Monday, June 30, 2008

Ned Kelly Awards reading update

The Ned Kelly Awards long list was announced a while ago, and some of us have decided to try to read as many as we can before attending the award night at Melbourne Writers Festival in August. Karen and Sunnie over on AustCrime have a head start on me, but I'm going to do the best I can. If you look at how many books are on the full list, you'll see that my efforts to date have been pretty pathetic, so I'm going to have to lift my game. happy smiley

So far I've read:

Best First Fiction
Frantic, Katherine Howell
Vodka Doesn't Freeze, Lea Giarratano

Best Fiction
Sucked In, Shane Maloney
Appeal Denied, Peter Corris
The Calling, Jane Goodall
Shatter, Michael Rowbotham

I have in my TBR
Cherry Pie, Leigh Redhead
Blood Sunset, Jarad Henry
Redback, Lindy Cameron

I prefer my crime fictional so haven't read any of the non-fiction/true crime, and probably won't. Let's see how I go with the others ...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A couple of recent reads

I took a break from my review books and read a couple of books from my personal TBR pile. Unfortunately this coincided with a time when life interfered with my reading time, so it’s taken me longer to get through them than I would have liked.

The first was A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill, the latest in the Dalziel and Pascoe series. Andy Dalziel is still recovering from the bomb blast that put him in a coma for most of the previous book, The Death of Dalziel, and he checks into the Avalon Clinic in seaside Sandytown to continue his convalescence.

A group of local business people is behind the town’s renaissance as a centre for healing. However they don’t agree on the direction this should take. We get to know the large cast of characters and observe the escalating tensions through the eyes of Dalziel, via ‘Mildred’, his mp3 recorder; and the visiting Charley Heywood, a young newly qualified psychologist, who writes long detailed emails to her sister.

When one of the town’s prominent citizens is murdered in a rather macabre way, DCI Peter Pascoe arrives to lead the investigation. Dalziel and Charley provide unwelcome assistance.

This took me a little while to get into. The first part of the book is apparently Hill’s tribute to Jane Austen’s unfinished work, Sanditon, and to my mind was rather too long. It wasn't until well past the 100 page mark that it started to truly engage me. However from then on, it was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The other book was Appeal Denied by Peter Corris, the umpteenth (31st I think) in the Cliff Hardy series. Hardy has been stripped of his investigator’s licence and his appeals against the decision have been denied. When someone close to him is murdered, he can’t just leave it to the police to investigate. For a start, there’s more than the whiff of corruption about the police unit in charge of the investigation.

Part of the attraction of the Cliff Hardy books is the location, they are very Sydney. While I don’t live there, I know it well enough to be familiar with most of the places Corris mentions, and I enjoy all the references to local personalities and events.

I used to read Corris way back, but for some reason he slipped off my list of authors. I think that was at a time when I joined some crime related email lists, and started discovering so many new authors that some of the old ones fell by the wayside. Then a couple of months ago I picked a Cliff Hardy, my first in probably over 10 years, and found I still liked Cliff a lot. He’s aged and changed with the years but he’s still an interesting character, and Corris still knows how to turn out a well written story. Hardy may be beginning to feel his age, but Corris is certainly not showing his!

Now back to that review pile ...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James

Publisher: MacMillan, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-70377-3

First line: If Ronnie Wilson had known, as he woke up, that in just a couple of hours’ time he would be dead, he would have planned his day somewhat differently.

Failed businessman and perennial loser, Ronnie Wilson is in New York on a last ditch mission to secure funding for his latest venture. His car is about to be repossessed, his credit cards are maxed out, and he’s got an expensive wife back in England. It’s 11th September 2001 and he’s heading to an early appointment in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. A very very bad day has just opened up an undreamed of opportunity for Ronnie.

Six years later, Abby Dawson has just returned home after some years in Australia. She has moved into a luxury flat in Brighton which she has fortified with steel reinforced doors, triple deadlocking, double safety chain, and she keeps pepper spray, a knife and baseball bat within easy reach. To say she is living in fear for her life is an understatement. When she receives a text message on her pay-as-you-go phone saying ‘I know where you are’ her terror reaches new heights.

At the same time, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is investigating the discovery of the skeleton of a woman found in an old stormwater drain unearthed during excavations for a new development. She was apparently strangled.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, another woman’s body is found decomposing in the boot of a car resting on the bottom of a river near Melbourne. She was apparently strangled.

As this brilliantly complex tale moves between Brighton, New York and Melbourne, the threads binding these stories together become more and more tightly woven. Dead Man’s Footsteps is a masterpiece of plotting; it is police procedural at its best, with clue building on clue, and connections being made through a combination of good solid detective work and a little luck.

The 9/11 part of the story was handled factually and sensitively. James did not dwell overly on this part of the story, but there were several short intense chapters that brought back memories of those days we all spent watching the television in disbelief and horror. Initially told from Ronnie’s point of view as a bystander caught up in the chaos of that day, it later also touched on the ongoing effects, physical and mental, on the people of New York, particularly those involved in the rescue effort.

A subplot sees a new Detective Superintendent, Cassian Pewe, previously of the Met, appointed by the Assistant Chief Constable to Brighton and Hove CID. Grace, who has an uneasy relationship with the ACC, isn’t the only one who is unhappy about the appointment, and as he and his colleagues try to find a way to work with this arrogant and ambitious man, it soon becomes clear that Pewe has his own agenda.

Grace and his team of officers are a wonderful mixed bag of personalities of the sort that could be found in almost any workplace. From the rather awful Norman Potting with his sexual innuendos and the exhausted new father Nick Nicholl, to Glenn Branson with his marital difficulties and the Malteser eating Bella Moy, James has created a very believable cast of secondary characters.

Roy Grace is still haunted by the disappearance of his wife Sandy nine years ago, but he has moved on a little. For a start he seems to have given up visiting psychics and mediums in the hope of discovering his wife’s fate. And his relationship with the pathologist Cleo has become quite serious, although it is still threatened by the ever present ghost of Sandy.

The book starts with one of the best first lines I’ve ever read, and it ends with a corker of a last line! Dead Man’s Footsteps is the fourth in the Superintendent Roy Grace series, and I hope there are many more to come.

Peter James website:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gallows Lane by Brian McGilloway

Publisher: MacMillan New Writing, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-70061-1

First line: James Kerr returned to Lifford on a blustery morning in May, shuffling under the heavy clouds that scudded across the sky towards the North.

When James Kerr crosses the border from Northern Ireland, Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is there to meet him. Kerr has just been released from prison after serving eight years for his part in an armed robbery. Devlin’s boss Superintendent Olly ‘Elvis’ Costello, doesn’t want any trouble on his patch this close to his retirement, and asks Devlin to convince Kerr to return to the North.

Kerr, who has always protested his innocence, has found God while in prison. Although Costello is somewhat sceptical - “If Jesus knew Kerr was looking for Him, He would’ve hid” - Kerr claims to have returned because he wants to atone for his sins.

A young girl, Karen Doherty, is found brutally murdered in a nearly finished house on a new development. She had been on a hen night at a local nightclub, and was last seen getting into a car after being thrown out of the club for being drunk. However, her blood showed the presence of the date-rape drug, GBL.

When a break-in at the local pharmacy, another attempted rape and more murders follow, Devlin has to work out how these apparently unrelated crimes are connected and what they have to do with the old armed robbery case of which Kerr had been convicted. The investigation takes Devlin into the world of bodybuilding, steroid abuse and its affects.

At the same time a possible case of police corruption, old rivalries and the arrival of a team from NCIB to take over the murder investigation, make the atmosphere at the police station volatile. There is a lot going on in this book, but the complex plot elements all come together superbly and in a way that still surprised me.

Set in the town of Letterkenny, Donegal on the border between the North and South of Ireland, Gallows Lane has a strong sense of place that goes beyond the geographical and includes the historical and political background of the location. The police need to cooperate with each other across the borders is sometimes undermined by the political remnants of the old conflict.

Devlin is a different kind of character than most fictional police protagonists. He has a happy marriage and a young family he adores. He struggles to balance his work and his family life, and isn’t always successful in keeping the two separate. Devlin is all too human - he makes mistakes, and is tempted to bend the rules, both in his work and his relationships. Gallows Lane is a terrific book, combining an intricate and satisfying plot with wonderful characters, and I look forward to reading more about Devlin.

Gallows Lane is the second in the Inspector Benedict Devlin series, the first being Borderlands.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Killing Hour by Paul Cleave

Published: Random House, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-74166-853-7

First line: They come for me as I sleep.

Charlie Feldman wakes up aching all over, with a large painful bump on his forehead, and his blood spattered clothes on the floor. When he turns on the tv, he learns two women he was with the night before have been brutally murdered. The police evidence links Charlie to the crime. Charlie knows that Cyris is the murderer, but he's the only one who believes Cyris exists. When he goes to his ex-wife Jo for help, she doesn't believe him either, so he feels he has no option but to kidnap her. As his memory of that night slowly comes back, Charlie tries to work out why the murders occurred.

Inspector Bill Landry has just found out he is dying from cancer, and wants to end his career with a big success. He keeps vital evidence to himself, and sets out on a one man crusade to track down Charlie, and see justice done.

As Charlie and Jo are pursued by the police and the murderer, and as horror follows horror, the tension keeps mounting, and you wonder just how much more these people can take.

The story is told from multiple points of view, with each chapter shifting to a different character. This could have made for a very disjointed story, but works brilliantly here.

Before you read this book you should make sure you have turned on all the lights and checked all the doors and windows - twice. This is a seriously scary book.

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Published: MacMillan, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-230-01445-9

First line: The passengers streamed ashore from the cruise ship.

It's midsummer in the Shetland Isles, when the sun never quite sets, and the white nights make many people go a bit crazy.

In the remote village of Biddista, Detective Jimmy Perez is attending the opening of an art exhibition at the Herring House with his friend Fran Hunter, when an unknown Englishman suddenly collapses in tears. He claims to have forgotten who he is and why he is there. Perez tries to help the man, but when he briefly leaves him alone, the man disappears. The next morning he is found wearing a clown mask and hanging from a rafter in a boat shed. It doesn't take Perez long to realise that this is not suicide.

The squad from Inverness headed by Inspector Roy Taylor is called in. Taylor is still feeling put out that Perez solved the previous case they worked on together, and is determined that the solution to this case will be down to him. Their investigative styles are complete opposites, with Perez's slow methodical ways irritating the hyperactive Taylor. Surprisingly, they do end up working well together, although it takes a little time for them to get back to the easy camaraderie they had in the previous book.

The investigation centres on Biddista, a community of about half a dozen homes, where almost all the inhabitants are connected by family or childhood friendships. Perez believes the dead man may not have been as much of a stranger as everyone is claiming. He suspects the murderer is a local, and that the death is related to events in the past. A second murder seems to confirm this theory.

The investigation is intriguing, as the hunt for clues to the victim's identity, and the subsequent search for the connections that would lead to his murderer moves from the Shetlands to Yorkshire and back again. Cleeves kept me guessing until the last moment. But it is the characters and their stories that make this such an absorbing read. From the prickly relationship between Perez and Taylor, to Perez's developing relationship with Fran Hunter, to the inhabitants of Biddista and their intertwined histories, they are all fascinating and very real people.

White Nights is the eagerly awaited second book in the Shetland Quartet, and it doesn't disappoint. The first, Raven Black, won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for best crime novel in 2006.

Ann Cleeves' website:

A warning if you don't like to know too much before reading a book: The back cover blurb, at least on my copy, contains a spoiler, mentioning an event that doesn’t occur until more than halfway through the book. For me, a blurb should give specifics of the plot for things that happen in the first 20-30 pages only. After that it needs to be quite vague. It's ok to say that there are more murders, but not to let on who may be on the victim list.