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BOOK REVIEW: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Friday, November 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It is Winter Carnival in Quebec City, bitterly cold and surpassingly beautiful. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has come not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. But violent death is inescapable, even in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society - where an obsessive historian's quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder. Could a secret buried with Champlain for nearly 400 years be so dreadful that someone would kill to protect it?

Although he is supposed to be on leave, Gamache cannot walk away from a crime that threatens to ignite long-smoldering tensions between the English and the French. Meanwhile, he is receiving disquieting letters from the village of Three Pines, where beloved Bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder. "It doesn't make sense," Olivier’s partner writes every day. "He didn't do it, you know." As past and present collide in this astonishing novel, Gamache must relive the terrible event of his own past before he can bury his dead.


My Thoughts:


I’ve been a fan of Louise Penny since her first book, Still Life, was published in 2006. When I met her at the Perth Writers Festival earlier this year, I was astonished to see how many books she had published and how many I had missed. I thought I’d better hurry and catch up with what’s been happening in the world of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Bury the Dead is the sixth book in the series, and is set in Québec City, a lovely 16th century fortified town that is one of the oldest European colonies in North America. I really love the Canadian setting of Louise Penny’s books. They are so fresh and vivid, and I learn something new every time about Canadian history and life. Most of her books till now have been set in the fictional village of Three Pines, which – I joked to a friend recently – has had almost as many murders as Midsomer. Despite its extraordinarily high rate of murders, Three Pines is idyllic and makes me want to move there.

The change of setting to Old Québec was, nonetheless, welcome. I knew nothing about its long and bloody history, and found the history revealed in this novel fascinating. It is Winter Carnival, and the cobbled streets and slate roofs are thick with snow. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has not come to Québec City to join in the revelries, but to recover from an earlier investigation which had gone terribly wrong. The aftermath of that investigation haunts Gamache, but the details are only revealed slowly, through memory and flashback, and so the novel is really about two separate violent events, that reflect each other in surprising ways.

The murder in Québec City takes place in the Literary and Historical Society, an old stone library, where a historian’s body has been discovered buried in a shallow grave in the cellar. He had spent his career searching for the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, which has been hidden for more than 400 years.

Meanwhile, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir goes back to Three Pines to reinvestigate the last murder which happened there, as Gamache has a terrible feeling that he had got it wrong.

So, stories within stories, deaths in the now and in the past, and a fallible detective who is nonetheless dogged and intelligent … Louise Penny writes top-notch crime fiction, and I’m really glad I’ve decided to read the whole series.

You might be interested in my review of one of Louise Penny's other books, The Brutal Telling.

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


BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Monday, October 29, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.


My Thoughts:

So many brilliant contemporary crime novels being published in Austalia right now! It’s like a new Golden Age of detective novels. And like the Golden Age of the 30s in Great Britain, many of the writers of this new great Australian flowering are women. In recent months I’ve read and loved books by Jane Harper, Dervla McTiernan, and Emma Viskic, and now I need to add debut author Sarah Bailey to the list. The Dark Lake really is bloody brilliant!

Set in a small rundown Australian town, the story centres on the murder of a beautiful young teacher, her body found floating in the lake strewn with red roses. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock went to school with the dead woman, but she hides this fact from her boss and her partner as she is desperate to investigate the crime. Slowly Gemma’s obsession with her old school friend deepens, threatening to derail her life and destroy all that she holds dear.

This is the kind of book that – once started – you really can’t put down. As more and more secrets are revealed, and more and more of Gemma’s life exposed, the mystery of how Rosalind Ryan died becomes increasingly gripping. And the story has a very satisfactory ending, as all good crime novels must have. I can’t wait for Sarah Bailey’s next book now!


What's your favourite crime novel? Please leave a comment and let me know. 

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. 




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