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Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’ 
As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed. But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest.  

I was curious about the hype for this novel and the premise had me intrigued. Would I find it as enjoyable as everyone else or would it leave me feeling flat? I can safely say it is definitely worthy of the many excellent reviews.

Can I elaborate on the plot for you? No, as that would spoil it. And I may still be happily confused with some events and characters.

I paid a lot of attention to the first half of this novel, determined not to be confused by all the detail. By the time I was getting closer to the end I was reading a lot faster, not caring if could follow a final summary of the chronology of events in Aiden’s mind; I was enjoying it too much.

The final surprise ending (there’s more than one surprise!) did catch me out and while it appeared rather close to the end and maybe (to some readers) came out of nowhere, I enjoyed it and found it fitting for such a story.

I only have two minor gripes about this novel.

Firstly, I read it on Kindle which made it harder to flick back to the list of characters. I know there are ways to do this but I am always worried it will take me a long time to find my place again!

Secondly, a few times after I put the book down I did wish the writing was more in the style of a gothic or sensation novel rather than being so contemporary. However, when I was reading the story I was enjoying it so much this didn’t bother me.

Overall – yes, it does live up to the hype and I think I will enjoy reading more from the Raven Books imprint, particularly as they also have the wonderful Eva Dolan’s latest novel and The Silent Companions, another I want to read.

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Jorn Lier Horst – Three Times the Fun!

 

I discovered Jorn Lier Horst while reading the Petrona Prize shortlist. Boy, was I blown away by The Caveman! I quickly started reading his other novels, balancing my eagerness with keeping a couple to read later in the year. The novels are published out of order in English translation so you always get little background summaries at the start which manage to avoid any spoilers. My brief comments on each of the novels below probably don’t do the novels justice but I am pushed for time and all three are filled with lovely plot details that you will want to discover yourself 🙂

The Caveman

Only three houses away from the policeman’s home, a man has been sitting dead in front of his television set for four months. There are no indications that anything criminal has taken place. Viggo Hansen was a man nobody ever noticed, even though he lived in the midst of a close-knit community. His death doesn’t hit the headlines, but there is something about the case that catches the attention of William Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, and she decides to write a newspaper article with a different twist for the festive season: the portrait of a completely anonymous and obscure person whose death goes unremarked and unmourned.

This is a genuine page turner that has the perfect blend of small town Scandi noir with big FBI investigations. Line’s independent investigation works really well alongside the police investigation. This is one of my favourite novels of the year so far. If you like crime you won’t be disappointed. A worthy winner of the Petrona Award.

Ordeal

The Hummel case has bothered William Wisting for more than six months. The investigation into what happened when taxi-driver Jens Hummel disappeared has been fruitless, and he has to endure criticism. A crucial discovery directs suspicion at Dan Roger ‘Danny’ Brodin. The problem is, however, that Danny is already in prison, convicted of another murder. Wisting is accustomed to building up a solid case for the prosecution, but this time things are different. Now he has to use all his expertise and experience to unpick a case that other people already believe to be over and done with.

This is Lier Horst’s most recent novel to be published in English. It felt a lot slower that The Caveman, perhaps a bit more introspective like a Karin Fossum novel or Beck. I enjoyed it and expect it to make the Petrona shortlist next year. However, for me I felt it lacked a bit of punch as Wisting seemed a bit more aged in this novel and was investigating a case retrospectively.

Dregs

A police report of a shoe containing a severed foot washed up on the sand introduces CI William Wisting. Soon a second is washed up, but it is another left. Has there been some kind of terrible accident at sea? Does it indicate the killing and dismembering of two victims? Is there a link with the unsolved mystery of a number of disappearances in the Larvik area in recent months? In this gripping police procedural, Wisting gradually gets to the bottom of the mystery with the help of his all too human colleagues and his journalist daughter, Line.

Another great page turner, a bit closer to The Caveman in pace than Ordeal. Line was investigating an interesting story and the novel had the right amount of reflections on human nature that you would expect in a Scandi crime novel. The end was a little more more dramatic than I expected but definitely not over the top.

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Overall – Is Jorn Lier Horst Scandi crime’s best kept secret? I think so!

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Peter James and DS Roy Grace

 

I read a lot of reviews for Peter James earlier this year when his latest DS Roy Grace novel was published. I am quite a methodical reader and decided to start at the beginning and read a lot of Dead Simple while travelling to and from Cambridge a few times over the summer. Peter James tells a good story and I can see why he has such a cult following!

Dead Simple

It was meant to be a harmless stag-night prank. A few hours later Michael Harrison has disappeared and his friends are dead. With only three days to the wedding, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace – a man haunted by the shadow of his own missing wife – is contacted by Michael’s beautiful, distraught fiancee, Ashley Harper. Grace discovers that the one man who ought to know Michael Harrison’s whereabouts is saying nothing. But then he has a lot more to gain than anyone realises.

I was a little concerned about how much I would enjoy the stag night antics and prank. However my fear that it would all be a little cliched and forced were completely unfounded and I quickly got into the story. Boy, could I feel the claustrophobia at some points! While I’m reading a lot more crime these days I’m certainly not a connoisseur but I could easily see how DS Grace is a unique character and adds to a busy genre. Peter James has put a lot of thought into his lead character. I liked his genuine interest in mystics and fortune tellers as well as the story of his missing wife. I’m glad I decided to read the books in order as the story about Sandy’s disappearance is obviously going to be a slow burn and I don’t want any spoilers. This book also treats the reader to a Wolf Creek-esque strand which I loved.

Looking Good Dead

Tom Bryce did what any decent person would do. But within hours of picking up the CD that had been left behind on the train seat next to him, and attempting to return it to its owner, he is the sole witness to a vicious murder. Then his young family are threatened with their lives if he goes to the police and from that moment the killing of the Bryce family becomes a mere formality – and a grisly attraction. They are looking good dead.

Another great story that I read quite quickly. Some of the explanatory paragraphs seem to be taken directly from book one but it didn’t matter to me as having read the first novel I didn’t need to know these details again. Obviously after the success of book one Peter James has branched out a bit more with the number of characters and hasn’t included so much detail about the psychics and Sandy’s disappearance which are my favourite parts! I must say that I do like Cleo though.

Not Dead Enough

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed at the time. At least that’s the way it looks to Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who is called in to investigate the kinky slaying of beautiful socialite, Katie Bishop. Roy Grace soon starts coming to the conclusion that Bishop has performed the apparently impossible feat of being in two places at once. Has someone stolen his identity or is he simply a very clever liar? 

On the balance, another great book. I sort of solved the crime towards the end as I could see where it was going but on the plus side there is a huge Sandy sub-plot. Yay!

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Overall, this is an enjoyable and easy to read crime series that you’ll get the most out of if you read in order. The first book has been the best as you can see how much love Peter James has used in crafting Roy Grace. I suspect I’ll be up to date with the series by the end of the year (book twelve) as I’m already on to book five.

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An Endless Supply of Misfortune: A Spring Betrayal

spring betrayal#A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan

This was one of the rare times I have been bit cheeky and contacted the publisher for an advance review copy as I adored the first in the series and couldn’t wait until the publication date! What follows is my honest review.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev’s Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a lawless post-Soviet metropolis rife with corruption and vice. Several children’s bodies have been found buried together – all tagged with name bands. In his search for the truth behind the brutal killings, Inspector Borubaev has no one to turn to outside his sometime lover, the beautiful undercover Uzbek agent Saltanat Umarova.

A Spring Betrayal is the second book in Tom Callaghan’s Kyrgyz-set crime series. It is quite the action packed police drama in an unfamiliar setting and I enjoyed reading it. I particularly love the setting as it combines untouched natural beauty with drab Soviet poverty.

The disservice Tom Callaghan has created for himself is that his first novel A Killing Winter is so spectacular it would be hard for anyone to surpass, including himself! The first novel provided a laser sharp insight into the social problems that plague Kyrgyzstan and while A Spring Betrayal looks at problems associated with orphanages, international adoption and child exploitation it misses the bullet that made my heart sad in the first novel.

As you can see, I am now starting to write like a melancholic Kyrgyz, just as Callaghan does so well. I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but Callaghan seems to capture the mood of a nation perfectly. His writing is filled with precision and in one turn of phrase he can hauntingly describe an example of child abuse and exploitation that really affects the reader. The author also writes so well that you stop questioning why Borubaev and Saltanat are ‘off the grid’ and on their own mission for so long, the safe houses and weapons stashes as it is full of action and short-ish chapters that often end on a cliffhanger.

In this novel there is more action over social substance and in some ways it is more insular with the intense focus on Borubaev and Saltanat’s hiding and mission. Both of these points indicate to me that the author may have been on more of a timeline and couldn’t distill everything he felt about Kyrgyzstan and its people into this novel. I also felt there were too many references to the first novel and Borubaev’s lamenting for his wife became a little repetitive and shallow towards the end.

As a stand alone novel A Spring Betrayal is great but I couldn’t help comparing it to the earlier novel.

Will I read book 3 in the series? Absolutely. Original, interesting crime.

5

A Grabby, Grotty World: The Monkey’s Mask

the monkey maskThe Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter

Fuelled by murder and a femme fatale, this is an erotic mystery novel written in verse. A female private detecitve investigates missing persons and gets a job to look for Mickey, who has been missing for two weeks. She begins by going to Mickey’s university to meet her poetry professor, Diana.

First Impressions: A novel of poems? Nothing to be scared of! You are quickly introduced to the detective and the crime like your standard crime novel.

Highlights: It’s been a while since I’ve read a verse novel (or similar) and The Monkey’s Mask reminded me that I should seek these out more often. I felt a real sense of the main character and the events in her life that led her to becoming a private detective. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the contemporary world of poets and poetry: cut throat and full of deception and lies. I feared this novel would be rather pretentious but the author paints a rather cynical portrait of the world (exactly who gets published? no surprise!) which I enjoyed and appreciated. I also enjoyed the glossary of Aussie terminology at the end. It is too easy to forget these unique turns of phrase!

If I was an editor: I became confused with the different male characters and kept getting them mixed up while the female characters were all distinct. Perhaps this was intentional as it is a feminist novel? Who knows! Clearly this novel also needs to be kept in wider circulation: I borrowed it from the local library but the copy was pre-self checkout as there was no barcode to scan. I had to go to the desk!

Overall: A unique and literary crime novel that lack pretension. Quick to read to boot.

 

2

Just Keeps Getting Better: The Defenceless

defencelessThe Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto

When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. 

First Impressions: Another complex and compelling crime for Anna and the team to solve!

Highlights: Many of the things I loved about The Hummingbird carry over to this second novel in the series. What I didn’t mention before was the way the author so perfectly captures the pull between two geographic locations, neither of which feels 100% like home. The author is also really clever in not just sensationalising problems with the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers but describing matter of factly the long term social problems of those granted residency. How she has managed to do all this and still have at the core of the novel an intriguing police procedural is amazing! I also liked how Esko’s character is developing. I have a soft spot for the gruff and cantankerous detective!

If I was an editor: It’s hard to find fault with this novel but I can say that I did prefer the crime in the previous novel but that really would be hard to top! Also, I would have liked more mystery with the Hungarian nanny. What else could she be hiding? Maybe we find out in the next book…

Overall: How many months until book 3 is published?

 

3

Addictive and Contemporary: The Hummingbird

suspect XThe Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto

Anna Fekete becomes a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish coastal town and is thrust into a sensational murder investigation: A young woman has been killed on a running trail, and a pendant depicting an Aztec god has been found in her possession. Can Anna catch the Hummingbird before he – or she – strikes again?

First Impressions: This story is highly addictive from the start and I love the setting in the northern Finnish town.

Highlights: There is so much to love in this crime novel. Anna is a very interesting character with her background and quirks. At times I thought that maybe she needed to be a bit more hard boiled but by the end I realised the author had got the balance right. You read a lot in the news about the advantages women in Scandi countries have and this is reflected in the story with the working lives and independence of some of Anna’s colleagues. I also developed a soft spot for Anna’s partner Esko by the end.
The refugee situation was interesting to read about and I had some of those thought provoking moments you get when you read books in translations – wow, the situation for refugees is the same in Finland as the UK. In the past I would have added Australia to this comparison but off-shore detention makes it hard to draw parallels to any other system. On a more whimsical note, I liked the inclusion of Marianne sweets – my grandmother has always had a bowl of these in her sitting room and I even found one of my Christmas Mariannes hidden under the computer table when I sat down to write this review!

If I was an editor: I did wonder if Esko would be able to get away with some of his comments and attitudes in a modern Finnish workplace that should promote equal opportunities… but perhaps he could. There’s always the veneer and the reality. As an aside, I was also surprised at how a progressive country like Finland doesn’t yet have honour violence laws. The references to balcony angels surprised me and were incredibly sad.
Early on I did wonder if Sari’s extended chatting to Anna was typically Finnish and maybe the author was using this as a device to provide background in this first novel. As it turns out, no, that’s just Sari’s character and she can be a breath of fresh air.
Finally I loved the elderly residents interviewed during the investigation and would have loved them to be even more eccentric!

Overall: Addictive with an interesting crime at its centre. I must admit that I had bought and read the second book before even contemplating this review!

 

1

The Waves Will Bury Us: The Healer

the healerThe Healer by Antti Tuomainen

It’s two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; the streets are full of abandoned vehicles; the social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still willing to live in the city. When Tapani’s journalist wife Johanna goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna’s disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’.

First Impressions: I really liked the world of climate change Helskinki that you were thrown into as it was all enveloping and completely believable. There is chaos but the city is still functioning and recognisable. You are treated to this consistent world all the way through the novel and again, like in Tuomainen’s Dark as My Heart, I wish I knew Helsinki better to fully appreciate his descriptions.

Highlights: There was lots associated with the climate change world I enjoyed and found thoughtful like the refugee problems; although the context was different the social problems and attitudes were the same as we have now. I loved the author’s cool and poetic writing style and the way Tapani seems detached from his surroundings. The security companies and police operations were interesting (and probably recognisable today in some corrupt countries) as were the differences between the wealthy and ordinary citizens.

If I was an editor: What an original novel! Could it be longer to draw out the intrigue?

Overall: A fantastic noir/serial killer/climate change mash up. I’m all in on Cli-Fi if this is the benchmark!

 

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Rebus 1,2,3

Knots an Crosses – Rebus Book 1

After a brutal abduction and murder of two young girls a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant John Rebus, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses – taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve.

My thoughts: I enjoyed all the extra information for readers in this novel and Rankin is right when he says that Knots and Crosses is more of a historical text now. For a first novel it is easy to see what a great writer Rankin is. I barely noticed the lack of police-specific information that he alluded to in the introduction. He just wrote a cracking story! There were only two things that gave away the fact Rankin was quite young when he wrote this book: firstly Rebus seems a lot older than his 40-odd years. Maybe to someone mid-twenties this is how a 40 year old would act! Secondly, one of Rebus’ co-workers comments on hanging in until retirement – he’s only 35!

Overall: I really enjoyed this novel and thought it was a fantastic debut and it didn’t seem dated.

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Hide and Seek – Rebus Book 2

A junkie lies dead in an Edinburgh squat, spreadeagled, cross-like on the floor, between two burned-down candles, a five-pointed star daubed on the wall above. Just another dead addict – until John Rebus begins to chip away at the indifference, treachery, deceit and sleaze that lurks behind the facade of the Edinburgh familiar to tourists.

My thoughts: The content of drugs and associated vices is still a contemporary issue so I wondered if this novel caused some controversy upon publication. Maybe not as social issues (as with property prices) don’t change. I enjoyed Rebus’ co-workers in this novel, particularly Holmes as he brought some wry humour to the plot. Edinburgh is its own character and the distance between London and Scotland is more than geographical.

Overall: Still achingly contemporary. How does Rankin do it?

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Tooth and Nail – Rebus Book 3

They call him the Wolfman – because he takes a bite out of his victims and because they found the first victim in the East End’s lonely Wolf Street. Scotland Yard are anxious to find the killer and Inspector Rebus is drafted in to help. But his Scotland Yard opposite number, George Flight, isn’t happy at yet more interference, and Rebus finds himself dealing with racial prejudice as well as the predations of a violent maniac. 

My thoughts: At last, a good old fashioned serial killer story. I loved Rebus’ observations of London and its inhabitants – all new comers to London must notice this so it was a nice trip down memory lane in some respects. It’s almost a shame this is the only time Rebus is forced to travel south.

Overall: Now the series is really hotting up. Can’t wait to read more!

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Four observations:

In each novel the staff Rebus works with change. There is is little continuity yet it doesn’t feel like you are missing pieces of the puzzle. What a talented writer Rankin is to be able to introduce a new cast each novel and make it feel familiar and safe.

Rebus does seem a lot older than his 40 years in all three novels yet this does not bother me.

It is unusual to have a crime lead interested in religion and the battle of good vs evil. I’m enjoying this element.

I am also enjoying the reading group questions and extra essays in each novel. Thank you Orion!

 

1

Expanded Remit – After You Die

after you die After You Die by Eva Dolan

The previous summer Dawn Prentice had logged a number of calls detailing the harassment she and her severely disabled teenage daughter were undergoing. Now she is dead – stabbed to death whilst Holly Prentice has been left to starve upstairs.  Is it genuinely a crime for the Peterborough Hate crimes Unit? Can Zigic and Ferreira unpick the truth about mother and daughter, and bring their killer to justice?

First Impressions: The third book in the series and another cracking read from page one.

Highlights: It became clear to me very early on that Ferreira has a brilliant interview technique. She is precise with her questioning and nothing passes her by when she is listening to Zigic’s questioning. She pins down the nuance of every comment a witness or suspect makes. She’s not a cliche of ‘good-cop-bad-cop-Jekyll-and-Hyde’ either. Even when she’s sympathetic to the person she’s interviewing, she’s hardly being warm or compassionate; you still feel her steel. Would I trust her if being interviewed? Absolutely. In the previous books, I liked both Zigic and Ferreira equally – maybe even Zigic a bit more as it would be hard not to have a little crush on him – but now I think Ferreira takes the prize as my favourite of the two. Zigic may need a bit more grit going forward.

Another thing I really liked about this novel was the fact that it shows that the Hate Crimes Unit deals with stuff much wider than race crimes, specifically towards Eastern Europeans. As with the previous novels in the series, it feels like a properly functioning department with the everyday mundane calls and witness statements lurking in the background. This is explicitly seen with Ferreira’s recalling of her previous contact with Dawn Prentice. I wouldn’t say there was disinterest but it was oh so procedurally dry. I love the way Eva Dolan details this stuff. Perhaps the aficionados need a short story collection describing a week in the life of the Hate Crimes Unit!

If I was an editor: Unfortunately if I had to think of a way to improve the story I’d have to get picky and mention something ludicrously unimportant, like disliking a minor character’s name (untrue). Maybe including a bit more detail about the fostering situation could create a bit more of a sinister undertone – are they just doing it for money? what are their stories and who do we believe? However, it is a brilliantly streamlined story and I’m sure Eva Dolan had to fight the urge to include all the interesting deviations she brainstormed!

Overall: I wonder, what will the next crime be? How far does their remit extend I wonder?