DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, 1953 Forced to resign from his position of Detective Sergeant and re-classified as 'mixed race' after an incident involving a young black woman, Emmanuel Cooper winds up powerless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Nickerk. Patrolling the freight yards one night, he stumbles upon the body of a young boy and the detective in him cannot, or will not, walk away. When two more bodies - this time an older English woman and her maid - are discovered at his boarding house, he unwittingly become
The second Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper book LET THE DEAD LIE has now been released, following on the from highly praised A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE.
LET THE DEAD LIE takes Cooper into different physical circumstances, working in a very bleak city, doing menial labour and nightly surveillance work, there's a sense of loss and depression surrounding him. This rapidly changes to desperation as he is implicated in further murders and has a limited time, and difficult circumstances in which to clear his own name.
Readers of the first of the Cooper books will be aware that this series is based within apartheid South Africa in the early 1950's. That's a very bleak, uncomfortable and disturbing location and timeframe for readers to be pushed into. It's made even more discomforting with the move to the urban setting - somehow there's a loss of a sense of some beauty, probably because there's less of the natural world. The vast majority of people that Cooper encounters in this book are down-trodden or controlled totally by their "racial situation". There are some rare exceptions to that of course, and there's certainly some signs of people making the best of an appalling situation - but sadly there are also signs of depravity and prejudice and tensions within racial groups. Somehow this makes the whole apartheid situation, and the nature of South Africa in that time darker, more depressing, more disheartening.
Cooper himself remains an interesting, challenging character. Not quite an unreliable narrator, he's certainly a flawed human being. Which is something that really appeals to this reader - central characters that engage, make you think, wince or even dislike on occasions. Especially as Cooper has a good streak - his motivations are good, perhaps his methods less clear and sometimes his own relationships are at best hamfisted or at worst manipulative. But it's that sense of manipulation that is strongest in this book - from the "State" manipulating people's rights and opportunities based on a mindlessly arbitrary classification of "race"; through people within those race groups manipulating their own situation, and those around them; to the way that the race groups do (or do not) co-operate or respect each other as well.
Where the circumstances of the setting of the book are so overwhelming, it can sometimes be that the narrative can get a little lost in the crowd. It's an interesting thing that in LET THE DEAD LIE, there is sufficient description and background to the world in which Cooper is operating to give a clear indication of what it must have been like, without losing too much impetus in the investigation. That investigation also twists and turns nicely and quite realistically giving the reader a sneaking suspicion that whilst some things are obvious, others may not be as they seem.
Undoubtedly reading these stories isn't a particularly easy or pleasant task. The world is unpalatable, the society confrontational and profoundly shocking. Cooper himself isn't a knight in shining armour. He is, however, a great survivor and let's hope this series survives with him.
THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD - Robert Wilson
The sweltering city of Seville is still recovering from a shocking and unsolved terrorist attack but now a spectacular car crash brings to light another threat. A dead gangster and a suitcase filled with millions in cash means the prospect of a serious Russian mafia presence on Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón's beat.
Jefe Javier Falcón is undoubtedly one of those slightly rumpled, thoughtful, urbane, complicated and delightful detectives that fans of crime fiction will love to spend time with. THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD is the last book in this series, beginning with THE BLIND MAN OF SEVILLE, then THE SILENT AND THE DAMNED and THE HIDDEN ASSASSINS.
In THE IGNORANCE OF THE BLOOD Seville is a swelteringly hot, tense and shocked city, following a terrorist attack which Falcón has promised will not go unsolved. Unfortunately, whilst the promise was heart-felt, the actual identification of those behind the attack is not so easy and Falcón is struggling. Meanwhile a Russian gangster is making a run for it with a lot of cash and some future plans which don't sit well with his masters.
When you sit down to read THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD you need to make sure you've got time on your hands. For a start it's unlikely you're going to want to put it down again, and for a second, you're going to have to concentrate a bit. The mix of Gangsters, Terrorists, Lovers, Children, Police Departments, Spys, Friends and Acquaintances gets very complex. Not that the plot is necessarily over-complicated, it's just that there is an awful lot going on in this book and you'll need to keep a lot of names, places, people and events straight in your mind. (Confession here - I have the book but I also listened to a fair portion of it via Audiobook which really was a fabulous experience, the names of people and places pronounced properly just added a little extra to the enjoyment of the book).
If you haven't read the earlier books you should still be able to sort out who is who and some of the backstory of the characters. There's enough detail spread throughout to give you a backwards perspective, but not so much that you feel like it's a retrospective. There is also real writing skill being exhibited here. There's a lot of personal angst and relationship difficulties delved into and explored, but at no time does the pace of the book suffer. He really does characters well but he also does settings beautifully. You can feel the heat of Seville, the smells and sights of Andalucia are so evocative. You read these books with a hankering for ripe oranges, olives, tiled floors and cool places. There's also something very chilling about the plots, they are elaborate and sinister and very discomforting.
Alongside the Falcón series, Wilson has written a number of other books which are equally excellent, but THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD, it seems, is the last of the Javier Falcón quartet. Botheration, blast and drat it all.
BLEED FOR ME - Michael Robotham
Ray Hegarty, a highly respected former detective, lies dead in his daughter Sienna's bedroom. She is found covered in his blood. Everything points to her guilt, but psychologist Joe O'Loughlin isn't convinced.
Fans of Australian writer Michael Robotham will always be waiting with baited breath for the next instalment from him. Be it a book that features (now) ex-cop Victor Ruiz, psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, Sikh detective Alisha Barba or a combination of those characters. BLEED FOR ME is another Joe O'Loughlin book, with a hefty appearance from Ruiz as well - and these two are particular favourites of this reader anyway.
If you've never read a Robotham book before it won't take you long to get up to speed with Joe's back story. A psychologist, he doesn't practice any more, now teaching instead. A sufferer of early onset Parkinsons, his physical frailty is something he struggles with on a daily basis. As he struggles with his separation from wife Julianne. A separation he is consistently unable to accept, his lose of close and regular contact with the woman he continues to love deeply is made even worse by his longing to be back living in the same house as his daughters - baby Emma and teenager on the verge Charlie. When Charlie's best friend Sienna is embroiled in the death of her father - ex-cop in his own right Ray Hegarty Joe is there from the very start. Searching for Sienna on the night that Ray is murdered; trying to help Sienna; trying to help his own daughter deal with the impact of the upheavals in her friends life; trying to restore his marriage; trying to stay in good with the police; trying to find the real killer. Joe seems to spend a lot of his life trying - and he tries the patience of a lot of people around him in the process. Calling in a favour from Ruiz, Joe and Victor seem to be the only people who don't believe Sienna killed her father, even when revelations of what has been going on in that family start to surface.
Joe's family have been through a lot in earlier books, and those circumstances, and his increasing Parkinson's symptoms seem to have made Joe more of a hero and Julianne, in particular, somewhat of a villain as their marriage has crumbled. BLEED FOR ME definitely is going someway towards explaining the relationship - the tensions and the difficulties between these two people. A lot of those difficulties play out as the pressure, this time albeit one removed from Joe's own family, acts on everybody in this book. Joe is as alternatively driven, bumbling, well meaning and blind stubborn as he's ever been; Ruiz is closed, measured and somewhat ruthless by comparison. Julianne is defensive sometimes, at other points she's open and caring and protective - and there's some explanation of why she has done what seemed so heartless in earlier books.
Along the way, the personal is balanced well against a story of human perversity and cruelty that is often profoundly confrontational. Perhaps it is that idea of confrontation that made Robotham step over one of those lines for some readers of crime fiction. Whilst I have struggled with, and sometimes been able to see and understand the reason for animal cruelty in some books - as a way of instigating some reaction / affecting a character or illustrating a character's flaws, in BLEED FOR ME it's not just that the depiction goes beyond cruelty and steps into explicit suffering, it's because I struggled from then on to find a context for it - a reason if you will. Despite the fact that I found this story of manipulation and cruelty balanced against understanding and care good, and the balancing of the relationship between Joe and his wife fairer and more balanced than before, since finishing the book I'm still confronted by that animal suffering incident. With the passage of time, the details have faded, but I'm still puzzled by the reactions (or lack thereof) of all the characters around that poor animal and increasingly discomforted by extrapolations of why it had to be so graphic. So confrontational. So unexplained, unnecessary. Certainly the last O'Loughlin book I read was the one that Robotham quipped his wife was worried might stop them from being invited to dinner parties. I hope that the bar didn't need to be raised.
COLD JUSTICE - Katherine Howell
The past haunts the present...
Nineteen years ago teenager Georgie Daniels stumbled across the body of her classmate, Tim Pieters, hidden amongst bushes. His family was devastated and the killer never found.
Political pressure sees the murder investigation reopened and Detective Ella Marconi assigned to the case.
It's nearly impossible for a reader to understand what it must be like to write a series of books, based around the same characters. All we can do is be extremely grateful that writers like Katherine Howell can do it, book after book, maintaining the same high standard, giving us new stories, and new situations for the characters to appear in, keeping the series fresh and interesting all the time.
Following on from FRANTIC and THE DARKEST HOUR, the third book COLD JUSTICE again simply does not miss a beat. Part of the reason that these books are so good is the shifting viewpoint. Not only does the author use her paramedic / ambulance officer background to great effect, writing characters from within that world, she combines them with a good, solid, interesting police cast, concentrating on a central character - Detective Ella Marconi. This switching perspective gives the stories some real depth, although, in COLD JUSTICE, the formula is twisted slightly again. Georgie Daniels is a paramedic with current day work problems, and a teenage connection back to the murder of a classmate. Nineteen years ago she discovered the body of Tim Pieters hidden amongst bushes. His family was devastated and Georgie's own friendship with Freya destroyed overnight. All these years later, having problems with an out of control boss, she's transferred to a new ambulance station and finds herself working with (and being assessed by) her old school friend Freya. At the same time the investigation into the death of Tim Pieters is reopened and Ella Marconi has nowhere else to start but with the person who discovered his body, his friends at school and his family members.
There's some really good balancing of all of the elements in this story - Marconi has a work life, and a personal life, and they coincide and collide realistically. Whilst everything in her life isn't perfect, it's also not so imperfect that it's unbelievable (although I'd kill any boyfriend who taught my mother how to send text messages like that!). Georgie and Freya have their own lives as well - Georgie and her husband, away from their beloved country home and animals, Freya with kids and a husband she loves no matter what sort of a twit he can make of herself. Both women have a demanding work life, and a not straight-forward private life and the complications of their teenage friendship, the murder of Tim and how they went their separate ways creates a prickliness between them which really works. On the victim's side the damage that was done to Tim's family as a result of his murder is carefully displayed - the pain and struggle of his mother Tamara in particular is graphic.
The final balancing act, however, is to give a good cast of characters a great plot to work within. Resolving a cold case from so long ago isn't an easy task for Marconi, but persistence, focus, good sixth sense, and a willingness to put reluctance aside and work with the less than ideal partner that is assigned to her, and eventually the truth is revealed.
COLD JUSTICE is a terrific book. It would work as a standalone, or it works as part of the continuing story of Ella Marconi. It works as a character study, or as a plot driven police procedural. Basically it just works. Really really really well.
TAKE OUT - Felicity Young
You take my girls and I take you: Skin for Skin
A deserted house. The remains of an unfinished meal. An unexpected find. And a routine police investigation going nowhere.
Fremantle Press have just released the third DSS Stevie Hooper book by WA based writer Felicity Young, TAKE OUT, following on from HARUM SCARUM and AN EASEFUL DEATH.
Starting off with a prologue that is obviously telegraphing something awful in the future of Mai, a young Asian girl, the action moves to Perth. Stevie is working in the Sex Crimes unit, but it's in her capacity as friend that she steps into the strangely deserted Pavel house that morning. The house is luxurious, big, beautiful, yet it's contents are sparse, scruffy, untidy. The remains of an unfinished meal are on the table, and in one of the back rooms, a young child has been deserted - alive, but strangely it seems he has been fed and looked after until only recently. For days after his parents have both just vanished.
The only reason the baby is discovered in time is because Stevie knows Skye - a young visiting nurse, who has been alerted to something wrong at the Pavel house by one of their neighbours. Unfortunately that elderly neighbour has had a severe stroke affecting her speech patterns, which makes them garbled and nonsensical. A simple disappearance isn't really a case for a DSS in the Sex Crimes squad, and the local police are keen to move her out of the way when they show up, but Stevie's not one that's easily distracted and there are things at this crime scene that don't quite add up. Mind you, Stevie would do well to leave it alone, especially as she and partner Monty are up to their elbows in house renovations, and he's about to undergo major heart surgery.
When the investigation into the father's background quickly reveals a very sinister connection to human trafficking and sexual enslavement Stevie's concern is vindicated and despite worrying about Monty, their house, her daughter, Skye, and her own safety, finds herself ultimately on the trail of a shadowy Madam and her son.
The subject matter of TAKE OUT is sleazy and unpleasant, but it is handled carefully. The sexual exploitation of young people (in this case female) is difficult to comprehend and TAKE OUT makes it that more difficult by letting the reader get to really know one of the (now) women - Mai. Along with Mai's story, and the disappearance of the Pavel husband and wife, there are a number of other lesser, but connected threads, and there is a sprinkling of personal stories - triumphs and sadness as well.
TAKE OUT has a busy plot, but the focus remains on a number of aspects of enforced prostitution, making the novel possibly quite challenging for some readers. There is a very strong concentration on the victims of the sexual exploitation - working on making them human, real people that can be sympathised with. Combine that with Stevie, her work colleagues, her personal life and the increasing complications in both and it does mean that the villains of the piece are little more than bit players for quite a bit of the book. The perpetrators, whilst eventually identified, remain shadowy, almost strangely incidental and there's little if no explanation of the inexplicable attempted - which may intrigue some readers and frustrate others. TAKE OUT does, however, balance the personal angst and professional responsibilities of Stevie a lot better than in the earlier novels, and the complexity of the plot is handled well, believably and with sensitivity. TAKE OUT really does take on a difficult subject with sensitivity and insight, making the victims a point of focus, delivering a realistic (and therefore not all neatly wrapped up and sealed off) resolution. For added measure, there's a bit of a kick in the tail at the end of the book as well. For this reader at least, that alone went miles towards demonstrating why some things remain utterly inexplicable.
DARK MIRROR - Barry Maitland
When Marion Summers - red-haired, beautiful and mysterious - collapses and dies in the rarefied surrounds of the London Library, DI Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock are sent to head the investigation. Kathy finds a reluctant kinship with the feisty Marion, who had, like Kathy, left a difficult home life when young and struck out to London for independence.
DARK MIRROR is a first rate police procedural. The author plays fair with the reader. The clues are all there, it's up to you to sort out which are red herrings and which are genuine. He also strikes a nice balanace between the private lives of the characters and their work.
A good police procedural is one of my favourite types of books. If it's done properly it keeps you reading compulsively to find out if your theory is correct. I did manage to figure it out in the end, but not before I ran trough a number of suspects and changed my mind several times.
If police procedurals are you thing then DARK MIRROR is one you should have on your bookshelf.
DARK MIRROR is the tenth book in the Brock and Kolla series.
COLD JUSTICE - Katherine Howell
When Georgie Riley was a teenager she stumbled upon the body of seventeen-year-old Tim Pieterson who had been murdered. Georgie is now a paramedic and finds herself teamed up with an old school friend. Freya was Georgie’s best friend who departed with her family without a word after Tim’s death. Why did Freya leave town so abruptly? What is she hiding? Nineteen years later, the case is still open. Tim’s younger cousin, Callum is now a politician and has agitated to have the case reviewed. Detective Ella Marconi is returning to work after recovering from injuries.
“Write what you know” aspiring writers are often told. Katherine Howell has done that to good effect. She worked as a paramedic for many years and her detailed knowledge of both the job and the physical and emotional toll it takes are vividly portrayed. COLD JUSTICE is Katherine’s third book (the previous two are Frantic and The Darkest Hour) and her writing seems to get better and better . COLD JUSTICE not only has the fast pace of a thriller, it also has multiple threads which are gradually pulled together. Katherine is also a dab hand at knowing exactly when to change threads in the plot to leave the reader in suspense. I was lucky to receive a copy of the book in advance of its publication. COLD JUSTICE is due in book shops on 1st February 2010. I recommend you be in line on that date to get a copy. You won’t regret it.
THE TWILIGHT TIME - Karen Campbell
Anna Cameron is a new Sergeant in the Flexi Unit. On her first day in the new job she discovers she'll be working with her ex, Jamie, now married and with a child. In at the deep end emotionally after many years without him, she's also plunged headlong into the underworld of Glasgow's notorious Drag - the haunt of working girls, drug dealers and sad, seedy men. Someone is carving up the faces of local prostitutes, an old man has been brutally killed and racist violence is on the rise; Anna must deal with all this alongside tensions and backstabbing within her own team.
THE TWILIGHT TIME is the debut novel from ex-cop Karen Campbell - featuring Sergeant Anna Cameron as the central character. In 2009 Campbell won Best New Scottish Writer at the Scottish Variety Awards, and there is now a second book out: After the Fire, which switches the viewpoint to two characters from the first book - Jamie and his wife Cath.
But THE TWILIGHT TIME is a book that was recommended to me by somebody whose preferences I follow closely, and coincidentally was nominated as a discussion book on one of my email lists, so it was with some pleasurable anticipation that it was shunted up the To Be Read list.
When Anna Cameron is bought into a local station as part of an active policing unit there's some disquiet around the place - she's mostly been a head office / policy sort of police officer before this and nobody's all that convinced about her ability to take over and run a unit. Fragile emotionally after Jamie dumped her anyway, discovering that she'll be working with him puts her under increased (self-imposed) strain, and when she finds that there is active resentment against her from other members of the squad, she starts to fall apart. Becoming obsessed with the murder of Ezra, a frail, old Polish man doesn't help her cause with anybody - especially as it isn't one of her own cases. When she is injured in the chase for a man who has been carving up the faces of prostitutes, Anna doesn't cope at all well when Jamie's wife Cath (an ex-cop in her own right, with a very bad case of post-natal depression), reaches out to her, having known Ezra as well.
There's a hefty dose of angst, personal instability, depression, obsession, resentment, dislike, mistrust, lack of understanding, and selfishness in just about everybody in THE TWILIGHT TIME. To the point where it can be very off-putting. It's not often that you read a book and come out of it realising that there was a point in the narrative where you'd have cheerfully slapped just about every character. As somebody commented in the discussion we had about the book - there is a fine line between tough and obnoxious and some readers may choose to believe that Anna is tough - and others will be voting obnoxious. Personally I'm not adverse to a flawed central character, and I liked that Anna wasn't perfect and that there were signs of redeeming factors, although I will admit in THE TWILIGHT TIME there were too many flaws in too many of the characters. Having said that, I like characters that aren't too perfect and screw up and have bad days and are a bit grumpy and a bit stupid and occasionally daft as a brush, but stick with things, and care about something - and I really liked the way that Anna and Cath both cared about what happened to a lonely old man.
In terms of plot - there were some good touches, with the mystery of the death of Ezra, and what seems to be, on the face of it a racist plot, quite interesting. It was also touching to be reminded that an old man could die, alone and mostly unforgotten and unremarked on. The other case that is being pursued by Anna's team is the carving up of prostitute's faces. This is resolved reasonably well, although at points it does seem to disappear into all the personal stuff a little, and in both investigations there were a few procedural twists and turns that didn't make a lot of sense. This is a debut book however, and sometimes they can have some flaws. The question really is would reading THE TWILIGHT TIME make me want to pick up the second book and it certainly did that.
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.
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.