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.


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?



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!



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!



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.


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?


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!


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!



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?


Interesting Characters: Someone Else’s Skin

Someone Else's SkinSomeone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

Called to a woman’s refuge to take a routine witness statement, DI Marnie Rome instead walks in on an attempted murder. Trying to uncover the truth from layers of secrets, Marnie finds herself confronting her own demons. Because she, of all people, knows that it can be those closest to us we should fear the most …

First Impressions: I could see Marnie Rome’s personality shine through straight away which bodes well for a first crime novel in a series.

Highlights: Marnie Rome is definitely an interesting character and I enjoyed her back story. I also like her partner Noah Jake. He also strikes me as being quite unique and I would like to know more about his background. Characters are always important to me particularly in crime fiction as I feel disappointed whenever I meet a flat, forgettable detective who is only there as a means for the author to describe a crime. The story itself was plausible from the start and it was definitely believable how Rome and Jake got caught up in solving more than one crime.

If I was an editor: As much as I enjoyed the story I did think there was a bit too much explanation at times with characters mulling over things. I would prefer more action with things being revealed in said action. However, the strength of this novel really is the characters and I am curious to see how everything (including writing style) move on in book two.

Overall: A solid debut to what seems to be an interesting series.



Eyes Blurred With Sadness: A Killing Winter

A Killing WinterA Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan

When Inspector Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad arrives at the brutal murder scene of a young woman, all evidence hints at a sadistic serial killer on the hunt for more prey. But when the young woman’s father turns out to be a leading government minister, the pressure is on Borubaev to solve the case not only quickly but also quietly, by any means possible. Until more bodies are found…

First Impressions: I loved Inspector Borubaev’s narrative voice – sceptical, hardened, melancholic and totally believable.

Highlights: There’s a real melancholy tone to this story and I wonder if this is a feature of traditional Kyrgyz literature. That was the thing about this crime novel, it really got me thinking. I know so little about Kyrgyzstan that I spent a while reading up on the country after I finished the last chapter. The social and drug problems sound terrible and it’s interesting that most images on the internet show the idyllic Kyrgyzstan countryside yet this novel paints the cities as languishing in rather bleak post-Soviet poverty.
Usually I would become bored with regular sentimental references to a dying wife but it’s just done beautifully in this novel. Also, the regular references to the krokodil drug from Russia (feed the krokodil, get bitten by the krokodil) added to the bleakness of the setting.

If I was an editor: I really liked Borubaev’s character, particularly as he was so hardened and lacking sympathy for many of the victims of circumstance he came across. I would have liked him to be even more rogue! He knows he’s not someone who can change the world. However, I did wonder if someone who has never left the country would have such a wise perspective yet the whole story was plausible and I enjoyed it. His time AWOL from police HQ can be explained by the fact that due to the corruption cops seem to work on their own watch but I did wonder if the crime was too ‘big’ to be left for Borubaev to solve. It was said that he was the best murder inspector in the country but he just seemed quite ordinary. Luckily the brilliant story overshadowed these concerns!

Overall: A novel that greatly affected me.



Finnish Noir: Dark as My Heart

Dark as My HeartDark as My Heart by Antti Tuomainen

Aleksi lost his mother on a rainy October day when he was thirteen years old. Twenty years later, he is certain that he knows who’s responsible. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police don’t agree. He has only one option: to get close to Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate on his own. But as Aleksi soon discovers, delving into Saarinen and his alluring daughter’s family secrets is a confusing and dangerous enterprise.

First Impressions:  I liked Alexi’s measured narrative tone in this novel. The references to his mother definitely made me want to keep reading. It all felt a little…creepy.

Highlights: This is a well paced crime novel and I did not guess the outcome. I liked Scandi crime fiction and this novel really stood out as crime fiction set in Finland is hard to come by. I almost wish I was reading it in paperback rather than on my kindle so I could easily flick back to look up all the location references. Being part Finnish I have visited to Helsinki a few times and couldn’t help but get a thrill when I saw mentions of, for instance, Suomenlinna Fort. I wish I was more familiar with some of the locations! The Helsinki setting is rather poetic and invigorating. I also liked the wizened detective Ketomaa and wish he appeared more.

If I was an editor: Yes, as the reviews state it is part Greek tragedy for Alexsi and part Gothic horror in the Saarinen mansion. It was magnificent as a whole but fell ever so slightly short of making me desperate to keep reading while looking after my toddler.

Overall: Highly recommended. Will be reading Tuomainen’s previous novel The Healer.

Dark as My Heart: 4 Stars


Right on the Money: Tell No Tales

Tell No TalesTell No Tales by Eva Dolan

The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it. DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the hit-and-run, but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect but the case isn’t that simple. Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow.

First Impressions: This novel launched straight into the action and intense subsequent police investigation. Love it!

Highlights: I really enjoyed the first book in the series but Tell No Tales is just brilliant in the plotting. There are no loose ends or unnecessary plot strands and it just keeps getting better each chapter! In this second novel the author is right on the money with characterisation. As much as I liked the first book in the series, for some reason I didn’t see too much distinction between Zigic (sensible and genuine family man) and Ferreira (young, loyal and brash) but in this book the characterisation was fantastic and I loved both of them (maybe Zigic a little bit more!). In the first book Hate Crime employee Wahlia just seemed a bit out of focus but this time around I got his character straight away. The plot was full of mystery and really got under the skin of immigrant Peterborough.  I love Peterborough as a setting!

If I was an editor: Don’t worry editors, I have already pre-ordered book three. You mean I need to wait until January??!!

Overall: This is the sort of novel that makes me want to read more crime but Ferreira, you need to become a bit more independent of your family 🙂

Tell No Tales: 5 Stars