on it, as well as a more detailed map of the area around the Great Wall of Terranova. There is also a character list which proved useful as the names, frankly, were a bit tricky to keep in your head. At the back of the book there is a Short History of the Roman Empire (as depicted in the trilogy). This was incredibly handy for giving you some feeling of the "history" of the book world.
An odd reading experience for a fan of crime and mystery fiction, ROME BURNING is possibly not quite as engaging as the first book in the trilogy. Fans of science fiction and alternative histories may find it more satisfying.