The plot of Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s centres around a former Metropolitan police officer turned private detective, Charles Maddox, who is hired...moreThe plot of Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s centres around a former Metropolitan police officer turned private detective, Charles Maddox, who is hired by the powerful lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn to find the anonymous letter writer who is blackmailing one of his clients. Maddox soon realises that there is more to the job than Tulkinghorn is willing to reveal and is drawn into a conspiracy where his life is put at risk. In a parallel plot, the orphaned Hester is placed with her guardian and after becoming ill struggles to distinguish reality from a shadowy dream world.
I’m not sure that being so familiar with Bleak House was a help or a hindrance when it came to this book. About half way through I nearly gave up on this book but in fact the resolution of the plot was a clever take on the original and I was glad to have persevered. The best bits of the book were the Tulkinghorn/Maddox relationship. With Tulkinghorn, of course, Shepherd had a ready-made Dickensian villain and she carries his malevolence through to the new book very well. Her descriptions of the slum of Tom-All-Alone’s draw on Dickens’ writings but she has obviously done plenty of research herself and I liked the way small vignettes of London slum life were put into the narrative.
The plot strand that I found difficult to warm to was the Hester/Mr Jarvis relationship. To begin with I found it very confusing indeed as they so closely mirrored characters from the original book. There was Hester (Esther), Clara (Ada Clare) and Mr Jarvis (John Jarndyce) and a woman who kept birds, Mrs Flint (Miss Flite). Every time I got to these passages it seemed that Shepherd was pinching characters from Bleak House giving them near names and episodes similar to the original text. It seemed a cop-out but the resolution of the mystery reveals a purpose in this and I found it quite a clever plot device by the end.
I wasn’t completely won over by the book but I do think I was hampered by my knowledge of the original. However, the crime aspect was interesting and well done but possibly not to everyone’s taste. I suspect the subject matter was something that Dickens was well aware of but could only hint at in his writings at the time.(less)
If images of Canada conjure up thoughts of icy wilderness and miles of forest, you’re in for a surprise with this book. The Suspect by LR Wright is se...moreIf images of Canada conjure up thoughts of icy wilderness and miles of forest, you’re in for a surprise with this book. The Suspect by LR Wright is set in the small town of Sechelt on Canada’s ‘Sunshine Coast’, an area to the north of Vancouver famed for its mild climate and stunning coastline. It’s a place that Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has chosen for an easy posting. However, when Carlyle Burke, an elderly man with few friends is found dead, Karl has to use his knowledge of human foibles and methodical policing to find the killer.
The Suspect is a short and unusual book that draws the reader into the story. The setting provides the backdrop to the murder investigation, with descriptions of fertile gardens and small coastal inlets, and there is an air of the retirement village about the whole plot, a gentle paced hunt for a murderer. For the reader there is never any doubt about the culprit as the opening chapter is written from the murderer’s point of view. The book charts Karl’s growing suspicions about the identity of the killer and his attempts to prove the man’s guilt and to ascertain the motive.
The police investigation part of the book works very well and Karl is clearly a talented policeman. Also central to the plot is a date that he goes on with Cassandra, the town’s librarian. Their budding romance is tainted by her friendship with the main suspect and the characterisation of the interweaving relationship between Karl, Cassandra and the suspect George is the principal strength of this book. This is a book with no major shocks but a gradual revealing of supposed wrongs done to a person. I’m not sure I believed that the motive was enough to make a man kill but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.
This unusual little book was a delight to read, all the more so as it was something I probably wouldn’t have picked up. I will certainly read more of this series if I can find them.(less)
At the book’s heart is Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia CID. When a girl is found murdered in a deconsecrated Moscow church, he struggles...moreAt the book’s heart is Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow Militia CID. When a girl is found murdered in a deconsecrated Moscow church, he struggles with his sense of outrage at the brutality of the killing and the ramifications for his career and indeed his life when it becomes apparent that the Russian hierarchy are taking an interest in the investigation. The victim is identified as an American citizen with an interest in Russian icons and is therefore deemed ‘political’ by the Moscow NKVD, the forerunners of the KGB. As more bodies emerge, Korolev also has to delve into the word of the ‘Thieves’, the Moscow underworld with their trademark killings and twisted honour to bring the case to a resolution of sorts.
Set in 1936 Moscow at the start of Stalin’s purges, this turned out to be a different book than I had expected to read. Details of the purges were there, with even police officers fearing for their lives, but the focus of the book was on the Moscow underworld and, interestingly, the trade in icons being sent out of Russia. The role of the Orthodox Church during the Soviet era is something I know nothing about and the book details how Russian émigrés arranged for icons and other religious artefacts to be sold to buyers in the United States with the collusion of the Soviet state who wanted them removed. This aspect of the plot doesn’t dominate but I found it fascinating how Korolev struggles with his Soviet atheistic convictions and his instinctive respect towards holy buildings and artefacts.
The police investigation has its own twists and turns as Korolev is himself watched by the fearful NKVD and some police personnel die in mysterious circumstances. Korolev is an interesting character with plenty of room for development over future books. His relationship with the pathologist Dr Chestnova in particular is well done. But what made this book stand out for me was intelligent writing married to an interesting plot set in a fascinating period. There are a few brutal passages that I winced over but given the period setting and cast of characters did not seem gratuitous.(less)
Ben is an ordinary family man who keep experiencing violent dreams and has unexplained gaps in his childhood and more recent memories. His wife, Carri...moreBen is an ordinary family man who keep experiencing violent dreams and has unexplained gaps in his childhood and more recent memories. His wife, Carrie, is supportive and reassuring but he is plagued by the conviction that something is wrong in his psyche. As his paranoia increases he is forced to confront the veracity of his own identity. Toby is a schoolboy also experiencing violent dreams and missing pieces of his memory. His parents repeatedly change his school rather than confront his problems. However in his latest school, his teacher, Anna, decides to take an interest in his case and the complicated lives of Ben and Toby suddenly converge.
The book starts out in traditional thriller mode, with a strong sense of the sinister and the dream and memory elements of Ben and Toby possibly having a supernatural cause. Happily (without giving too much of the plot away) this doesn’t turn out to be the case and the book explores instead the idea of a society within a society where a mixture of Orwellian forces and medical advances make it possible for a smoke and mirrors deception on a grand scale. It’s a very difficult book to review in detail without giving essentials of the plot away. However, I can say that although I’m not up on scientific processes I thought the whole concept fascinating and compelling.
The book is predicated on the idea that no-one is really who they seem. The writing and narrative style reminded me of the books of Michael Marshall (Smith) and I think this novel would appeal to his fans. Grieves, according to his biography, has worked in television as a script editor and producer and this novel started out as a script for TV that he couldn’t sell. A quick scan through Goodreads and Amazon reviews reveal that many people, as I did, picked up the book and couldn’t put it down which gives an idea of the compelling nature of the story. I hope that this will be the start of a successful novel writing career for Grieves.(less)
Review: Val McDermid – A Place of Execution December 22, 2011 by Sarah | Edit
When I gave Val McDermid’s The Retribution a somewhat lukewarm review rec...moreReview: Val McDermid – A Place of Execution December 22, 2011 by Sarah | Edit
When I gave Val McDermid’s The Retribution a somewhat lukewarm review recently, two fellow reviewers urged me to try instead A Place of Execution a standalone novel set in Derbyshire. I think two recommendations from people whose opinions I trust is enough to convince me, so I bought the book on Amazon and started reading it as soon as it arrived. What appealed to me was the background to the book. I grew up in south Manchester in the 1980s and the Moors murders were in the not so distant past. I remember a policeman coming to my school and, as teenagers do, we were egging him on to reveal gory details about past cases. However, when it came to the terrible killings by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley this policeman, who had been involved in the original murder investigation, said it had cast a shadow over his life. And in some ways I had been affected too, as when we would drive over the bleak Saddleworth Moor you couldn’t help think about the children still buried there.
A Place of Execution has as one it’s protagonists a similar policeman who is investigating the disappearance of thirteen year old Alison Carter in 1963, only about twenty miles from the Manchester investigations. References to the Moors murders are kept to the minimum and when they do appear they are subtly made. This shows how strong a writer McDermid is, that she can create a context without labouring a point. The policeman is shown as an intelligent and conscientious man determined to bring the murderer to justice, whether or not the body of the missing girl is found. I found the blurb of the book slightly misleading, as it tells us that a modern-day journalist, Catherine Heathcote who is writing a book on the case, discovers a fresh lead. In fact this doesn’t occur until the final quarter of the book, with most of the novel concentrating on the original investigation. This isn’t a criticism, I enjoyed the main body of the book immensely, I just kept expecting the journalist to appear far earlier than she actually did.
The conclusion of the novel is both interesting and entirely believable. The writer doesn’t shirk from difficult subjects, in this case child abuse, but I think these passages were written in a straightforward and non-sensational way. The sense of place is amazing, I could recognise many of the landmarks and was truly transported to the Derbyshire of the 1960s. (less)