Chatterton, Ed – ‘A Dark Place to Die’
Paperback: 432 pages (Sep. 2012) Publisher: Arrow ISBN: 0099576678
DI Frank Keane is called to a crime scene on the Merseyside shoreline near Crosby where a charred body has been found tied to a scaffolding pole embedded in the sand. He and his partner DS Emily Harris with initially limited forensic evidence and the gruesomeness of the crime start their investigation on the assumption that it is a gang related murder – a supposition reinforced by the discovery of the murder scene in Liverpool Freeport. The discovery that the body is the illegitimate son of Keane’s former boss brings former DCI Menno Koopman back from retirement in Australia to Liverpool as he tries to piece together what brought the son he never knew from his birth in Liverpool to a life in Australia and then to his death back in Liverpool and to find out for himself who is responsible for the crime and perhaps take vengeance.
This is a well written police procedural which should appeal to people who like Tony Black, Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin albeit it is a bit gorier than the latter two. It makes good use of the contrasting backdrops of both urban Liverpool and the Australian outback to drive the narrative on. The switching of viewpoints (each chapter tends to focus on what is happening to a different character) does work quite well but the twist at the end I am less sure about as it is signposted early on – think pantomime villain.
This is the first crime novel from Ed Chatterton who as ‘Martin Chatterton’ has been writing children’s books and Young Adult fiction for over twenty years.
The second book in the Frank Keane series is provisionally titled FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE and the author states that it begins with an apparently simple – if bloody – murder/suicide in one of the leafier suburbs of Merseyside. I suspect that I will be reading it.
TRUTH LIES BLEEDING is the first book about Detective Inspector Rob Brennan from Tony Black who is best known for his Gus Dury novels.
Rob Brennan is a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh who is returning from psychiatric leave after the shooting of his younger brother. He returns to work to face a hostile Chief Superintendent who is up for promotion and wants everything to be very smooth until she has her interview – this is a problem with the discovery by four teenagers, of the mutilated body of a teenager in a dumpster in Muirhouse, with the only other Detective Inspector tied up on another case. Initially she wants to leave the case in the hands of Detective Constable Stevie McGuire but Brennan persuades her that the best thing for him is to get involved in a case straight away. Brennan asserts his authority over McGuire straight away by getting him to return to the incident room and gets a uniformed office to drive him out to the crime scene.
The murdered girl turns out to be a teenage runaway who is very far from home and had a baby with her – a fact that her Presbyterian minister father is trying very hard to hush up.
At first glance you might feel that this is a fairly standard piece of Tartan Noir, but Tony Black is a very skilled writer who can depict the grim, darker aspects of life with realism and yet still be highly readable. The switching of narrative viewpoint between the pursuer and the pursued works well here – it doesn’t always. My only real issue with this book is that, for me, the multiple sub-plots didn’t quite gel together and some get tidied up very quickly at the end; perchance, they will be dealt with in more depth in another book.
Would I pick up a second Rob Brennan? Yes, I would.
MURDER MILE is the second book about Detective Inspector Rob Brennan from Tony Black who is best known for his Gus Dury novels.
Rob Brennan is a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh who finds himself investigating a murder when the brutally mutilated body of a young woman is found in a field on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This case seems to have links with an unsolved case from 5 years ago when another woman was strangled with her own stockings, sexually mutilated and had her eyes gouged out. This case was investigated by a colleague of Brennan who doesn’t like him, is about to retire and would like to leave the force in glory.
The work of Brennan is made worse by his Chief Superintendent who is obsessed with budgets and dislikes Brennan, whom he sees as a troublemaker. On the home front, Brennan’s marriage has collapsed after some of the events in the first book and he is living in a bedsit with minimal and increasingly abrasive contact with his daughter.
Though a very well written piece – as Tony Black is a very skilled writer who can depict the grim darker aspects of life with realism and yet still be highly readable – I didn’t like it quite as much as TRUTH LIES BLEEDING. I feel that there are two reasons for this: the switching of narrative viewpoint doesn’t work as well here as in the first book in my opinion and I found it very hard to like any of the characters.
Despite these criticisms the last 50 pages or so of the novel are gripping but they do lead one to the suspicion that a third Brennan could be darker still which might make it less of my cup of tea.
The question I suppose is whether I would pick up a third Rob Brennan novel – yes, I would but perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm than I looked forward to this one.
Fran Varady appears in 7 novels by Ann Granger published from 1997 to 2007.
Asking for Trouble (Fran Varady #1, 1997)
Fran Varady is insolvent, unemployed and – though for the moment she’s got a leaky roof over her head – about to be homeless. Her dreams of becoming an actress, nurtured when her father and grandmother were still alive, seem a long way off. But the quietly resolute Fran is a survivor. Which her former housemate Terry, found hanging from the ceiling rose of her room, clearly is not. Terry was far from popular with the rest of the residents, but her death shakes everyone. And the more Fran discovers about her death, the more she sees it was not what it first seemed ..
Keeping Bad Company (Fran Varady #2, 1997)
In Fran Varaday’s second investigation, she is drawn into the life of an alcoholic who claims to be the only witness to the violent abduction of a young girl. But when the alcoholic is found dead, Fran must fight to separate the truth from the lies as the answers begin to slip through her fingers.
Running Scared (Fran Varady #3. 1998)
Fran Varady, aspiring actress and private investigator, feared the worst when her friend Ganesh decided to use their less-than-reliable builder acquaintance to update the toilet at his Uncle Hari’s newsagent’s shop. But even she couldn’t guess at the trouble that follows when a man bursts in and asks to use the washroom and then is found stabbed to death. Before he died he left a note asking Fran to meet him and a roll of film hidden behind the washroom’s old pipes. As she tries to work out what the photos represent, Fran finds her difficulties have barely started..
Risking It All (Fran Varady #4, 2001)
When Fran Varady, aspiring actress and part-time sleuth, is approached by Private Investigator Clarence Duke, she mistrusts him on instinct. However, she can’t ignore what he has to tell her. Her mother, Eva, who walked out on Fran when she was only seven, has hired Clarence to find her daughter. For Eva is dying. But the biggest bombshell of all is that Eva has another child – a daughter she gave up soon after her birth – and she wants Fran to find her. It’s not an easy task, but it’s when Clarence Duke is found dead in his car outside Fran’s home that the trouble really begins…
Watching Out (Fran Varady #5, 2003)
Fran Varady fell into private detective work by accident. Now, she’s got a “real” job at a trendy pizzeria, she’s back on track with her acting ambitions, and she’s even found somewhere nice to live. However, there’s something rather sinister about the way the pizzeria is run and the play rehearsals aren’t going well. On top of all this Fran has rashly undertaken to help a young boy, illegally in the country, find an elusive people-trafficker called Max. But when the trail Fran is following is interrupted by a horrifying death, she finds herself up against dangerous men and a ruthless organization.
Mixing with Murder (Fran Varady #6, 2005)
Fran Varady isn’t keen to help seedy club owner Mickey Allerton track down Lisa, a dancer who’s done a bunk. But since Mickey’s holding Fran’s dog Bonnie hostage till the job’s done, she doesn’t have much choice. She quickly locates Lisa and they arrange to meet – but when Fran gets there early, the first thing she sees is a body floating in the river. It’s Ivo, one of Mickey’s nastier bouncers. If Lisa wasn’t terrified already, she is when she gets this news, and Fran finds herself torn between helping the frightened girl and doing Mickey’s bidding. And it’s all about to get a lot more complicated…
Rattling the Bones (Fran Varady #7, 2007)
Edna, the dotty bag lady who Fran Varady used to see living in a churchyard with only feral cats for company, has crossed her path again. Now Edna is staying in a hostel, spending her days roaming as before. But Fran begins to see a method to her madness and, even though no one will believe her, she is certain Edna is being followed. Who could be interested in a harmless old lady? Determined to protect her from this hidden danger, Fran finds herself digging into Edna’s previous life and an old love affair and family quarrel come to light. But by rattling the bones of the past, Fran has uncovered more than she bargained for..
The Fran Varady series is as well written as the rest of Ann Grangers work (the Mitchell & Markby, Lizzie Martin and Campbell & Carter series) but is much darker in tone albeit not as dark as Mo Hayder et al.
Fran is a very likeable character who has been on the edges of society and is gradually moving in. Her friend, Ganesh, is a combination of Doctor Watson and comic relief – the latter augmented by his Uncle Hari in later books.
“Fran Varady, too, after seven books needed to be ‘rested’. It is more difficult for me, as a writer, to take her forward, because the essence of her situation is that she is down on her luck. Slowly, book by book, her situation has slightly improved. But if it improves too much, she is not the same person.”
The third season of Luther has just finished airing in the UK.
John Luther is a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) working for the Serious and Serial Crime Unit in London. He is a dedicated police officer but also obsessive, possessed, and sometimes dangerous in the violence of his fixations.
At the start of the third season, Luther is being internally investigated by a ruthless ex-copper who’s determined to make Luther answer for his past.
The questions that both the viewer and Luther’s new love interest are asking are “Has Luther crossed the line and gone too far in his war on crime? Or have they just got him all wrong?”
Jo is the first TV series to make it to the UK in the latest trend to make French shows in English, sell them abroad and then dub them into French for the home market.
Joachim ‘Jo’ Saint-Clair (played by Jean Reno) is a veteran detective who has been a a drug abuser with an estranged daughter, Adele, from a liaison with a prostitute.
He has a young eyecandy sidekick (Bayard played by Tom Austen), a tough boss (played by Orla Brady), a pathogist (played by Wunmi Mosaku) and a a ferociously intelligent nerd colleague (played by Celyn Jones) to aid him in his investigation and a wisecracking nun (played by Jill Hennessy) to confide in.
The good points are:
Jean Reno. Like Brian Cox, he could read the telephone directory and it would be watchable.
Jo’s private life is fascinating and is a lot more interesting than the crimeS he solves.
The pathologist and the nerdy sidekick provide an intellectual counterpoint to the raw emotion of Jo and are very well acted.
The bad points are
The eye candy sidekick does not work for me at all nor does the tough boss.
The plots of the crimes solved vary from the mind-numbingly obvious to the ‘where did that come from?’
Assuming Spiral (Engerenages) and other such shows are vaguely correct about the French legal system, this bears no resemblance to it.
Tied to the last point, this is a US cop series transplanted to France without changing the milieu at all other than the great use of Parisian landmarks.
The so-so points are
Jill Hennessy does well with what is an odd role being a nun but also Jo’s sex interest but is woefully underused.
I really would like to have liked this more than I did but it would have needed major reworking for a second series which does not seem to be happening despite good ratings outside France, the ratings in France were deemed too poor (5.3m by the final episode) for a series costing €2 million per episode.
Out of ten, 5 or 6 for being a really valiant effort at something similar to Van der Valk in the 1970s – an English language police series set overseas.
Bryant & May and The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler
Hardback: 350 pages (September 2011)
Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 9780857520494
BRYANT & MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD is the ninth book about Arthur Bryant, John May and their Peculiar Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police.
BRYANT & MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD begins with some scene setting chapters to settle new readers in before the first murder occurs – Robert Kramer, ruthless property developer turned theatre impresario, is throwing a party in his new penthouse just off Trafalgar Square (London is effectively a character in Bryant & May novels and undoubtedly Christopher Fowler is strong on characterisation). The air at the party is uncomfortable and full of foreboding and when Kramer’s young wife checks on their baby boy, she finds the nursery door locked from the inside. When the door is broken open, the Kramers are faced with an open window, an empty cot, and a grotesque antique puppet of Mr Punch lying on the floor.
This is another strong Bryant & May novel from Christopher Fowler with the usual intricate plot full of both twists and turns and strong characters who are nine-tenths believable and one-tenth fantastical.
For the benefit of new readers, the author does include a short briefing report on the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit and the history of the unit at the start of the novel but other reviews I have seen by newcomers to the series suggest that this (perhaps more than others) can be enjoyed without having read the rest of the series.
One question that might occur to the prospective reader is how Christopher Fowler compares in an increasingly crowded field of fantasy detective stories such as Jasper Ffordes Thursday Next novels and Ben Aaronovitchs Grant and Nightingale novels (also working for the Metropolitan Police in the Economic and Specialist Crime Unit). The answer, I think, is still very well.
This is a not a new field with fantasy having been mixed with private eyes (e.g. Tanya Huffs Vicki Nelson, Mike Resnick’s John Justin Mallory and Malcolm Prices Louie Knight) and police procedurals (e.g. Terry Pratchetts Samuel Vimes) in recent years whilst the notion of occult detectives has been around since the late nineteenth century such as with William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, the Ghost Finder from 1910 onwards.
Bryant, May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit will return in BRYANT & MAY AND THE INVISIBLE CODE which the author describes as having “a plot that operates both as a single case, but completes an arc that has been continuing for the last four books, taking it to a new point in the story.” My preorder is already in for holiday reading next summer.
UK Hardback: 560 pages (June 2012) Publisher: Macmillan ISBN: 9780230747265
UK EPUB: (June 2012) Publisher: Pan ISBN: 9780230764897
UK Paperback: 624 pages (September 2012) Publisher: Pan ISBN: 9780330515578
NOT DEAD YET is the eighth in the series of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novels by Peter James and follows on from the events of DEAD MAN’S GRIP for Roy Grace and his team.
The worlds of Tinseltown and Brighton clash as a movie adaption of the relationship between King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert hits town.
This is a make or break project for LA producer Larry Brooker who is on the verge of insolvency.
This could be the project that enables Gaia to make the shift from rock superstar to serious actress.
The City of Brighton and Hove relishes the publicity value of a major Hollywood movie being filmed on location there which could be incalculable for tourist revenue and attracting future films.
For Gaias number one fan, it is the chance to cement their relationship.
These events collide to become a nightmare for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace when an attempt on the life of Gaia is made days before she leaves her Bel Air home to fly to Brighton (her home town) so he has to juggle the hunt for a potential obsessed stalker in his city with an ongoing murder investigation with very few leads and the continuing pregnancy complications of his girlfriend, Cleo.
Also the significant figure from his past is now getting much closer to home.
This is crime fiction for those who like to have well-rounded detectives with a believable private life.
One question which immediately springs to mind is who is Gaia based upon – Peter James did confirm in an interview on BBC Breakfast that he saw Gaia as a cross between Madonna and Lady Gaga (still online at the moment at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vb9b1 – at least in the UK)
The short snappy chapters that are a Peter James trademark (127 chapters in 560 pages in the hardback edition) are still there so you find it hard to put it down – you do tend to think I have time for just one more chapter.
The slight hint of unrealism is still there especially in the significant figure from his past who I do hope is brought to the fore in the next book as that back story is starting to drag on quite a bit.
Once again I would say that it is a very good read that engages you from the first page and I, for one, am looking forward to the next novel in the series – I would stress that it is becoming more the case that you will appreciate it much more if you read the series in sequence.
Dead Man’s Grip is the seventh in the series of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novels by Peter James.
Roy Grace and his team investigate a road traffic accident in Brighton, Sussex where an American student Tony Revere has died of his injuries after his bicycle was shunted into the path of an articulated lorry. Was this entirely an accident or was there a deeper motive is one of the questions that Roy Grace and his team have to ask as the investigation escalates down dark avenues.
The novel is primarily concerned with the consequences of that accident for the family of Tony Revere, Carly Chase (a solicitor specialising in divorce law) who swerved to avoid him and crashed into a café window, for lorry driver Stuart Ferguson who had been driving for more hours than is legally permitted and the unknown driver of the white van who either accidentally or deliberately shunted Tony Revere into the path of Stuart Fergusons lorry.
It is also concerned with Roy Graces private life where his girlfriend, Cleo, is having complications with the pregnancy of their child, his work is becoming less investigative and more paper work (a change he does not like), and a significant figure from his past reappears and looks like they will be returning in a later book.
This was a real page turner for me with the short snappy chapters that are a Peter James trademark (115 chapters in 544 pages in the hardback edition for this book) which I find that you just have to continue reading. Some of the plot strands do tends towards being significantly less realistic than has been the case in previous Roy Grace novels but overall it is still a very good read that engages you from the first page and I, for one, am looking forward to the next novel in the series.
Dead Man’s Grip can be read as a standalone novel but you will appreciate it more if you read the series in sequence.
A headless corpse is discovered by Detective Chief Inspector Billy McCartney in scrubland close to Liverpool docks with the body looking like a gangland hit. A mile away, a dazed and confused girl staggers into a run-down bar where the owner, a career criminal called Shakespeare, cannot get a word out of her.
The body was that of Kalan Rozaki, youngest brother of a notorious crime family but he was the white sheep in the family. For almost a year his brothers have been under full-time Drug Squad surveillance as DCI McCartney slowly closed the net on their heroin trafficking – his chief informant was someone who had insider knowledge of the Rozaki clan’s operation … their newly deceased baby brother, Kalan.
His investigation starts to solve not only this crime but another unsolved drug crime of nearly 30 years ago.
I have to admit that I found this one a struggle to get through. There is a very competent police procedural hidden within here but the structure of multiple viewpoints which you shift from sometimes on a pagely basis in the initial pages makes it very difficult to keep track of the narrative unless you are really concentrating – it is not a commute read.
I might be tempted by the next one as this is described as the first in a series but I would like to read a few reviews first.