Category Archives: Crime

Nutshell

Nutshellby Ian McEwan

Trudy is separated from her husband, John, and is living in the matrimonial home with his brother Claude, carrying John’s baby, as they plot to murder said husband, John.

It would be a love triangle, but with the narrator of this particular tale being the unborn baby, it gets a little complicated – more of a love rectangle!

Nutshell is an original concept, although the plot itself is extremely simple. In fact, the story is little more than an outline. It is the narration by the un-named unborn child that pushes the book within a whisker of 200 pages.

There is plenty of humour and just a touch of suspense. Will they or won’t they go through with the planned homicide of Trudy’s estranged husband? Can a pair of drunks really manage the perfect murder? Will the unborn narrator be born at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? Will he ever know his father? 

I found the whole thing a little strange and I’m still undecided about whether I enjoyed it or not. It is at times very funny and is an easy read. The plot does not challenge in any way and there are very few characters to keep a track of. But for me there was far too much waffle and not enough substance. 

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (Elsie and Ethelred Mystery #1)

by L C Tyler

The Herring Seller's Apprentice

Sometimes, when browsing the shelves of a bookshop, a title leaps out and demands attention. This may seem a rather random way of selecting a book, but it has worked for me so many times that I am not going to give up on it just yet. “The Herring Seller’s Apprentice” is one of those titles that could go either of two ways: it was either going to be a deeply worthy piece of literature about the east coast fishing industry, or not. In this case, it is very much the latter.

The ‘herring seller’ referred to in the title is not a young man from Grimsby, but a crime writer called Ethelred Tressider. The phrase was coined by his ex-wife, Geraldine, due to the number of red herrings he puts into his Sergeant Fairfax series. 

His apprentice is a chocoholic, literature hating agent Elsie Thirkettle.

In what is a very amusing and well-written crime story, Ethelred and Elsie become amateur sleuths as they piece together the events leading up to the disappearance of Geraldine. And it seems that there is no shortage of suspects.

Geraldine was a force of nature and, as it turns out, a dab hand in the red herring market. As Ethelred and Elsie begin to unravel Geraldine’s mixed up personal and professional lives, Elsie begins to suspect that there is more to the mystery than meets the eye and that Ethelred knows more than he is letting on.

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice is a wonderfully amusing story. The main characters of Ethelred and Elsie are wonderfully portrayed, each telling their version of events in believable and very different styles. I felt drawn to the characters and their separate voices. This is the first book for some time that has left me chuckling out loud. 

An excellent debut novel. 

The Lake District Murder

the lake district murderby John Bude

Originally published in 1935, this edition, released as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series, is making a well-deserved reappearance.

The book opens with the discovery of a body in a remote Lake District garage. First impressions are that the victim, garage co-owner Jack Clayton, has committed suicide, but Inspector Meredith seems to think otherwise. As he begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding Clayton’s death, the more puzzling the case becomes.

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful north Lake District around Keswick and Penrith, John Bude’s novel has more twists and dead ends than a modern housing estate. The Lake District Murder may not be one of the best of its genre, but it does have plenty of clues to follow, even if the Inspector himself seems to miss a few until the very end. The book has an easy style with a plot that is simple to follow. The clues are there to be found and I enjoyed working them out as I went along. 

An enjoyable bit of summer escapism, but more for the crime enthusiast. 

A Big Big Boy Did It And Ran Away

by Christopher Brookmyre

A Big Boy Did It and Ran AwayWhether you like his books or not (and why wouldn’t you?) you have to admit that Christopher Brookmyre certainly knows how to give a book a title!

And if you are one of those who don’t find the title amusing then probably won’t like the book either.

A Big Did It And Ran Away is a reference to that old childhood ploy of passing the blame onto someone else, and that is, in a way, what drives the plot of this book. Basically it is a thriller with a twist. Warned of a terrorist threat to the UK, the police are on full alter and on the lookout for anything unusual that might offer a lead to where and when the attack might take place.

Meanwhile, feeling his life drifting away from him and struggling to cope with the combination of a new child and new job, Raymond Ash finds himself at the centre of some very unusual events.

Christopher Brookmeyer’s talent as a storyteller is indisputable. The plot is as relentless as anything written by le-Carre of Forsyth, the witty snipping at modern life as anything written by Tom Sharpe. It is a unique blend of thriller and comedy that makes this such a good book.

The plot is solid, the characters interesting and flawed, and the politics realistically absurd. A wonderful combination that makes this a really great read.

The Jonah

by James Herbert

The JonahJames Herbert has been a permanent feature of the bestsellers lists since “The rats” was first published in 1974. Often considered, mainly by those who haven’t read his books, to be a horror writer, his books and actually generally thrillers, all-be-it often with a supernatural twist. In facrt, his most famous series – Rats, Lair and Domain – are closer to science fiction.

“The Jonah” is a detective story with a touch of the supernatural. Jim Kelso is a detective with the Drugs Squad in London. He is good at his job but he has the unenviable reputation for bringing bad luck to those around him. The death of a fellow officer on a drugs bust is the last straw for his boss and Kelps finds himself working undercover in a remote Sussex fishing village.

Playing the part of an ornithologist undertaking research for a bird charity, Kelso is alone so he can’t hurt anyone, or so it seems at first. With frequent flashbacks we begin to uncover the dark secret behind the inexplicable events in Kelso’s life.  

Investigating the mysterious events that led to an otherwise unassuming family falling foul of the effect of LSD. The police are baffled as to how a quiet family like the Preeces have come into contact with illegal drugs. And is there any connection with the death of a USAF pilot, also under the influence of LSD?

On the verge of giving up the investigation he is joined by HM Customs investigator Ellie Sheppard. Despite his reservations about working with her, the pair soon begin to uncover the truth the lies beneath the surface of the small community. But for Kelso, it is the revelation of the secrets of his own past that bring the greatest danger.

James Herbert is a great story teller, whatever the genre. One of the things I love about his books is the care he takes with his characters, even those who barely live longer than two pages. As disaster strikes the village, we are introduced to a number of locals and, in Herbert’s trademark style, we get to know a lot more about them than is necessary. That is not a negative by the way, I love the way he builds up his incidental characters. “The Jonah” is typical James Herbert. Not necessarily one of his best (that would be “Magic Cottage”), but well worth the read and a reminder for me of why I got hooked on his books in the first place. I began reading his books when I was a teenager, but the Jonah is one of several I missed at the time. I think now that I need to catch up a bit.

The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre AffairImagine, if you will, a world in which England (not the UK) is still fighting the Crimean War and facing birder skirmishes with the People’s Republic of Wales; where airships are still ambling across the ski ways; where re-engineered Dodos are the favourite family pet; and where special government departments police literature and time. And just as your head begins to ache, imagine a world where no one bats an eye when the hero introduces herself as Thursday Next!

If you find these things unimaginable then “The Eyre Affair” is probably best avoided. But, if you can get your head around these ideas then grab yourself a copy and step into one of the most bizarre, entertaining and original books I have read for some time.

The afore mentioned Thursday Next is an agent for the Literary Detective Agency of the Special Operations Network, or SpecOps 27 for short. Her job is to police the lucrative literacy market that has been infiltrated by criminal gangs. Not a role that normally involves car chases, gun fights, kidnappings and murder, but with a new “Mr Big” on the scene things begin to take a more sinister turn. And it is Thursday’s job to bring him down.

In this alternative version of 1985, England is virtually controlled by the Goliath Corporation whose influence in every aspect of government and the media make them as bad as the villains themselves.

Told mainly in the first person, Thursday’s adventures are full of the kind of twists, turns and betrayals you would expect of a good detective story, but Jasper Fforde is no ordinary writer, and Thursday Next is no ordinary detective.

The world Jasper has created is full of wonderful characters and the alternative history he has created is oddly believable. I found the book difficult to put down, and not because it had been glued to my hands! The style is somewhat reminiscent of early Tom Holt, with great characters you can have some empathy for and a plot that is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t already read the book. Bizarre, funny, imaginative and great fun.

“The Eyre Affaire” is the first in a series of books following the adventures of Thursday Next. I for one will be on the lookout for the next instalment.

Cold Is The Grave

by Peter Robinson

Cold Is The GraveAnother Inspector Banks story and, like the others I have read, there is as much here about his messed up private life as there is about the crimes he investigates.

I have not been reading these books in any kind of order. Rather, I have been dipping in and out of Alan Banks’ career like a confused time traveller.

In Cold Is The Grave, Banks has no make sense of several murders, a runaway teenager and his own failing love life. Bit for once it seems that others’ lives are more confused and dysfunctional than his own.
Drawn unwittingly into the private life of his nemesis and boss, Chief Superintendent “Jimmy” Riddle, Banks is forced to face some truths about his own emotions and to face up to the realities of his own life.

A great read. Plenty of twists, good characters and well written.

No Safe House

by Linwood Barclay

No Safe HouseIt is seven years since the events of “No Time For Goodbye”, when Cynthia Archer came to face to face with her past, triggering a series of events that almost cost her the lives of her family. Although the family have managed to rebuild their lives, Cynthia finds it almost impossible to give her fourteen year old daughter Grace the freedom she craves.

But when Grace and her new boyfriend break into a strange house, she finds herself at the centre of a chain of events that once again threaten the lives of the family.

On the face of it, the Archer’s are just an average, all American family, but looks can be deceptive. Circumstances conspire to put them at the centre of another mystery, but this time the body count is starting to get seriously worrying.

We all like to feel that we are safe in our own homes. It is our sanctuary from the violence and traumas of the world outside, our refuge. In “No Safe House”, that sanctity is violated, but in an unusual way.

From its violent opening chapter, “No Safe House” keeps up the pace, and the body count, until it’s unexpected and equally violent conclusion. The book is everything you would expect from Linwood Barclay. I did question why he brought back the Archer family, but once you get into the story it makes sense as their backstory makes them the right kind of family to face this particular ordeal.

I do enjoy Linwood Barclay’s books. His stories are centred around people who on the face of it are nothing special, just ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. I suppose part of the attraction of his stories is the feeling that these things could happen to any of us. Although, I sincerely hope not.

Like all his previous books, this is a well structured story that keeps you gripped right from the very beginning. It has pace, great characters and just enough twists to keep you guessing without getting lost.

The only thing I will say is that I am seeing a pattern in his books, something that has put me off other writers in the past.

For anyone who has not read his work before, I would recommend at least reading “No Time For Goodbye” just so you get the background to the family. 

Started Early, Took My Dog

by Kate Atkinson

Started Early, Took My DogDetectives with private lives more complicated than the cases they investigate have become the norm these days. Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie is certainly no exception. With two children by different women that he hardly sees, no place to call home, no friends or family, this former soldier/policeman/private detective is a disaster, but one you can’t help but like.
 
It seems that Jackson Brodie is incapable of making sensible, or even rational decisions about his life as he blunders from one disaster to the next. And in this particular outing, he is also very much on he back foot for the entire investigation.
 
“Started Early…” begins with an unexplained murder in 1975 when rookie police constable Tracy Waterhouse and he colleagues discover the body a young woman in her flat. It is a case that haunts Tracy for the next 30 years, until someone begins asking awkward questions. As if Tracy didn’t have enough on her plate as she realises the impact of her shocking impulse purchase outside the shopping centre where she now works as chief of security.
 
For Jackson Brodie, it started out as a simple case of tracking down his client’s real parents, but as is always the case, there is so much more to it than that.
 
I must admit that at first I was a little disappointed with this book. It took a good few chapters before I really began to get the feel for the characters and the plot, but once I got there, I was gripped and couldn’t put it down. Kate Atkinson always delivers a gripping tale with a unique mix of humour and dark mystery, and this book is no exception. The various plot lines are expertly woven into an easy to follow way, although I must admit that I missed the vital clue right at the beginning that would have made the end result a little less of a surprise.
 
Jackson Brodie is a great creation. His weaknesses and faults are something I can relate to whilst at the same time making me feel relieved that it’s all happening to him and not me. 

Murder Underground

murder undergroundby Mavis Doriel Haye

Over the past year or so I have read more crime novels than ever before, but so far they have been of the thriller style. “Murder Underground” is a very different kind of book. First published in 1934, Murder Underground is a very traditional murder mystery, very much the kind of book I have avoided for the past few years. I have nothing against these kind of stories, it’s just that I actually prefer watching the TV and film adaptations (there, I have admitted it!). 

“Murder Underground” is part of a series of long-lost books being re published by the British Library and is one of a couple my wife bought whilst we were on holiday last year. I wouldn’t normally have bothered reading it, but I can’t resist a “classic”, which is how this series is being promoted.

I was actually very pleasantly surprised by the book. The plot is a little weak, but the characters are endearing, particularly the bumbling Basil Pongleton, nephew of the murder victim, who is a little reminiscent of Bertie Wooster, but without the money.

Set on and around London’s Northern Line, the story focuses on several characters, most of whom are residents of the Frampton Hotel, a small boarding house close to Belsize Park Station, the scene of the dastardly deed. We never “meet” the victim, Miss Pongleton, as she is already dead as the book starts, but we do get insights into her character through the conversations of her fellow boarders and family. It seems she was not the easiest person to like, giving several people ample reason for wanting to bump her off.

“Murder Underground” is very much a book of its type and time. The pace is slow and the characters lack depth, but overall I found it a pleasant, though not particularly challenging read. Mavis Doreil Hay wrote just three crime novels and if I come across either of the other two I will defiantly give them a go.

If you enjoy classic 1930s detective stories, this would be right up your street. If you prefer your murders to be a little more grisly and complicated, then give this one a miss.

July 19, 2015