Notes from Harrogate: Part 2

Lee Child interviewed by Sarah Millican

Lee Child interviewed by Sarah Millican

Saturday at Harrogate was again gorgeously sunny. After a fabulous breakfast, I went along (with minimal hangover) to Forensics: Val McDermid in conversation with Sue Black. It was a great session, and especially useful for any budding crime writers. Sue Black demystified the world of forensics with a special focus on identity including DNA sampling and facial reconstruction.

After a quick coffee (my fifth of the day) I went back into the hall for the New Book panel. Expertly chaired by Val McDermid, debut authors Derek B. Miller (Norwegian by Night), Anya Lipska (Where The Devil Can’t Go), Malcolm Mackay (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter) and Colette McBeth (Precious Thing), discussed their novels, their journey to publication, and what was next for them. From this panel I heard one of my favourite quotes of the festival. It was from Derek B. Miller, who said, “crime writers don’t love crime, they love justice.” Brilliant.

After a quick lunch (sandwiches and crisps on the lawn – no alcohol) I headed to the Library for the C&R Crime party (and a glass of wine!). It was great to catch up with the team from C&R Crime, hear about all the exciting releases they’ve got coming up, and talk to their authors.

By this point it was almost five o’clock, and that meant it was time to get my seat for the Lee Child interview. The hall was packed to bursting, but with my trusty Festival Friend card (which gave the equivalent of ‘speedy boarding’ into the hall) I was able to get a seat three rows from the front. Comedienne Sarah Millican did a superb job with the interview – it was witty, insightful and all round entertaining. The hour-long session went past far too fast, but I was thrilled that I managed to meet Lee Child afterwards (he is my literary hero) and get a photo with him. I was grinning for the rest of the evening.

Anyway, from there it was a mad dash to the License to Thrill dinner. Author David Mark had written a bond themed murder mystery puzzle for the tables to solve during dinner. It was great fun and although the table I was on didn’t win, we had a lot of fun trying.

After a brief rest in the bar (!) it was on to the Late Night Quiz with quizmasters Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. Although the rules clearly stated teams should have six members, we flexed the rules a little and went with seven. It didn’t matter, we reasoned, we were going to lose anyway. But, with plenty of wine (plus the Theakstons beers that we ‘had to’ drink as part of the Name That Beer Round) we discovered that we were not quite as rubbish at the questions as we had thought that we would be. We didn’t win a prize, but we weren’t too far off. So to celebrate we returned to the bar until the early hours.

And then it was Sunday. After a ridiculously late night/early morning I needed a bit of a lie in, so I only made it to one session. But what a great one it was. Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series (which became HBO’s True Blood) and a whole bunch of stand-alone novels and other mystery series’, was interviewed by Paul Blezard. An inspiring and highly entertaining hour.

And then it was over.

As I packed up my bags, loaded the car, and said goodbye to all the fabulous people I’d met over the weekend I knew one thing for sure. I’ll definitely be back next year.

That Summer he Died by Emlyn Rees

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What the blurb says: On the surface, James Sawday’s got it all. An investigative journalist for a glossy men’s magazine, he gets to travel the world following adventure. And when he gets home, there’s Lucy waiting for him. Smart, funny and in love. She could even be the one. 

But when James’ editor sends him to the seaside town of Grancombe, he couldn’t have imagined what was in store. A serial killer has filled the shore with terror – the killer’s personal trophy: the victim’s hand. The third attack draws James into a world he’s spent all of his adult life trying to forget. 

Ten years before, during a hazy, drug-fuelled summer, James was one of a group of teenagers who stumbled on the mutilated corpse of local artist Jack Dawes. And then the second killing happened – the one that still gives James nightmares.

Now James has got to dig up everything he’s worked so hard to bury. And what he’s going to find out could cost him his sanity. And his life.”

This book looks beyond the traditional sea and sand getaways offered to holidaymakers, delving instead into the darker aspects of Rees’ Grancombe. The narrative alternates between James Sawday’s present – the life that he’s made for himself in London: he’s a successful journalist, has a good circle of friends and a beautiful girlfriend – and the summer he spent with his uncle ten years previously as he teetered between school and university, a summer that he’s done his best to forget.

When his editor sends James back to the place that still haunts him in his nightmares, James is determined to spend as little time as possible and speak to as few people there as he can. At first this works out well, and the article he has to write about the serial killings in the area shapes up quickly, but when he starts to connect with people from the past he finds himself sucked back into the secrets and crimes that remain unresolved and the life he has carefully built for himself begins to unravel.

Emotive and powerful, for me the question at the heart of this story is ‘what happens when a good person does bad things?’

Rees masterfully teases and hints at the horrors of the past, revealing the truth piece by piece and the tension mounts as James’ paranoia and fear escalates. High suspense and high stakes, this story reminds you that no matter how picturesque the setting, bad things can and do happen.

Rapid paced and chillingly mysterious, this is a must-read for fans of psychological thrillers.

[Thank you to C&R Crime for my kindle copy of That Summer He Died]

Review: Trespasser by Paul Doiron

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Now, as regular visitors to the CTG blog will know, we’re big fans of Paul Doiron and his Mike Bowditch series. Guest reader Sally Fallon dived in to the latest book to see what was next in store for Mike …

The blurb says: “Paul Doiron’s riveting follow-up to his Edgar Award–nominated novel, The Poacher’s Son.

While on patrol on a foggy March evening, game warden Mike Bowditch receives a call for help. A woman has reportedly struck a deer on a lonely coast road. When he arrives on the scene, he finds blood on the road—but both the driver and the deer have vanished. Her body is found the next day, brutalised in a way eerily similar to a case seven years ago, when a jury sentenced Erland Jefferts to life imprisonment for the rape and murder of a college student.

So was Jefferts framed?  When Bowditch begins to investigate he receives a warning from state prosecutors to stop asking questions. but for Bowditch, doing nothing is not an option.  And as he closes in on the truth, he  suddenly discovers how dangerous his opponents are, and how far they will go to prevent him from bringing a killer to justice.”

Although this is the second novel in a series, it is a stand-alone fast-paced, contemporary thriller.  You gradually get drawn into a small but spread out community in the cold state of Maine.   You can feel the beautifully described cold, mud and mist seeping into your bones as the story unfolds and winter gradually thaws.

Warden Mike battles not only with his demanding job, the elements and the range of characters in his community.  He also has to deal with tensions in his current relationship and the ghosts of his relationship with his parents, in particular his father.  It is easy to read but has a surprisingly complex cast of characters, including the possible trespassers of the title.  Mike becomes increasingly embroiled in the case, and he becomes increasingly injured.  The reader becomes desperate for Mike to solve the case before he gets even more damaged.

You can expect the next in the series (Bad Little Falls) to be equally fast paced and detailed.

Recommended.

[With thanks to C&R Crime for our copy of Trespasser]

Review: Dark Dawn by Matt McGuire

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What the blurb says: “Acting Detective Sergeant John O’Neill stands over the body of a dead teenager. The corpse was discovered on the building site of a luxury development overlooking the River Lagan. Kneecapped, then killed, the body bears the hallmarks of a punishment beating. But this is the new Northern Ireland – the Celtic Tiger purrs, the Troubles are over, the paramilitaries are gone. So who is the boy and who wanted him dead?

O’Neill quickly realises that no one else seems to care about this kid’s identity – his colleagues, the politicians, the press – making this case one of his toughest yet. O’Neill needs to crack this one, his first job as Principle Investigator, or risk ending up back in uniform. Disliked by the Chief Inspector and with his current rank yet to be ratified, O’Neill is in a precarious position …”

McGuire’s debut is slick and fast paced.

A police procedural told from several point-of-views, it shows not only the world DS O’Neill inhabits, but also that of the old and new generations and the changing face and frictions within the crime world.

The story grabbed me right from the opening chapter. O’Neill, a man with an unhappy past and a Chief Inspector out for his blood, is given the lead on a case which no one seems to care about, to solve the murder of a person who they can’t identify. With characteristic commitment to his job, O’Neill sets about solving the mystery, investigating leads that take him high into the political circles of the city and out into the criminal underworld, and in the process makes himself a target with a price on his head.

The stories of two young upstarts in the drug world – Marty and Petesy – and Lynch, recently released from prison and trying not to get drawn into the underworld, add to the gritty setting and show the tension on the streets. The way the different point-of-view characters’ stories weave together is artfully done and sets up a cracking finale.

Fast paced, and with plenty of twists and turns, I think this is a must-read for fans of police procedurals.

Highly recommended.

[Many thanks to C&R Crime for my copy of Dark Dawn]

Review: The Ranger by Ace Atkins

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What the blurb says: “Northeast Mississippi, hill country, rugged and notorious for outlaws since the Civil War, where killings are as commonplace as in the Old West. To Quinn Colson, it’s home – but not the home he left when he went to Afghanistan.

Now an army ranger, he returns to a place overrun with corruption, and finds his uncle, the county sheriff, dead – a suicide, he’s told, but others whisper murder. In the days that follow, it will be up to Colson to discover the truth, not only about his uncle, but about his family, his friends, his town, and not least about himself. And once the truth is discovered, there is no turning back.”

The Ranger is the first book in a new series featuring Quinn Colson, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Edgar Best Novel Award 2012. It’s the first of Ace Atkins’ books that I’ve read, and I have to say, I loved it.

It’s a classic western re-imagined into contemporary life. Atkins builds a three dimensional world bursting with dynamic characters, like the brave Deputy, Lillie Virgil, who is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to the Sheriff, and showing modern challenges like property development in rural areas, the struggle of backwater towns as the wealth, and jobs, move to the cities, and the basic desire to protect family.

Quinn is a modern twist on the archetypal lone ranger. A man of few words and great action, he lives by a strong moral compass and a determined streak to see things though.

As the story progresses, Quinn discovers that the place he left behind when he become a Ranger has changed. Good and bad are no longer clear, and people he once respected have formed alliances with those more corrupt. When Quinn starts to uncover the truth he is warned off. He ignores the threats, and the uneasy tension builds until lawless violence erupts. It’s hard to write a review that doesn’t give away spoilers, but the showdown at the climax of the novel is spectacular and highly cinematic.

If you’re a fan of action thrillers, this should definitely be on your reading list.

Highly recommended.

[With thanks to C&R Crime for my copy of The Ranger]

Review: Chilled to the Bone by Quentin Bates

book cover

book cover

What the blurb says: “When a shipowner is found dead, tied to a bed in one of Reykjavik’s smartest hotels, sergeant Gunnhildur “Gunna” Gisladottir of the city police force sees no evidence of foul play, but still suspects things are not as cut and dried as they seem. As she investigates the shipowner’s untimely death, she stumbles across a discreet bondage society whose members are being systematically exploited and blackmailed.

But how does all this connect to a local gangster recently returned to Iceland after many years abroad, and the unfortunate loss of a government laptop containing sensitive data about various members of the ruling party? What begins as a straightforward case for Gunnhildur soon explodes into a dangerous investigation, uncovering secrets that ruthless men are ready to go to violent extremes to keep.”

It’s easy to like Gunna, she’s strong and determined, yet compassionate and giving: a hardworking detective and a dedicated mother juggling the complexities of modern life. As Gunna starts to unravel the threads that bind a set of seemingly unconnected crimes together, she uncovers a secret community that she’d never realised existed. When a witness goes missing, the question is can Gunna find the truth, and the culprits, before the sinister man impersonating a police office does?

Told through several viewpoints, in addition to Gunna’s, over the course of the story we learn how initially unconnected events have brought the main point-of-view characters – Baddo, Hekla and Joel Ingi – to their current situation, and how, even though they may not realise it, they are bound together by the secrets they keep and the choices they have made.

The tension builds steadily throughout the story. Each character is conflicted, some are criminal, but through showing their many facets, and relationships both work and personal, Bates has a way of making each of them empathetic.  I found myself caring about each of them, compelling me to keep turning the pages, hungry to find out what would happen.

I’ve never been to Iceland, but I loved the evocative imagery of this novel, and the chilling sense of cold, that made the setting really come alive for me. At first the Icelandic names took a little bit of getting used to, but they add wonderfully to the authentic feel of the story, and I was soon used to them (although I’m not sure that my pronunciation would be correct!).

This is a beautifully crafted, intricately plotted, atmospheric thriller.

Highly recommended.

 

[With thanks to C&R Crime for my copy of Chilled to the Bone]

Review: The Circus by James Craig

The Circus cover image

The Circus cover image

What the blurb says: “When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.

Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller. A former police officer turned security advisor to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands. Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position, and having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle, he is not prepared to slip up again …”

I couldn’t help but warm to Inspector Carlyle. He’s a good bloke, battling a heavy workload in order to do a good job and solve his cases. And he’s got a lot on his plate, a targeted bomb that kills a teenager, a missing girl, and the murder of journalist Duncan Brown.

As Carlyle digs deeper into each case, he discovers a web of crime and corruption that stretches far into the halls of power in London. What made the story seem especially realistic for me is that it covers a number of themes that mirror much of what has happened in recent times, like phone hacking, and doesn’t shy away from showing a rather seedy side to journalism, politics and police work.

This is the fourth book in the bestselling Inspector Carlyle series. It’s a gritty story, set in a sinister London, and one that will have the reader trying to puzzle out both who did it and why did it.

I think fans of police procedurals will certainly enjoy this one.

 

The Circus by James Craig is out now, published by C&R Crime.