Is it possible you are perhaps a newcomer to reading British crime fiction and in particular, police procedurals? Just let us start you off on the right path here with THE PROMISED LAND.
It has been a long time between drinks. Author Barry Maitland has always had a dab hand with the police procedural, and it is a relief to once again encounter the sensibilities and stoicism of his stellar creations David Brock and Kathy Kolla. Paired even in retirement, the two continue in THE PROMISED LAND to bring an intensity and realism to the page that consistently makes sense and entertains.
Who doesn’t love a good literary mystery also?
If you’re a bit slow to the party and picked this title up in the last month without having read any of the series priors, fear not. The new reader is fed enough back story to keep up, and the regular reader won’t be encountering any onerous repetition of what they already know. Barry Maitland dropping another Brock and Kolla serves as a timely reminder as to why we read investigation centric crime fiction, with all of its coal face examinations of both the act and the community in which the killer and victim once existed together.
Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series is always one of the first that springs to mind when offering crime fiction recommendations. THE PROMISED LAND delivers another confident dose of elegantly constructed crime writing that is both insightful and challenging to unravel. Tuck yourself in, you’re in good hands.
All the Hidden Truths, Claire Askew
The fact that the term ‘school shooting’ is even part of our modern vernacular is tragic enough. This seems to cover anything from the mass murder of children and staff at primary schools to that of adult students and staff at universities. It is a dissection of the aftermath of a single shooter university killing spree that is featured here in ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS.
ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS is an examination of the circumstances that result in one young man choosing to take the lives of his peers. This is not a complicated novel to follow and the mounting of any soapboxes via the mouths of the characters is subtly done. ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS does not rely upon graphic descriptions of the slayings but instead deep dives into the complexity of grief felt by blindsided communities when school shootings occur. How do we find the reasons why, when there are no clues left behind? Why do we look elsewhere for blame, when it could only sensibly be laid at the feet of the shooter?
At the conclusion of ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS the reader has some post book homework to do as the novel will require that you invest some time in pondering exactly where it is that our current culture places such killings. It is felt that it was quite a deliberate choice to frame the murders from the perspective of three women around the (past) passages of the male killer. The focus here is not on the victims and what it was about them that put them into the path of a spree killer, but instead the novel examines the ripple effect of the shooting on all those left behind. There are always the helpers, the survivors, the investigators and those that not deemed worthy to be allowed to mourn.
ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS is a thoughtful piece about surviving horrendous loss and the need to find rational explanations for the increasing occurrence of such acts of violence. Another day, another school shooting.
Claire Askew is a poet, novelist and the current Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
The Rival, Charlotte Duckworth
Ashley prides herself on her keen ambition and sees no reason why she shouldn’t achieve what she feels she deserves. There is always a cost, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a cost borne by herself. The other employees in her new firm need to be conquered either by charm or clever manoeuvring but as long as the end result is that she powers up the corporate ladder, Ashley considers that things are progressing exactly as they should be.
We could perhaps say ‘plot twist’ or ‘pivot’ (you know, to be irritating like the cool kids) but either way you are getting a bit more bang for your buck than usual with THE RIVAL. It is very much like two novels found each other somewhere in the middle and decided to merge; one being a workplace psychological thriller, the other a drama piece about the horrors of new motherhood. We do have past and present perspectives so there is that fore knowledge that something horrific has happened to Helena since the motherhood train pulled into the station. We just don’t know during the read how that is connected to her working life. Were clues there all along?
THE RIVAL has a huge ticking bomb threaded throughout most of the read but it might not be what you think. It is definitely there (oh the wonders of hindsight when you’ve just finished a book) but the power of it is understated. Every single mother out there knows that your first pregnancy was the one where everyone began to look at you in a different way. You’ve suddenly been assigned a different role, and your own opinions on this altered status seem to have little or no relevance as to how people intend to newly perceive you. Also, every single woman out there knows that other women in the workplace are not necessarily there to support and lift you up. They too need to look after themselves first.
What THE RIVAL does extremely well is to keep the reader glued to the page. There’s a lot of subtleties and nuances here that will have you leaning one way or the other with your suspicions and sympathies. It’s possible to make the assessment that there are no outright bad guys, just different personality types and different approaches encountered. Just as you find in every large workplace. Odd bosses, easy going co-workers, paranoid desk jockeys etc. The creeping sense of unease that Helena is blindly walking into a nasty quagmire tensely propels a book that is not just all about women crawling over each other to get to the top. THE RIVAL is a reminder that when it all goes to hell, your safety and personal wellbeing are more important than any job. The earth is crumbling underneath Helena’s feet in this novel and she seems powerless to stop it.
British author Charlotte Duckworth has written a slow burn novel of what it means to confront a demon on more than one front at the same time. What are our strengths and who are our allies when life takes an unexpected turn? THE RIVAL will resonate with a broad spectrum of readers who will recognize that they’ve likely crossed paths with an Ashley at some point throughout their careers. It’s always an interesting question to put to yourself as to what lengths you are prepared to extend to when challenged.
The Tall Man, Phoebe Locke
Always present, always watching. The Tall Man comes for your daughters. What to do when you have given yourself over to the Tall Man, and then you have a daughter of your own? You disappear.
The interlaying narratives of this book relate the viewpoints of Sadie as a teen, Sadie as a new mother, daughter Amber as an adult, and also that of the film producer gradually losing faith in the value of her documentary subject. You may find it hard to find anyone to relate to in this novel as there’s a lot of creepy characters here with healthy cases of arrested development.
Not intending to compare this novel to the obvious (fairly recent) urban legend so judging (of course) THE TALL MAN entirely on what it has to offer as a modern work of crime fiction. As other reviewers have acutely observed, it is an unsettling read rather than a thrilling work of fiction. There is a lot of build up to discovery, which many readers may appreciate, or others may simply lose interest as time ticks on and not much is happening. Hang on there till the end as there’s a bit surprise waiting for you (confession, did not see it coming).
A tale for our narcissistic times for sure, and opportunities to nudge this home are employed here in THE TALL MAN. It is interesting to have a murder read where you don’t feel particular sympathy for anyone affected. The use of texts between the two film female documentary makers is very effective in seeding in a little more tension and ambiguity as the film maker on the ground increasingly begins to question her subject, and the other wishes to power on with the pushing of their vulnerable subject for dramatic revelations.
Not sure of the intended market but thinking THE TALL MAN is perhaps for older edge of young adult readers. If you like to read multi generational novels where the actions of the parents impact the future of their children, THE TALL MAN could be the one for you. Look out for the shadows in the corner of your room…
THE OTHER WIFE, MICHAEL ROBOTHAM
Joe O’Loughlin’s children have known loss, most recently that of their mother Julianne. Living with this legacy of grief, Joe and his daughters are taking each day as it comes which also involves facing the harsh reality of Joe’s advancing Parkinsons Disease. Joe’s work as a clinical psychologist has exposed him to all the horrors and trickery of man (this is novel #9 in the series) and the knowledge that he won’t be around for his two girls forever is never far from his mind.
THE OTHER WIFE is the latest bittersweet entry in an excellent series that progressively takes a little bit more of your heart with each encounter. And these are crime novels, so that is truly a testament to the author’s mastery of characterization. Creating characters that we are fully invested in will always trump the impact of a complex and clever plot. THE OTHER WIFE is a shining example of both achievements.
THE OTHER WIFE serves well as a standalone but if you’ve been on the bandwagon with the rest of us crime readers, you have likely read at least one of the priors in the Joe O’Loughlin series. Oh yes, reading this series is totally a personal concern now – we have a genuine need to see how Joe is faring with each series entry. This latest work does not have the frenetic pace of some of the others but your heart will still pound in concern for Joe, and you will definitely want to cheer him on as Joe battles to keep it all together in such difficult circumstances. Joe is a little edgier in this outing, and you do get a sense of that ticking time clock with his health.
In a time where novelists from all genres seem to be turning inwards and examining the complex nature of family relationships (as opposed to globally looking outwards, with that not being the most positive thing perhaps to be doing with your time right now), THE OTHER WIFE reinforces that the biggest mysteries are always present, whether ignored or simply as yet undiscovered, in every family.
Review - My Husband's Lies, Caroline England
Jen, the much-loved hub of the group, can hardly believe that she now is the mother of three daughters, working a meh career, married to Ian who turns into a total grump when his team doesn’t win. Handsome Dan is on the uncertain precipice of new fatherhood whilst his girlfriend Geri waits patiently for him to get on board the pregnancy train. Newly married Nick is not sure that he has made all the right decisions up to this point and is more than a little suspicious that his family are keeping some secrets from him. Will is in love with someone else but is powerless to anything about it
There is much to like about MY HUSBANDS LIES. We have an intimate view over the shoulders of four people who thought that they would be together forever, but in reality, time has been gradually easing them apart. It’s a long time for a group of school friends to stay at this level of closeness, and you do get the feeling that this closeness has caused the differing levels of arrested development in all four. It’s a little claustrophobic, and no one’s bad behaviour goes unnoticed.
The majority of this book will have you sharply curious as to what will happen to the fab four with growing concern for their welfare as they hurtle to the conclusion. The ending is little short of bizarre but perhaps that was the intention. It’s also unclear, as the character winding it all up has not been under the focus for most of the novel. The title doesn’t quite fit with the book either – whose husband does it refer to?
The characters are written so well in MY HUSBAND’S LIES, including the supporting characters, that there is a burning desire to find out what happens next after the final few explosive pages. This novel will keep you deeply immersed in the various tangled webs woven and leave you with plenty of questions.
Our House, Louise Candlish
Bram and Fiona have two terrific kids, and the most gorgeous of London homes. So pretty from the outside that people stop to take the occasional photo. So warm and welcoming on the inside that the couple dream of their children bringing up their own families within the same walls. Comfortingly, the house is also a huge asset for the family’s financial future.
OUR HOUSE takes a new slant on modern crime and it is that twitchingly horrifying to know that this sort of thing can actually happen. Your homeowner’s hackles will be well and truly up and ready to attack. OUR HOUSE melds a modern relationship drama with a suspense thriller plot that plays out simultaneously with the discoveries of Fi as she tries to figure out what the hell has taken hold of her (cheating) husband. What happened to Bram that he would sell his own children’s home out from underneath them? Where has he gone?
The absolute unfairness of what is happening to Fi rankles throughout, and it is concern for her that will have the reader galloping through to find out if she ends up okay. It is fair cop to say that there is some middle novel lag, but this is the time needed in which to delve a little more into the backstory of how Fi comes to be in the middle of such a tangled mess. There is never any doubt about who is to blame and we realize that the bad guys aren’t only the ones doing dodgy deals with your title deeds.
Compelling reading, OUR HOUSE is a novel about suspicion, fraud and family. It could easily have been a one trick pony but author Louise Candlish has made sure there is plenty going on in this novel and alternates the viewpoints enough so that we are required to think again about what we have just read. The London suburbs prove to be dense enough to hide the most fractured of families and the deepest of secrets.
THE CHILD NEXT DOOR, SHALINI BOLAND
Home alone, keeping an ear out for her baby daughter who is sleeping on the floor above, Kirstie Rawlings is jolted out of her doze at the sound of a cry. The baby monitor also relays the sound of someone speaking upstairs which results in Kirstie launching into action. Racing upstairs, Kirstie discovers her baby safely asleep and after a tense search, does not find anyone else in the house. The police don’t seem to believe what Kirstie has to tell them, and Kirstie’s own husband isn’t sold on her story either. The words that Kirstie clearly heard were “Let’s take the child – and go”.
The fear factor of the baby monitor interference is deliciously creepy and so from the very first chapter of THE CHILD NEXT DOOR we know that we are in for a fun ride. Author Shalini Boland has the gift for the quick hook and jerk and it is employed here successfully once again in her latest domestic thriller. It is nerve wracking to read of a new mother who is dealing with the enormity of her child possibly being snatched and the necessity of doing such things as turning her house into a fortress to protect her child. Kirstie is surrounded by people but very much alone.
Crisply written with no spare prose, THE CHILD NEXT DOOR wastes no time on extraneous details and gallops through with a mother’s righteousness and sense of purpose to solve a mystery and avert an incident that everyone else in the street seems to have the blinkers on about. Like a new mother doesn’t have enough on her plate to contend with, our anxiety for Kirstie rachets up with each chapter and we are standing at an anxious precipice by novel’s end.
Oh and yikes! That ending! Don’t entirely trust your instincts on this one as there is a final kick to be enjoyed on the very last page.
THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND, KAREN HAMILTON
Juliette has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep tabs on her ex-boyfriend. Though in Juliette’s mind, this has been more of a pause in their relationship than an actual split. This will give Juliette time to fine tune the parts of herself that complimented Nate, enter his industry, spy on his personal devices and occupy his flat when he is out flying planes. As one aggrieved partner would of course do.
THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND is perfectly compulsive reading that will literally take you places. Was it wrong, when reading this thriller novel, to want to hear more about what it is to be a flight attendant? Apologies to the author for this take-home but this aspect of the book was very interesting!
The character Juliette kept this reviewer completely under her spell for the entire length of the book. Juliette is utterly credible and fully fleshed out as a force of nature whose grand plans won’t be denied. Going along on Juliette’s completely rational ride to glory is a huge adventure and you can’t help but admire her dedication to the mission. She is focused, she is determined, she has the intelligence, the means to see it all through and never backs down from her goal of firmly reinserting herself back into her ideal relationship.
Author Karen Hamilton has done a bang up of making us like Juliette, despite her dangerous intentions and willingness to do what needs to be done. You will want to like this woman, but you will be frightened of her, and you will never ever want to be on her bad side. THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND epitomizes the modern psychological thriller and skates deliciously along the edge of all we are not supposed to admire – but sneakily do.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, SARAH VAUGHAN
Rich, gorgeous, popular and charismatic would describe the James we meet in the heady years of his enviably sparkling youth. It is easy for James’ friends and family to see where such was a charmed young man will end up. Some people were always meant for the heights.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL is a read that is straddling two worlds. It does come across as somewhat like the experience of reading a BBCTV telemovie script, though the book lacks the heavier drama punch that could easily have been included. Kudos to the author for not going down this path of easy entertainment. This lack of visceral description and emotional drama actually serves the read quite well, but you need to be prepared to settle in for the long haul of tackling yet another novel that spends half of its time immured in the ghosts of a collegial past – here, being those of the accused and his wife who met during their university years. This childhood/young adult focus seems to be a bit of thing in domestic thriller novels that have flooded the crime fiction market in the last couple of years.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL takes its reader to a certain point of questioning all of the character’s motives, though also at the same time wondering why they are all a bit vague as to what it is that they want. It is far easier in this novel to get a grasp on the perpetrator rather than understand what it is that bolsters up the survivor.
The journalistic background of author Sarah Vaughan is evident in the writing. It is an economical style used here, with multi-faceted viewpoints included that all shade the same incident and varied personal encounters in different hues. The greatest strength of ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL is that it instantly seems quite familiar; we feel we have read of the events detailed in the book somewhere in real life, in the recent past. All the major characters are successful people, living and working in the rarefied atmosphere of the British upper class and its political system. Precious opportunities are squandered, and the privilege of serving your country is taken as a right by its entitled male politicians.
Courtroom dramas are always a treat when done well and those in ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL are the culmination of our reader expectations - eagerly anticipated and not disappointed. Timely and carefully presented, the events in ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL have a greater impact for not being lavishly over dramatized and will continue to spark weighty conversations amongst its readers for some time.