Somehow I've never got around to reading the Rebus books. partly as I owned a couple but wasn't sure which was the first. So I checked and, on my verySomehow I've never got around to reading the Rebus books. partly as I owned a couple but wasn't sure which was the first. So I checked and, on my very next charity shop crawl, found Knots and Crosses in the second shop for a quid. Result.
It's a recent edition so has a forword from the author explaining the times in which the book was written (no mobile phones, etc) and also excusing his youthful shortcomings. While there are issues with the novel, none of the things Rankin's more experienced critical eye were, for me, amkng them.
This is, at base, a fairly formulaic police detective novel - copper with a troubled past, drink problem, broken marriage and child maturing rapidly becomes embroiled in a murder case that takes on an unforeseeon personal aspect. But. The writing is very good indeed, especially the sense of place and characterisation via action and inner monologue. Okay, at this stage he's not the equal of Val McDermid or Chris Brookmyre, but neither were they so early in their careers. The psychological depth really doez set him apart from the mass ofcrkme writing (excepting the previously mentioned authors and a tiny handful of others). I would say that two areas that let him down are a certain naivity to the plotting (he states in the jntro that he wasn't interested in reading crime fiction) and the dialogue. While the inner thoughts of the characters are distinct, when it comes to their speech it is all but impossible to tell one from another.
All n all, this is a tightly written and gripping novel that makes me eager to raed the next. Hell, it's the first book I've read in24 hours in some time and, even taking into account I was travelling, that speaks volumes.
(please excuse the typos; this review written on my tablet screen)...more
Hansen is an author I’d not been aware of, but then until recently I’ve really only read the big names in crime fic4.5 stars, review contains spoilers
Hansen is an author I’d not been aware of, but then until recently I’ve really only read the big names in crime fiction, and only some of those - Conan Doyle, Hammett, Chandler, Elmore Leonard - and some of the current writers such as Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre and Dennis Lehane. Thanks to couple of groups on GoodReads (especially the Pulp Fiction group) I’ve been discovering some very fine crime writers and, if Fadeout is anything to go by, Joseph Hansen is certainly one of them.
Published in 1970 it is the first of a series featuring Dave Brandstetter, an insurance investigator in California. Branstetter arrives at a small town to investigate the apparent death of a local celebrity before the insurance company will pay out $150, 000 on the life insurance. Much of what follows is what you would expect from a (superior) detective novel; Hansen writes in tight, expressive prose, exposing the buried secrets of the various members of the family and the local community, their relationships and jealousies and prejudices. The prejudice is especially apparent when it turns out that the missing man is gay and has left his wife of many years for an old lover. This is particularly poignant as Brandstetter is himself openly and contentedly gay, and has recently lost his own long-term partner. That’s right, check the beginning of this paragraph again. This must have been groundbreaking, indeed shocking, not only when it was first published but for many years afterward. What works particularly well is that the protagonist’s life with his partner - his memories of their being together and his description of the pain of his loss to cancer - are written in precisely the terms that a heterosexual relationship would be, and I can think of no reason it should be otherwise. There is no campness, no undue drama, and this is also true of a later encounter he has, which reads precisely like any other flirtation from another hard-boiled detective book. Even in our more enlightened age it would be rare to come across this being handled so well.
This also holds for Hansen’s description of Buddy, a young man with cerebral palsy, who we see through the detective’s compassionate eyes as determined and intelligent and funny, and absolutely not a caricature to be pitied or patronised. The characterisation throughout is superb, but it is especially with Buddy that Hansen shows his power as a writer....more
Kate Atkinson has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. When she turned her talents to cKate Atkinson has long been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. When she turned her talents to crime fiction with Case Histories she brought her wonderful skills to that genre, but it is with the third installment of the Jackson Brodie series that she’s really blown it out of the water.
The book opens with a prologue set 30 years ago, with Atkinson showcasing her complete mastery of character and the seemingly effortless way she builds a scene so real we are immersed in it. A woman takes her three young children for a walk in the Devon countryside. They are displaced from London due to her absent husband’s whim and she is at once trying to keep the children active and entertained, make the most of the situation and walk off her obvious frustration. As with the rest of the book, each piece of description and dialogue and inner monologue or realisation tells us all of this, every bit building and advancing the story (although you might not realise it for a long time) but utterly subtle and realistic. So beautifully and immersively is this scene constructed, the brutal denouement is like punch in the stomach.
The rest of the novel is in the present day and, while the first chapter features the titular main character of the series, Jackson Brodie himself is absent or, at most, on the periphery, throughout the great majority of the story. Instead, we see the tale unfold largely through the eyes of Brodie’s erstwhile colleague/sparring partner/potential love interest DCI Louise Monroe and sixteen-year-old Regina (Reggie) Chase. Reggie is a wonderful character, caught in between so many different worlds; looking younger than she is but wiser than her years, a working class girl who had received a scholarship to a posh school but had to drop out, her mother has recently - suddenly - died and Reggie lives in the unchanged flat with the ghosts of her memory and has a job as a babysitter and home help for Dr Joanna Hunter, who is posh and beautiful and capable and Reggie’s ideal mother figure.
This is a literary novel both in that it is in the literary genre and in the quality of the writing, but it is also definitely a mystery novel. The story unfolds like a puzzle-box, every part of the story intertwining (most often in entirely unexpected ways) and with clues laid out in full view that the reader only realises were clues when the subtle “TA-DA!” of revelation occurs. As well as enmeshing the stories of Louise, Reggie, Jackson and Joanna Hunter (along with Louise’s new, too-perfect husband, and her colleagues, Reggie’s millennialist classics tutor and her criminal, possibly sociopathic, brother, Joanna’s upwardly-mobile, wide-boy Glaswegian husband) she weaves them together thematically - motherhood and loss, partnership and the suitability or otherwise of our choices, the risks posed to women by strangers and those close to them.
This is a terrific book, up there with Behind the Scenes... and her more recent, much- and rightly-lauded Life After Life. Every character is built with depth and breadth (even Sadie, Dr Hunter’s German Shepherd) and the way every aspect interweaves - plot and character, motivation and theme, even location - is breathtaking, but done so well and so subtly that it is only breathtaking in retrospect. The resolution of the mystery is truly shocking at the same time as being utterly right and the bow on top is the final paragraph of the penultimate chapter which brings everything full circle and where you realise that Jackson Brodie is the central thread in the tapestry, after all.
Franklin is an author new to me, and my first discovery of the year. His mystery set in rural Mississippi evokes the place wonderfully; eve4.5 stars.
Franklin is an author new to me, and my first discovery of the year. His mystery set in rural Mississippi evokes the place wonderfully; every page is infused with the sticky heat and the resultant slow pace of life. The main character, Silas ‘32’ Jones (his nickname relating to his number of the baseball team at high school) is a black police constable in the impoverished county, who had moved to the area from Chicago as a boy, brought ‘home’ by his mother who had left when pregnant with him. Larry Ott was briefly his friend when they were children (although not at school, where black and white kids were separated by a gulf of socially-imposed segregation), but has been the local pariah for almost twenty-five years, ever since being linked with, but never convicted of, the disappearance of a girl he dated. When another girl goes missing, the community’s suspicion falls on Larry, and we begin to learn about the friendship between the two boys, how it started and ended, and of secrets that neither of them knew but profoundly affected both their lives.
This is neither a high-octane thriller or a tense noir-ish detective novel, but a meditation on prejudice within a community. The open racism of the boys’ childhoods in the early ‘80s poisons those on both sides, often building walls that seem all but impossible to break down. Added to that, the ostracism of Larry Ott on suspicion of being a murderer and rapist leaves him trapped in a slow, stagnating decline which seems to mirror the gradual decay of the community, filled with abandoned homes and closed businesses. Franklin uses many parallels in the novel, especially between Silas and Larry - for example, Larry drives the same thirty-year-old pick-up his father owned while the sheriff's office can only afford to equip Silas with an ancient, run-down truck for his duties. While not always subtle, the parallels are handled with a delicacy that means they are never clunking or heavy-handed.
One facet that is worth mentioning, which is of course vital to the book, is the treatment of skin colour. As most of the novel is seen through Silas’ eyes, the usual default of “white” is reversed, and more mention is made of the skin tones of the other black characters, while most white characters are simple “white” - again, a subtle but important reversal of the usual. This has been done many times before - and, indeed, is a common practice exercise for writers - but it is very well done, handled skillfully by the white Mississippian author.
All the characters are fully realised, sketched with sure strokes, products of their time and place, of experiences and actions that still resonate. Tom Franklin is a writer I will be returning to....more
A well written, tense and dark story set in 1950s Switzerland, this tells the story of a police detective who becomes obsessed with finding a child muA well written, tense and dark story set in 1950s Switzerland, this tells the story of a police detective who becomes obsessed with finding a child murderer. It wasn't until I was approaching the denouement that I suddenly remembered the 2001 movie of the same name, starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Sean Penn, based on it.
It is not really a murder mystery, nor a police procedural - although the murder is at the centre of the story and we do see the, rather archaic, workings of the 1950s Swiss police; this is instead a psychological study of allowing this most affecting of jobs to get under the skin and become personal....more