A man walking his dog by the River Lea in London makes a grisly discovery and soon DCI Jack Hawksworth is in the grip of a confounding case: Londoners have become the target of a calculating killer‚ who ′trophies′ the faces of his victims.
Now a little housekeeping before we go too far. Beautiful Death is the second DCI Jack Hawksworth book, published under the author's real name of Fiona McIntosh. The first, Bye Bye Baby, was published under the pseudonym Lauren Crow. Fiona is a well known Fantasy writer in Australia, and these two books are her first foray into crime fiction.
DCI Jack Hawksworth has a good working relationship with his team - they are a close group who have worked together on dreadful cases before. The team, and his superiors are more than used to Jack getting the personal and the professional deeply entwined, as happens again in BEAUTIFUL DEATH.
There's a strange serial killer in London. He seems to be selecting a wide range of victims, with no obvious connections between them. The strangest thing of all is the way that the victims have had organs removed, and their faces trophied. Human organ trading seems the only possible conclusion as the removal appears to have been done with considerable skill, but the face mutilation is still very strange - particularly as two of his victims are newly arrived illegal immigrants. Why would you want to obscure their identities? Public and political pressure increases with every new victim, but the personal intrudes even more dramatically for Jack when he sees something about one of the victim's that shocks him to his core.
There are a lot of elements that are similar in both Hawksworth books - romantic tension, unrequited love, Jack's personal life being hopelessly (and dangerously) entangled in the current investigation and another one of those open ended "see our next instalment" type endings. The crimes themselves are somewhat unique, although this is a serial killer with a substantially different motive to most - ultimately, it's a slightly mad person with an obsession. I'm sorry to say it's not hard to pick the perpetrator, despite a pretty carefully laid out trail of alternatives and red herrings, and the motive is flagged pretty early on. Combine that with the level of personal involvement yet again of Jack and I was really disappointed in this book, which just seemed more of the same old same old from the first book. Definitely the level of knowledge of the author of the central subject matter - cranio-facial surgery shone through, and there were small sprinklings of that throughout the book that proved quite interesting. Unfortunately there was just too much personal angst, personal involvement, loves lost and love lies bleeding for this reader. Perhaps this book will appeal more to people who like that level of romance and personal angst in their crime fiction, perhaps it might work really well for anybody who hasn't read the first book and isn't seeing the same themes emerge. Notwithstanding, if there's a third book, I'd give it a try as the first one appealed, if not simply because it was good storytelling.
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.
THE SHADOW WALKER - Michael Walters
His eyes were adjusting to the darkness now, and he twisted around trying to see what it was that had tripped him. At first, he couldn't make it out. Just a blank shapeless mound, spread across the frozen ground. And then he thought it looked something like a human figure, but not quite like one. He rolled over, trying to clear his head, trying to work out what was wrong.
Less of a full review, and more of a note about the first book in this (now) 3 book series set in Mongolia. THE SHADOW WALKER is the first book, which I read recently, having already read the 2nd in the series (the third is here in the queue).
A first book in a series is often slighty problematic and I have to say having read the 2nd book (The Adversary) which I loved, I was willing to cut this first book a lot more slack than perhaps others would be willing. In THE SHADOW WALKER, the two main characters from the series Negrui and Doripalam are introduced, but a lot of the central focus of the story is around a blow-in English detective, bought into help out the locals when a number of bodies are found in increasingly violent killings.
This device is a little unsatisfactory as the action therefore has an overtly "British" feel to it and it seems to deaden any feeling of Mongolia - despite a visit onto the steppes at one point. There's also a slighty unsatisfactory aspect to the plot with yet another serial killer which ends in a rather predictable manner.
Having said that, there are glimpses of the ongoing personalities of Negrui and Doripalam and if they appeal to you, then you should want to move onto the second book.
BLOOD MOON - Garry Disher
When hordes of eighteen-year-olds descend on the Peninsula to celebrate the end of exams, the overstretched police of Waterloo know what to expect. Party drugs, public drunkeness; maybe even drink-spiking and sexual assault.
The Hal Challis series is really growing into something particularly interesting, as well as entertaining. There's a distinct edge to this story, there are obviously some issues which the author wants to talk about, and he's cleverly worked a number of elements of social observation and commentary into what is, overall, a good solid police procedural.
Hal and Ellen's romantic interest at the end of the last book has developed into a live-in relationship. Which has a number of complications - not just that they work together and that Hal is Ellen's boss. Ellen's divorce is only just completed, and as attracted as she is to Hal, living together is an unexpected experience that she's struggling with. And the rest of the team are well aware of what's going on, even if the whole thing is not spoken of. The brass is also less than impressed, but they have given Hal a way out of the situation which he needs to decide on whilst he's also juggling a number of simultaneous investigations.
The unit is busy. It is Schoolies Week and Waterloo has become one of the destinations for groups of celebrating teenagers in recent years, and the workload for the police increases as a result. Whilst most of the lower ranks are fully occupied with Schoolie liaison and investigating minor crimes, there are occasional bigger problems like assault and in particular sexual assault. Nobody necessarily thinks that the vicious bashing of a local private school chaplain is connected to the Schoolies, although it could be possible. What is definitely known is that the victim's brother works for the local Member of Parliament, and he's a Pollie not adverse to a spot of police bashing and throwing his weight around. Things get even more complicated in that case when a racial motive is unearthed.
Meanwhile a local planning officer is having family problems of her own. Her husband is obsessed and a bully - following her constantly, criticising her constantly, carping and harping at her all the time. She's also got a job that sometimes makes her unpopular, either enforcing breaches of planning law, or in one case, failing to stop the demolishing of a much loved old landmark.
The storylines provide a real possibility for some particularly pithy - and frequently funny - digs at things that can go very wrong when places of natural beauty start to attract a lot of people. In particular, people who seem hell-bent on destroying the things that attracted them in the first place. There is also some very elegant commentary about corruption, privilege, and overt and tacky displays of wealth, dotted throughout. By no means overpowering or distracting from the investigation, this social observation adds a layer of understanding about the area, and the people on all sides of the investigations.
It is a complicated series of threads - the bashing assault of the chaplain; a bludgeoned body; sexual assault within the Schoolies; a young man who picked on the wrong girl last year; and an unsavoury event within the investigation team. All of these threads make the story busy, but not messy; the team feels stretched but not unexpectedly or unreasonably so; and the resolutions aren't impossible (or too easy) to deduce as you go along.
The fifth book in the Hal Challis and Ellen Destry series, BLOOD MOON is another of those great, solid, entertaining, engaging chore-stopper books. Whilst it could stand on its own, if you haven't read any of the earlier books, then track them down at the same time. Reading the entire series does give you a feeling for how it's growing into its early promise.
The Dragon Man
Chain of Evidence
THE KILLING HANDS - P.D. Martin
THE KILLING HANDS doesn’t quite have the pace and suspense of P.D. Martin’s previous books. Because Sophie is working with a gang task-force, it is necessary for the author to give the reader an overview of the structure and remit of the various agencies that investigate gang-related crime in L.A. This does slow down the plot a little. However, Martin’s usual thorough research and attention to detail do make for informative reading.
In THE KILLING HANDS we meet Sophie’s parents who visit her and there is an interesting development in her private life as well. But we will have to wait for the next book to discover where that will take her. By doing this Martin has deftly avoided one of the biggest pitfalls of a series; a character who never moves on from where they started in book one.
P.D. Martin has become one of my favourite Australian crime fiction writers and THE KILLING HANDS has done nothing to change my opinion.
OUR LADY OF PAIN - Elena Forbes
The young woman was Rachel Tenison, a wealthy West End art dealer, who led what appeared to be a normal, fulfilled life. But as DI Mark Tartaglia and DS Sam Donovan scratch away at the surface, a darker, secret side emerges.
OUR LADY OF PAIN is the second novel from English writer Elena Forbes - her first DIE WITH ME received a much deserved nomination for the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger award.
This book picks up with the same investigation team headed by DI Mark Tartaglia and DS Sam Donovan, called in when a most bizarrely "displayed" body is found in a snow covered London park. The naked corpse of a young woman is kneeling down, her head bent right over touching the ground, her face almost hidden beneath a tangle of pale blonde hair. Identified finally as a wealthy, seemingly very normal West End Art dealer, there is a much darker side to the victim which her friends and family don't make it easy to unveil.
OUR LADY OF PAIN has a similar feeling to the first book, the investigation takes place in the freezing cold of a London Winter, the subject matter is often dark and there's a dismal and almost lost feel to the lives led by just about all the suspects, witnesses and the victim. All of that lends a subdued, dark, sad feeling to many of the characters who are frequently damaged people. Not so the two main lead characters who lead relatively normal lives (especially compared to many police characters in Crime Fiction in general). They are both single, and there is a spark of romantic interest, slightly one-sided perhaps, but it's not overplayed and it is not used as a source of ongoing angst. There's something very realistic about the way that the relationship between Mark and Sam is portrayed and there's something refreshingly normal about both of them. Sam has a happy home life, sharing a house with her sister, they are close and the only thing that's overtly wrong there is a worrying inability to cook. Mark has a good relationship with his own family, despite his sister's ongoing attempts to pair him off with all her own female friends, he cooks, he lives in a normal home, clean and furnished, and well - normal.
It's partly the balance of all these elements that really make this book work, as they did in the first novel incidentally. It's also helped by sound police procedural elements, alongside a strong plot. The plot is reasonably fairly laid out giving fans of puzzle solving a chance of working out the outcome, although the final resolution is not as obvious as you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be.
I really liked the first book - DIE WITH ME - and I was wondering how the second book would rate, given the class act it had to follow. OUR LADY OF PAIN held up really well, and kept the series ticking along nicely. I hope there's a third and many more outings with DI Tartaglia and DS Donovan.
THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN - Fred Vargas
Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn't search for clues; he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with cast-iron alibis; he appears permanently distracted.
When strange blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories.
THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN is the first book in the Adamsberg series by French writer Fred Vargas. As they have been translated out of series order, fans of this fantastic set of books know Adamsberg well by now, without having had the chance to be in at the beginning so to speak. This release gives the reader a unique opportunity. For existing fans a chance to see where Adamsberg came from, and to consider a first book, in light of knowing how good the series has become. For new readers a chance to start at the beginning if that is your preference.
The strange blue circles that start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, each circle enclosing a seemingly pointless and meaningless little article - cigarette lighters, badges, a hat, a doll's head, seem to most people to be a distraction. The press take up the story with great amusement and psychiatrists and other experts are soon making pronouncements on what the artist is trying to say (or not!). Adamsberg seems to be the only person who feels the stirring of malice and sees cruelty in the circles. He is the only person who doesn't seem all that surprised when the body of a woman is found - her throat savagely cut, placed carefully in the middle of one of the chalk circles.
Adamsberg is not your traditional policeman. He's unorthodox, seemingly permanently distracted, he's a thinker and an acute, but unobtrusive observer. He's profoundly aware of human nature yet he often has flashes of insight which seem to have come from nowhere. He constantly baffles his colleagues but his methods work and he's comfortable with who he is.
The thing a new reader to this series is going to get most clearly from THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN is a sense of the quirkiness of Adamsberg. The other ongoing feature of the books is the wonderful cast of supporting characters - mainly of them as eccentric as Adamsberg. All the characterisations become more assured as the series goes on, and at no stage does anyone become cartoonish or unbelievable. There is something quintessentially French about Adamsberg and the world that he inhabits - to this outsider at least. There's also something delightfully matter of fact about them all, and in particular, the way that Adamsberg works - leaving it totally up to his colleagues to adjust, just as it will undoubtedly require from some readers.
I understand that the translation order of a series is often dictated by the perceived popularity of a particular book. Perhaps it was felt that the character of Adamsberg got stronger, more clearly drawn in later books. Perhaps it was felt that the plot was not quite as unique as some of the later books. Regardless of the reason, it's a good book, it introduces Adamsberg with a very deft touch, and it does hint at where the rest of the series is going.
If you're new to the Adamsberg series, you could start with THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN and get a sense of how the rest of the series is going to progress. You can also read the entire series out of order if needs must and that's how the books become available for you. But if you're a fan of something with a strong sense of a place and the people, with a central character who is not afraid to be a little odd, a little eccentric, a little different; decent, caring and extremely human make sure you read these books.
The books in translated order:
2003 - Have Mercy On Us All (Published in French in 2001)
2004 - Seeking Whom He May Devour (Published in French in 1999)
2007 - Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand (Published in French in 2004)
2008 - This Night's Foul Work (Published in French in 2006)
2009 - The Chalk Circle Man (Published in French in 1996)
There is also a standalone novel, released in translation in 2006
The Three Evangelists (Published in French in 1995)
FAN MAIL by P.D. Martin
On her last day at FBI headquarters at Quantico before transferring to the Los Angeles field office, Australian FBI profiler Sophie Anderson is given the task of showing crime author Loretta Black around the facilities. She finds Black to be rude and overbearing, and is glad when the tour is over.
Within days of Sophie's arrival in Los Angeles, Black is found murdered in bizarre circumstances. She has been killed in exactly the same way as the victim in her latest book. It doesn't take long for Sophie to link this crime with the murder of another crime author several months earlier in San Francisco. She too had been killed in the same manner as one of her fictional victims.
When another author disappears in circumstances similar to the plot of her most recent book, Sophie is involved in a desperate race against time to catch the killer before he can kill again.
FAN MAIL is the third book featuring psychic FBI profiler Sophie Anderson. I have to admit that I don't normally like woo-woo in crime fiction, and Sophie's psychic ability initially made me wary of this series. However, thankfully Martin has resisted the temptation of having Sophie have a convenient vision and voila! - crime solved. Actually there was one such moment, relating to a side plot, but I didn't mind that instance as I'd already figured it out for myself some time before without any psychic intervention!
Rather Sophie's visions help provide her with a better picture of the victim and the crime scene, and she combines this with the more usual profiler techniques to build a better picture, more quickly, of the perpetrator. She chose to transfer to a field office so she could make better use of her psychic abilities at crime scenes when the details are likely to be fresher and her visions stronger.
Alongside the main plot, the finalisation of the investigation from the previous book, THE MURDERERS' CLUB continues. I would recommend reading the earlier book before starting FAN MAIL as it contains significant spoilers. As we follow the course of the investigations, a lot of detail about investigative and forensic procedures is included and, while mostly interesting, it sometimes gets a bit tedious and has a tendency to slow down the story.
It takes a brave crime author to write a story about a serial killer murdering crime authors! But luckily Martin had no such qualms because FAN MAIL is good fast paced thriller with an interesting and unique character in Sophie.
DEADLY INTENT, Lynda La Plante
Alexander Fitzpatrick is one of the most wanted men in the Western world. Wealthy, handsome, charismatic and supremely dangerous, with numerous aliases, Fitzpatrick is a drug-trafficker who has eluded arrest for more than thirty years. For the past decade there has been no sightings of him.
DEADLY INTENT is the fourth book in the Anna Travis series, made up of ABOVE SUSPICION, THE RED DAHLIA and CLEAN CUT. It's been a series which I've really enjoyed... up until this book, which I have to say disappointed.
Anna is a dogged sort of a detective character, who has had a complicated personal life - having had a short-lived but dramatic affair with her previous boss - James Langton. She is still feeling the loss of that relationship and finding dealing with Langton on a daily basis very difficult. When he steps into overall control of the investigation of the death of Brandon, she's dealing firstly with a very complicated case with no apparent leads, and secondly with her fragile personal feelings. Langton is more shadowy than ever in DEADLY INTENT as well, which is going to make it difficult for any reader new to the series to understand, for a start, what Anna could possibly have seen in him, or in his defence, why he is like he is. There are hints throughout but they just didn't seem to help that much. For such a big, hefty book there are a number of underdone major characters throughout which is disappointing. DCI Cunningham has a touch of the wonderfully acerbic, grumpy female seniors about her, but she bounces in and out of the narrative so much it's hard to get a good look at her.
The case is quite clever - the connections that slowly have to be built up to explain why Brandon was in the drug squat, what would lead to his presence being so threatening that somebody would blindly shoot him through a closed door, how the other bodies turning up are connected and onwards is actually nicely baffling and quite interesting. But it drags on for too long. There are too many connections and "coincidences" which aren't - and they obviously aren't, and it all grinds to a halt in the personal lives of all and sundry too frequently.
Another major distraction is that whilst in the earlier books there is a lot of concentration on the relationship between Travis and Langton, it's rise and ultimate fall fitted into the storylines well, not distracting from the main aim of the books which was always to solve a baffling crime. Unfortunately in this book - with the definite end of the relationship the constant soul-searching of Travis just gets in the way - there were way too many times when the reader was told all about how conflicted she is having to work with Langton, how she still loves Langton, how a new relationship will be complicated by the pain she felt when Langton left her. And she does form a new relationship in this book - and it is a bit of a highlight in the storyline for a short while.
Ultimately the biggest problem with DEADLY INTENT is that there is a a good crime and investigation buried in the middle of 641 pages - but there's not 641 pages of it. The book meanders, there's too much fill-in, too many unbelievable red herrings, and, despite being a fan of unresolved loose ends, there are too many threads in this book which are left frustratingly, unjustifiably and inexplicably dangling. It all smacked just a tiny bit of... In The Next Episode.
If you've not tried the Anna Travis series, then don't let my thoughts on DEADLY INTENT put you off the first three books - they were terrific. Perhaps don't start with this one though as there's a lot of the personal things that may not make sense, and the book could give you a slightly skewed view of Anna, who is really a very good central character.
A DARKER DOMAIN - Val McDermid
It seemed like an unsolvable mystery at the time: a wealthy heiress and son kidnapped in Fife, then a botched payoff, leaving her dead with no trace of the child.
So when, over twenty-five years later, a possible clue is discovered by a journalist in Tuscany, cold-case expert DI Karen Pirie doesn't hold much hope of unraveling the infamous enigma.
Val McDermid has tackled some social history that is obviously very dear to her own heart in A DARKER DOMAIN, and it has to be said, she's done it with considerable style. Not only does this book give you a fascinating glimpse into the social chaos and personal pain caused by the Miner's Strikes in early 1980's Britain, it carries the story of three unfathomable disappearances.
Cold Case squad detectives DI Karen Pirie and DS Phil Parhatka are initially looking into the disappearance of Mick Prentice - reported missing 22 years after he supposedly broke ranks and joined the scabs in the devastating miners' strike of 1984. There's also the baffling disappearance of Mick's mate Andy about the same time. Unfortunately Karen's boss thinks that new evidence in the case of the dead heiress and missing son (and grandson) of a wealthy and powerful man is more important. Karen isn't all that fazed by pressure from on high though, and she's able to dance a fine line between both investigations.
The action in this book does take a couple of overseas trips to Tuscany, but mostly it stays within the small mining community of East Wemyss (a place that Val spent time with her grandparents as a child), and the way that the setting is portrayed in this book is wonderful. Not just the look and layout of the place, but the psyche of the place. The damage that the miners' strike caused, within families, throughout the community, the fractured lives demonstrated was really moving in some places, but at no stage did it become sentimental or overblown. There's also romantic element to this book which is also well done and quite funny. In fact that is something about this book which you wouldn't expect - there is a sense of humour amidst the sadness that lifts the story beautifully.
DI Karen Pirie is a tremendous character, with (hopefully), real possibilities for an ongoing series. An archetypal maverick police officer maybe - she's just not afraid to manipulate, defy and flat out be as devious as she needs, to do what she thinks is the right thing. Phil as her offsider is perfect, less emotional, equally as determined, they are a really good team.
An extremely solid and nicely twisting plot; a couple of very engaging central characters; an interfering and weak boss; a powerful man who wants to know where his grandson is; a daughter who needs to find her father; a wife who cannot forgive; and a sister who is grief stricken 22 years after the unexplained; there's an enormous amount in A DARKER DOMAIN. But at the base of it is a community that was destroyed - to the point where the abnormal was accepted as the normal, and there's no sign of recovery. Beautifully done, A DARKER DOMAIN is simply and utterly a wow of a book.