‘The Deadly Truth’ by Valerie Keogh


*****

Newly promoted to junior partner, Melanie Scott feels she’s got everything going for her, so when she meets the charming Hugo in a pub, it’s just another good thing in her life. And that’s when something in Melanie’s past comes back to haunt her. Taunted by mysterious texts and emails, it seems like her whole life might be about to unravel.

This the first book I’ve read by this author, and on the face of it, Ms Keogh tells a good tale. There’s a fair bit of tension as the protagonist finds herself drowning in waves of doubt and worry as she struggles to work out who she can trust. The sense of isolation is portrayed well and though Melanie is a bit of a wimp at times, her anxieties had a realistic feel.

Having said that, the writing is a little clunky in places and could do with another edit to tighten things up. I also guessed early on who the ‘bad guy’ was and while it’s always nice to feel superior at working it all out, I’d have preferred to be surprised at the author’s cunning plan.

An enjoyable read, albeit a little predictable.


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‘Potholes and Magic Carpets’ by Joy Mutter


*****

(Audiobook)
Following the lives of four couples in Kent and London, Potholes and Magic Carpets appears to be a collection of short stories, but in fact interweaves and links each one as the author explores the actions and consequences of a group of very different people.

From the detestable to the naïve, we see how the characters in each tale link into the next, revealing their fears, longings and (of course) ulterior motives. As always with Joy Mutter’s work, there’s an underlying hint of menace that reveals itself as the book progresses. Having read quite a few of Joy’s books, I’m used to her distinctive voice, so this time around, I opted to experience it as an audiobook. The narrator—Tracey Norman—brings an interesting and thoughtful interpretation to the story, and to the writing, that brought it to life beautifully, much like reading a stage play before seeing the production.

Though nowhere near as dark and gory as some of Ms Mutter’s work, this is a curiously appealing and thought-provoking book.


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‘The Big Nowhere’ by James Ellroy

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy


*****

Los Angeles, 1950. Communist witch hunts and a spate of violent killings throw three men into a complex and dangerous web of lies, deceit and murder.

(Audiobook/paperback)
This is Ellroy’s second novel in the LA Quartet series. Though there are a few nods to the first book, The Black Dahlia, this one is a separate story. As with ‘Dahlia’, the author’s unique style of writing mixes slang, a weird kind of swearing and police jargon, making the book at times a tricky read. Though I started out with the paperback version, I switched to the audiobook halfway through simply because the dialogue wore me out! Having said this and allowing for the fact that this is a fairly complicated plot, the main characters—Mal Considine, Deputy Upshaw and Buzz Meeks—keep the action rolling along, while Ellroy’s descriptions of the city and surrounding areas are a sheer delight. Jeff Harding’s narration, too, is right on the money, bringing the characters to life in an entertaining and realistic way. Referencing Howard Hughes, Communism and jazz music, the author paints a vivid and gruesome picture of 1950s America.

It’s worth noting that the violence is considerably stepped up from that of the first book, making it a gory read. Also, for anyone with a heightened sense of political correctness, it’s likely to prove offensive.

An exciting, scary and captivating book that will appeal to anyone who loves gritty, noir crime stories.


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‘Crime and Justice’ by Martin Bodenham


*****

NB This post first appeared as part of a Damppebbles Blog Tour.

When the son of a hard-hearted Seattle mayor is accused of rape, it throws his mother’s candidacy for state governor into jeopardy. Meanwhile, crime-lab worker Clark is in trouble—with mounting debts and a threat to his wife’s career, the possibility of smoothing things over leaves him with a difficult decision. Faced with watching his life go down the drain or tampering with evidence, he could be taking on a problem that won’t go away. Then there’s the detective, whose career also needs a boost. When the rape case comes in, she throws all her energy into nailing the suspect, and when things don’t go the way she expects, she starts to dig her heels in.

This is the first book I’ve read by Martin Bodenham. The premise is an interesting one, as it gives the main character a dilemma that places him in a terrible position—either way, he stands to lose out and the consequences in both scenarios could change his life forever. The story gets straight into the detail as Clark struggles to come to terms with what he’s being asked to do. But then we’ve also got Detective Farrell, who has her own issues to deal with, as well as knowing she needs to get moving on the rape case before her own career gets side-lined.

The story rattles along, moving from one sticky situation to another, laying the foundations for a tense mystery that could go off in any direction. Bodenham’s plotting is clever and thoughtful, leaving the reader no choice but to keep going. My only niggle is his tendency to over-egg the narrative custard, frequently telling us what we already know. (This is one of Dan Brown’s tricks and doesn’t do Mr Bodenham any favours). As my old drama teacher used to say—less is more.

A clever and distinctive story that kept me turning the pages, which is exactly what any writer wants.

About Martin Bodenham

Martin Bodenham is the author of the crime thrillers The Geneva Connection, Once a Killer, and Shakedown. Crime And Justice is his latest novel.

After a thirty-year career in private equity and corporate finance in London, Martin moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at several private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed first-hand while working in international finance.

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‘The Skeptics Guide to the Universe’ by Steven Novella


****

Based on the popular podcast, Steven Novella’s book aims to explain the principles of sceptical ideas around myths, conspiracy theories, flying saucers, Intelligent Design and ghosts, as well as tons of other so-called truths. Exploring thinking skills, memory and perception, it tries to give readers a grounding in presenting arguments and ideas that challenge what we think we know.

On the face of it, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. The sections on memory are interesting and illuminating and some of the ideas put forward are truly mind-boggling. The chapter about hypnagogia is excellent, highlighting how the brain reacts during REM sleep. On the other hand, some chapters are a little hard going simply because they’re peppered with big words and intricate concepts. Explaining things in ‘layman’s terms’ would certainly help, as several sections went right over my head. Admittedly, I’m no academic, but delving into Occam’s Razor, for instance, sent me to sleep and even though I’ve read several other explanations, I still don’t get it. Part of the problem seems to be in giving us the ‘simple’ version, Novella reveals that this isn’t really what it means. Yeah, helpful.

While I’d happily recommend this book as essential reading for anyone who thinks they know what’s going on in the world, there’s a fair chunk of it that left me feeling like I’d been wading through treacle.


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‘A Fine Day for a Hanging’ by Carol Ann Lee


*****

When 28-year-old Ruth Ellis shot her lover, David Blakely, in 1955, she set in motion a trial that rocked the country. Found guilty, she was sentenced to death and became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. With many theories about what really happened, this account attempts to lay out the facts, rather than speculating on hearsay and unprovable notions.

This is the third book I’ve read by Carol Ann Lee and like the others (The Murders at White House Farm and Evil Relations), has been meticulously researched, using new interviews and previously unpublished sources. The author has a knack for recreating the social and historical context of the times, exploring the mores and standards which cannot fail to have influenced the attitudes of many of the people involved in the trial, including the perceived class differences between Ellis and Blakely. Setting the sorry tale firmly within the reality of Ruth’s life and background, it delves into her relationships not only with David Blakely and Desmond Cussen, but shows the impact Blakely’s friends the Findlaters had on Ruth, and which may have contributed to her decision to kill her lover.

‘A Fine Day for a Hanging’ is a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing book that will interest anyone interested in crime and punishment in post-war Britain.


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‘The Demonologist’ by Gerald Brittle


***

Thought by some to be experts on demonology and exorcism, Ed and Lorraine Warren have many thousands of investigations to their credit. With several movies (such as The Conjuring) based on the Warrens’ experiences, this should be a fascinating book.

However.

It’s certainly true to say there are some chilling stories in The Demonologist, but how scary they are kind of depends on your point of view. What is truly scary is Gerald Brittle’s slapdash prose and his unbelievable lack of academic awareness. This book should be packed with accurate references stating the origin of the various accounts related, how they were recorded and who transcribed them.

Some of the interviews with Ed Warren are very interesting and are obviously transcribed from conversations with the author. However, many of the tales are related as if the author simply made them up—did he talk to the participants himself? Was he given access to written or taped accounts? Were they passed on second-hand by Ed Warren?

Sceptics such as Perry DeAngelis point the finger at the lack of evidence provided by the Warrens. Given the so-called thousands of photographs taken by Ed Warren during his investigations, those depicted in the book are pretty disappointing. The ones supposedly showing levitating objects, could be faked by a ten-year-old. It seems ridiculous that after fifty years of ghost-hunting, the Warrens don’t have any believable evidence.

To be fair, for those of a nervous disposition, this isn’t a book to read late at night, but if you’re looking for evidence of ghosts, demons and other anti-Christ-like monsters, look elsewhere.


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‘Still You Sleep’ by Kate Vane


*****

In her own place and with her family and a support worker nearby, Vikki Smith seems happy – until she is found dead by a burglar. With a video and Vikki’s name trending on social media, the trolls come out of the woodwork. But could one of them be responsible for her death, or is the killer someone closer to home? Online journalist Tilda teams up with veteran crime reporter Freddie to uncover the truth behind the story. But first, they have to learn to work together…

This is the first book I’ve read by Kate Vane and the first in the Tilda Green and Freddie Stone series. With an ensemble cast of characters, the story moves around the community, building up a picture of the people who may, or may not, be involved in Vikki Smith’s death. With a strong political theme and an intelligent, well-plotted writing style, Ms Vane tells a good tale. Though the quantity and mix of characters did become a little confusing at times, this is a thoroughly absorbing and clever book that delves into difficult issues around community responsibility and the impact and consequences of social media. The author’s characters are convincing and well-drawn, ensuring they are distinct from each other, while giving an authentic feel to the story. The two main characters are also noteworthy in that though the combination is unusual, there are none of the usual irritating traits that investigator-pairings often have in crime fiction.

A thought-provoking mystery that bodes well for future adventures.


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‘Pietr the Latvian’ by Georges Simenon


****

Georges Simenon’s first outing with his Parisian detective follows the pipe-smoking investigator round the seamier side of the city, as he attempts to track down master criminal, Pietr the Latvian.

My first impressions of this book were that either Simeonon was a really crap writer, or that the translation is at fault, my reasoning being the vast differences in quality between some passages and others. For instance, there are sections that are beautifully written, with vivid descriptions of Maigret schlepping round the rain-drenched streets hunting the elusive Latvian, while others read as if they were constructed by a twelve-year-old meths drinker on a bad day. Doing a bit of research, I’m relieved to learn that poor translation seems to be commonly accepted as the norm for these books. As various academics (ie folk cleverer than me) have commented on some of the [translated] text being clunky and badly written, I feel justified in saying that I will happily read more of old Simenon’s work as soon as I’ve learned to speak (and read) French. (Bientôt mon ami, bientôt.)

Probably a very good book.


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‘The Hard Swim’ by Keith Dixon

*****

During World War Two, a group of SAS soldiers are captured, shot and buried in a forest in the heart of France. Seventy years on, a young woman is targeted by a team of experienced killers who attempt to abduct her following a meeting at Edinburgh Zoo. Fortunately, PI Sam Dyke observes the would-be abductor and steps in to lend a hand. However, his rescue attempt leads him into a web of intrigue surrounding a mystery that links two events seventy years apart. Learning that the young woman is carrying a politically important diary, Sam is forced into a difficult situation that not only places his life in danger but threatens his relationship with his partner.

Based on true events, this is book #4 in the Sam Dyke Investigations series. Having been a fan of this author for some time, I’m still catching up with his backlist, and as with all the best writers, each book I read is better than the last. The plot this time round is thoroughly absorbing, pulling the reader into a fast-paced and exhilarating tale that is impossible to put down. As always, Mr Dixon’s characters are fully formed and believable, leaping off the pages as they race to a thrilling climax. What I love about Sam Dyke is his fallibility as he struggles to sort his life out while doing his ‘saving the world’ job at the same time. This author’s talent is in creating stories that are exciting and realistic while maintaining a high standard of storytelling that never fails to entertain.

A well-crafted and utterly absorbing ten-thrills-a-minute roller coaster. The next book is already winging its way towards my bookshelf. Bring it on, KD!


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