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BOOK REVIEW: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities, or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

My Thoughts:


Caleb Zelic has discovered his best friend lying in a pool of blood, his throat cut. Gary was a policeman with a young family. Caleb is a private investigator who had asked for his help on a case. Caleb is also profoundly deaf.

This is a high-octane thriller, thrumming with pace and tension. The style is curt and intense: ‘It had been an hour before he’d read the message, another two in the car, stuck behind every double-B and ageing Volvo. He should have run the red lights. Broken the speed limits. The law of physics.’

Characters are drawn in swift, deft strokes. ‘Tedesco was watching him: a face hewn from stone, with all the warmth to match.’ ‘Frankie … was wearing her usual jeans and battered leather jacket; her short, grey hair purple-tipped and scarecrow-wild.’

Yet there is poetry in the writing too. Caleb’s deafness makes his voice arresting and unpredictable. The word ‘executed’ is described as ‘a happy-looking word: a little smile for the first syllable, a soft pucker for the third.’ Scott is ‘a soft name, just sibilance and air.’ I loved the freshness of this voice for a hard-boiled detective; it’s bold and confident writing. I also loved the vulnerability of a man in search of a murderer who cannot hear his enemy coming.

Caleb has a love interest – his ex-wife, Kat, a blue-eyed Koori who draws and sculpts. She became one of my favourite characters, being feisty and yet kind and loving. The tension between Caleb and Kat added another element to the story, and helped the story hurtle on towards its surprising ending.

Resurrection Bay is razor-sharp contemporary crime, ramped up with witty dialogue, wry humour, and a dark, deftly handled plot that had the pages whizzing past.

You can read my recent interview with Emma Viskic here, and my review of And Fire Came Down here.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Friday, July 20, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?


My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed Australian author Jane Harper’s debut crime novel, The Dry, and so was eager to see what she came up with for her second novel.

The premise is intriguing.

Five women go on a hike. Only four return.

Federal agent Aaron Falk (the detective-hero of The Dry) is called in to help search for the missing woman, Alice Russell, and determine the truth of her disappearance. Falk was one of the last people Alice tried to call on her mobile phone, and so local police have asked for his help. He and his partner, Carmen Cooper, are investigating possible money laundering by Alice’s employers and she was their secret mole at the company.

The story alternates between Falk’s point-of-view, as he follows a bewildering and contradictory set of clues, and flashbacks to the women’s hike into the bush and the series of events that led to Alice’s vanishing. This parallel narrative, unusual in contemporary crime novels, creates a sense of slow creeping tension.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the rain-drenched wilderness adds greatly to the suspense. Jane Harper is particularly good at setting, I feel, and I was glad that she did not replicate the hot, parched landscape of The Dry but explored a different Australian landscape.

The psychological drama being played out among the five women, the series of mistakes and misunderstandings that led inexorably to tragedy, and the highly charged pace all make Force of Nature riveting reading.

You can read by review of The Dry here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 

BOOK REVIEW: Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Friday, June 29, 2018


 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Winner of Britain’s coveted Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award, Ann Cleeves introduces a dazzling new suspense series to mystery readers.

Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.


My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of the British crime dramas, ‘Vera’ and ‘Shetland’, both of which are inspired by the work of writer Ann Cleeves, and yet I had never read one of her books. Being in the mood for an atmospheric murder mystery, I grabbed a copy of Raven Black at the airport.

The story begins with two drunken teenage girls knocking on the door of a lonely old man at midnight on a bitterly cold New Year’s Eve. The following day one of the girls is found dead, within sight of the old man’s house. The tightly knit community of the island of Shetland remembers another girl who went missing many years before, also within sight of Magnus Tait’s house. Suspicions flare and tensions mount. Inspector Jimmy Perez – who despite his name comes from a long line of Shetland islanders – begins to investigate the girl’s death and uncovers long buried secrets that change his understanding of everything to do with the murder.

I remembered the TV show inspired by this book vividly, and so I knew right from the beginning who the murderer was. Discovering the culprit is not the only pleasure in reading a tightly plotted murder mystery, though. The bare, brooding atmosphere of the Shetland islands, the sharply drawn characters, the masterly laying of clues and red herrings, and a warm and sympathetic protagonist in Jimmy Perez all contributed to a very enjoyable few hours of reading. I’ll be reading more by Ann Cleeves.

For another great crime read, this one set in Australia, check out me review of And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic.

You can read my interview with Ann Cleeves here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Struggling detective Alisha Barba is trying to get her life back on track after almost being crippled by a murder suspect. Now on her feet again she receives a desperate plea from an old school friend, who is eight months pregnant and in trouble. On the night they arrange to meet, her friend is run down and killed by a car and Alisha discovers the first in a series of haunting and tragic deceptions.

Determined to uncover the truth, she embarks upon a dangerous journey that will take her from the East End of London’s to Amsterdam’s murky red light district and into a violent underworld of sex trafficking, slavery and exploitation.


My Thoughts:

I can always rely on Michael Robotham to deliver an intelligent, fast-paced and psychologically indepth crime thiller, and The Night Ferry is no exception.

At the end of his earlier novel, Lost, young Alisha Barba has her back broken by a murder suspect. She is now trying to get her life back together again, but no-one wants her on their team. One day she receives a plea for help from an old school friend:

Dear Ali, I’m in trouble. I must see you. Please come to the reunion. Love, Cate.

Alisha has not spoken to her onetime best friend in more than eight years. Reluctantly she goes to the reunion, only to discover Cate is eight months pregnant. Her friend only has time to whisper to her, ‘They want to take my baby. You have to stop them’ before she disappears into the crowd. Moments later, she and her husband are both dead in what appears to be a tragic car accident.

Alisha suspects foul play, and begins to dig. It is not long before she uncovers an intricate web of lies and secrets. Each new discovery leads to danger and death. Alisha follows the clues to Amsterdam’s red-light district and hints of baby trafficking.

Ex-cop Vincent Ruiz (the hero of Lost) makes a welcome appearance, in a fast-paced and brilliantly plotted story that changes Alisha’s life forever.


You can read my review of another Michael Robotham book, The Suspect, here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!




BOOK REVIEW: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

The Blurn (From Goodreads):

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?


My Thoughts:

A contemporary crime novel set in Australia, and featuring a hearing-impaired private investigator, And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is bold, fresh, original, and achingly real.

I bought her book after putting out a call on Facebook for some great crime recommendations. Emma Viksic’s name was mentioned several times and so, seeing this novel while browsing in a bookstore, I grabbed it.

It’s the second in a series, with the first book Resurrection Bay winning a swathe of awards including the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. I do wish I’d bought Book 1 first, as there are inevitable references to what happened previously, and some of the characters are introduced only briefly, the reader obviously meant to recognise them from earlier encounters.

Nonetheless, I was hooked in from the very first page, in which a mysterious young woman asks the hero Caleb for help in sign language … and then dies. Written in taut, pared-back language, with moments of dark wit and humour and high-octane action, And Fire Came Down is a compulsive page-turner.

The setting is vivid and memorable too – a small Australian country town baking in the summer heat with drug-fuelled violence and racial tensions simmering just below the surface. I could feel the sweat sliding down Caleb’s back and smell the dangerous hint of bushfire smoke in the scorchingly hot air. Just brilliant.

You might also be interested in my review of another great Australian crime novel, The Dry by Jane Harper.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Viskic for the blog this week, you can read it here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

Friday, May 04, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he's never forgotten the two children she left behind...

When Aisling Conroy's boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget - until Jack's sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an 'accidental' overdose twenty years ago - of Jack and Maude's drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything...

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can't - or won't. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.


My Thoughts:

For me, the best crime novels are tense, evocative reads, set somewhere misty and atmospheric that raises the hairs on your skin, with characters who are complex and alive, who you cannot help caring about, and written in terse language that nonetheless has the power to haunt you with its beauty. I want to be moved by the characters’ plight and gripped by the compulsion to know what happened, and I want to be genuinely surprised by the denouement.

It is, unsurprisingly, difficult to find all that in the one package. When I do find it, I tend to be very faithful to the author, reading every book of theirs I can find.

The Ruin, by Irish-born Australian-resident author Dervla McTiernan, gave me all that I wanted in a contemporary crime novel, but since it is her debut, I can’t rush out and buy all of her backlist. I am, however, impatiently waiting for her next book.

The story is set in Ireland, a suitably misty and atmospheric setting for me. It begins with a young rookie policeman, Cormac Reilly, discovering the corpse of a drug addict in a cold and filthy ruin of a house. It seems clear enough that she died of a drug overdose. The real trouble is what to do with her two young children. Regretfully Cormac arranges for them to go into foster care, but something about the brother and sister haunt him. He never really forgets them.

Now, many years later, Cormac is back in Galway, after having taken a demotion in order to move with his girlfriend, who has taken a plum new job in the area. He is frustrated because his new commander gives him nothing but cold cases to work on, and he wants to get his teeth into something real.

Then a body is found floating in the freezing black waters of the river. It’s a young man named Jack – and he is the little boy Cormac put into care so long ago. When the detective begins digging, he finds that Jack’s death was not a suicide, as the police believe – and that the roots of the mystery lie in the death of Jack’s mother so long ago.

I really loved the character of Cormac, who has troubles of his own but is not one of those drunk, damaged detectives that seem to have taken over so much of contemporary crime fiction lately (I am really tired of that trope, are you?) Cormac is clever, dogged, and wants to help people, and his love for his girlfriend and his willingness to make sacrifices for her makes him a very empathetic character.

Best of all, the dramatic tension in this novel never flags. I was absolutely riveted to the page, each new unexpected turn tightening the screw. And, no, I didn’t guess the murderer!

The Ruin is world-class crime fiction, and Dervla McTiernan cannot write fast enough to please me.

For another great crime thriller, check out my review of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!


BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse Book 3, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn by Colin Dexter

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Nicholas Quinn is deaf, so he considers himself lucky to be appointed to the Foreign Examinations Board at Oxford, which designs tests for students of English around the world. But when someone slips cyanide into Nicholas's sherry, Inspector Morse has a multiple-choice murder. Any one of a tight little group of academics could have killed Quinn. Before Morse is done, all their dirty little secrets will be exposed. And a murderer will be cramming for his finals.


My Thoughts:


I have been assured by Colin Dexter fans that the Inspector Morse series gets better as it goes along and so I read the third book in the series, though not without qualms. Published in 1977, the book is set in the claustrophobic world of the Oxford Examinations Syndicate and centres on the murder of a deaf academic. The case is as labyrinthine as the earlier two books in the series, but in this instalment Inspector Morse seems less like a bumbling fool and more like a man gifted with the ability to make intuitive leaps of deduction. He and Sergeant Lewis seem more in tune with each other, with Lewis providing the dogged methodical police work. And my major gripe with the series so far – Morse’s sexist attitudes to women – is a little less acute in this book (perhaps because there is only one female character). The books have an oddly old-fashioned feel about them, because of their lack of forensic evidence and modern-day technology, and also because of Dexter’s writing style. He was born in 1930, in the midst of the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction, and his books have the same feel of being a cerebral puzzle as writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (whose work I admire enormously). It is this aspect of Dexter’s work that I enjoy – the task of pitting my brains against Inspector Morse’s. I have to admit that Morse won. I had no idea who the murderer was until the very end, which offered a most satisfying twist. Of the three Colin Dexter books I have read in recent weeks, this was the most enjoyable. It is up to Colin Dexter fans to convince me to keep on reading the series. 

You might also be interested in reading my reviews of book 1 and book 2 from the Inspector Morse series. 

Have you read this series? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 



BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse Book 2, Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter

Friday, January 19, 2018


The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Valerie Taylor has been missing since she was a sexy seventeen, more than two years ago. Inspector Morse is sure she's dead. But if she is, who forged the letter to her parents saying "I am alright so don't worry"? Never has a woman provided Morse with such a challenge, for each time the pieces of the jigsaw start falling into place, someone scatters them again. So Valerie remains as tantalizingly elusive as ever. Morse prefers a body—a body dead from unnatural causes. And very soon he gets one…


My Thoughts:

I’m giving the Inspector Morse mysteries by Colin Dexter a go, having never read them before. I started with Book 1, which I enjoyed with reservations. I have had exactly the same experience with Book 2. The mystery is interesting, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. It focuses on a cold case of a missing girl, who disappeared on her way to school at the age of seventeen. The detective working the case concluded she had run away with a man, but now that detective is dead. Only a few days later, the parent of the dead girl receive a letter from her telling them not to worry. Suspicions are raised, and Morse is assigned the case. He believes the girl is dead, and so he sets out to find the murderer. However, every time he thinks he has come close to solving the case, something happens to up-end all his suppositions.

I don’t find the character of Inspector Morse very likeable in these books. He seems to bumble round, leaping to conclusions, then trying to force the facts to fit his theories. He is also, I am sad to say, a misogynist with a taste for pornography. The depiction of women was my major problem in Book 1, and it is even more marked in Book 2. I understand that the book was published in 1976, and that it is aimed for a male readership, but it still makes me uncomfortable. The saving grace for me with this series so far has been the pleasure Colin Dexter takes with playing with language in his plots – Inspector Morse’s facility with crosswords and other word puzzles adds a welcome intelligence to the plot. 

You might be interested in my review of Book 1 in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock.  

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 



BOOK REVIEW: Inspector Morse: Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Beautiful Sylvia Kaye and another young woman had been seen hitching a ride not long before Sylvia's bludgeoned body is found outside a pub in Woodstock, near Oxford. Morse is sure the other hitchhiker can tell him much of what he needs to know. But his confidence is shaken by the cool inscrutability of the girl he's certain was Sylvia's companion on that ill-fated September evening. Shrewd as Morse is, he's also distracted by the complex scenarios that the murder set in motion among Sylvia's girlfriends and their Oxford playmates. To grasp the painful truth, and act upon it, requires from Morse the last atom of his professional discipline.


My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of the ‘Inspector Morse’ TV series, and its spin-off ‘Lewis’, and yet I had never read any of the novels by Colin Dexter which inspired the shows. I had heard that they were good old-fashioned murder mysteries with clever plots, which is something I am always hunting for, and so I thought I’d give them a go.

The first book in the series, Last Bus to Woodstock, was published in 1975, and so it reads like historical fiction now. The plot depends on a warning letter being hand-delivered because of the slowness of the English postal system; there are no mobile phones, or internet, or traffic cameras, or DNA testing. Inspector Morse has old-fashioned tastes in music (Wagner) and hobbies (cryptic crosswords) and very old-fashioned attitudes to women, who are all pretty typists with good legs. The casual misogyny can be a little hard to take (the conclusion that the murdered girl must have been promiscuous because she didn’t wear a bra, for example). However, the mystery itself is really clever and surprising, and I happen to love classical music and cryptic clues, and so I quite enjoyed the character of Inspector Morse, who is much lazier and bumbling in the novel than he is in the TV show.

For another great read written by an author who also works on British TV scripts, check out my review of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Wednesday, September 06, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:


"Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks;
when she saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one."


This chilling children’s playground rhyme was inspired by the true-life story of Lizzie Borden, who was – in 1892 - tried but then acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. The case was never solved, and still continues to interest more than a hundred years after the event.

Sarah Schmidt says that she was inspired to write Look What I Have Done after Lizzie Borden came to her in a dream. I’m always fascinated by novels inspired by dreams, as so many of my own books begin in this way, and so I was eager to read her take on the well-known story.

The novel is told in alternating first-person accounts by Lizzie, her sister Emma, the Irish housemaid Bridget, and a loutish young man who seems to have been hired by the sisters’ maternal uncle to hurt or attack their father in some way. None of the voices seem particularly reliable, and so it is hard to ascertain the truth of what has happened. The atmosphere in the house is claustrophobic and cloying, with many descriptions of the stench of rotting meat and over-ripe pears. Lizzie’s voice is awkward and childish and gleeful in turns, and – although Sarah Schmidt does not attempt to answer the question of who was truly the murderer – by the end of the book, I felt sure that it was Lizzie and that her acquittal was a miscarriage of justice.

For another wonderfully eerie, historical mystery check out my review of Wolf Winter by Cecila Ekback.

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!



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