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Clinch by Martin Holmen – a review

As you all know I’m a big fan of the New Blood Panel at the festival and am always keen to read these before the event. However to be honest none of them really jumped out at me this year. Obviously wanting to ensure I completed the challenge I still continued and therefore recently finished The Clinch by Martin Holmen.

This is not my usual fair. The cover shows a boxer, and it’s a historical setting which I’m not a fan of usually. However I’m glad I persevered as this was fascinating. Set in 1930s Stockholm, Harry Kvist is an ex-boxer earning a living by collecting debts for people. Mainly this involves him finding people who have defaulted on bike payments, and him repossessing the bikes. Sometimes however he is asked to collect bigger debts, which is how he ends up paying a visit to Zetterberg. Unfortunately the following morning things take a turn for the worst and suddenly Kvist becomes a prime suspect in a crime. His only alibis are either the man he spent the night with, which would send them both to prison, or a prostitute who saw him, but she isn’t around.

Despite my dislike of boxing I really enjoyed this novel. The character of Kvist was a big contradiction in my head. He was standoffish, thuggish and fairly unpleasant, however somehow you still routed for him and wanted things to go his way.

The most fascinating element for me though was the history of Stockholm. My knowledge of the area is pretty limited, mainly drawn from reading writers such as Camilla Lackberg so it was a different perspective to see it from a historical point. There is a lot of description which although does at times slow the story down, for me made it interesting. The writing and setting gave it a distinctly dark feeling, at times claustrophobic, which is made more so by the limited friendships that Kvist seems to have.

It’s quite a graphic novel, but then it is obvious from the description and the cover that this is going to be the case and I don’t always think that is a bad thing. Clinch is the first of a trilogy and I will be interested to see how the books pan out. Martin Holmen said in the New Blood panel that the second and third novels are well on their way so there shouldn’t be too long to wait.




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Disclaimer by Renee Knight – a review

This was a book I had picked up and looked at a few times in bookshops recently. So I was very pleased to see that it was to be featured in my favourite panel of the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival, the New Blood one. As I’ve said before if it’s good enough for Val McDermid it is good enough for me so I purchased my copy.
Disclaimer centres on Catherine. She’s a successful film  maker, who has recently moved into a new house with her husband Robert. One night she picks up a book that she finds on her bedside cabinet, which she has no recollection of buying (not quite sure why she doesn’t think a book just arriving like this is strange but let’s gloss over that bit!) The standard disclaimer at the front that states ‘the characters are not based on real life’ has been crossed out. As Catherine starts to read she realises that the strange book is about her. The story in it is describing a secret relating to her son that she has tried to bury. Things become even more sinister when her drop-out son also says he’s recently read a copy of the book which had been pushed through his flat door one day. The other main character in Disclaimer is Stephen who has recently lost his wife, and spends his days talking to her in his head whilst he sorts out her clothes. It soon becomes clear that Catherine and Stephen are linked.
Disclaimer is one of those stories that to really enjoy you are best not knowing much about it, so it’s difficult to review properly. However I can say I thought it was a really good story that I read over 5 days (whilst going to work and having the occasional social outing) Every time I thought I was going to guess the ending, there was another twist and off it went again. 
Throughout the story I kept changing my perspective of who was good and who was bad, and I can’t say any of them were particularly likeable but that’s often the case with this type of novel. It would all have been much simpler had Catherine just told her husband the truth, but then she thought she would never be found out.
There were a few unnecessary bits, and i thought the ending was a little weak. Yet despite this I thought Renee Knight’s debut novel was excellent and look forward to seeing her at the festival in July. 


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Under a silent moon by Elizabeth Haynes – a review

As readers of this blog will know I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Haynes having originally met her in the toilets at the festival a few years ago. At that stage she was in the New Blood panel. This is now her fourth novel, and according to the internet is the start of a new detective series.
In Under a Silent Moon the story starts with two women being found dead the same night in the same village. Barbara has apparently killed herself by driving her car over a cliff. Polly has been murdered whilst home alone. Detective Lou Smith is charged with finding out who killed her and she soon starts to uncover the secret side not only of Polly but those around her including her best friend Flora. As the investigation continues it becomes clear that the two victims might be linked.
I really enjoyed this book. The story is set over a week with each chapter spanning a day. The novel is interspersed with police reports and emails which gave a really good impression of the actual investigation. It also meant that you felt like you were given all the information to solve the crime. I guessed quite early on who the murderer would likely be but that didn’t ruin my enjoyment at all as I still wanted to know the how and why. I liked the fact that the investigation was laid out clearly and it was easy to follow. It almost reminded me of some books I remember having as a child where you basically got to make decisions which changed the ending of the book. You actually felt that you were investigating the crime.
Whilst I thought the story and writing were excellent, I wasn’t overly enamoured with either the main Detective Lou Smith or any of the other police team except analyst Jason. Lou just seemed a bit weak to me, she’d had an affair with Andy until she found out he was married with children. Surely you’d know that one of your colleagues had children? She then jumped straight into a relationship with Jason, which seemed a little unprofessional. Although in my head he was a bit of a Brad Pitt lookalike so maybe that was understandable. I think reading a new detective is always difficult as you don’t have any background of them, so I hope that like many other fictional detectives Lou Smith will grow on me.
I think Under a Silent Moon is the start of what will become a very popular new series with an interesting take on the police procedural. It just goes to show that the New Blood panel is never wrong and I look forward to reading more.


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Precious Thing by Collette McBeth – a review

I bought this book at the festival after hearing Colette McBeth talk in the New Blood panel. This is where the authors are all new writers chosen by Val McDermid, which as we all know is always one of my favourite sessions. Colette was previously a crime correspondent for a newspaper and it’s this experience she draws on to create her first novel, Precious Things.

Rachel and Clara met and became friends at school. They were described by others as being completely inseparable and kept other people at arms length. As is the way in life, they got older, their lives changed and the girls grew apart. Clara stayed in Brighton whilst Rachel becomes a tv crime reporter. Whilst they kept in touch, the friendship became a lot more one sided. Shortly after a failed attempt to meet up with Clara, Rachel is sent to Brighton to cover the case of a missing girl. This girl then obviously turns out to be Clara.

Rachel is determined to find out what happened and so she starts to investigate. It soon becomes clear that the relationship between Clara and Rachel is not as amicable as it looks. Throughout the book we are given glimpses into their childhood friendship, and the flashbacks reveal the flaws.

I really enjoyed this book. I was actually working down in Brighton the week I read this, although that was a complete coincidence. It was purely the first book I grabbed off the pile that came back with me from the festival but it was interesting to be in the place a lot of the action takes place.

The whole story is told from Rachel’s point of view and is written in the form of a letter she pens to Clara. I must confess to forgetting this very quickly into the book so I can’t say it either helped or hindered the storytelling. What I did like though was the fact that because you are only seeing everything through the eyes of one person, it’s unclear as to who is right and who is wrong. Rachel seems to be quite manipulative, and Clara is portrayed as having a number of issues. However human nature means we tend to always put ourselves in the best light and will blame others if we can get away with it so it’s unclear in this story as to who is really to blame for anything.

As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the friendship between the two girls is not all that it seems and there are an awful lot of secrets that affect the way the two girls have behaved. It was a quick read that kept you guessing until the end and whilst it wasn’t a gruesome book with lots of gory descriptions there were enough bits to shock.

It was a very good book and once again Val McDermid didn’t disappoint with her new blood choices.

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Where the devil can’t go by Anya Lipska – a review

Every year at the festival Val McDermid runs the New Blood panel which is a group of brand new authors who she thinks are worth reading. If it is good enough for Val it is good enough for me.

I must confess I was a bit sceptical of this book to start with. Another crime novel set in London with a young, naïve woman who would no doubt catch the criminal at the end and all would be rosy. However I was completely wrong. Despite a bit of a slow start (more to do with my attitude than the writing) this book soon gripped me. At the heart it is a murder mystery but told from the perspective of two very different characters.

One is Janusz, a polish immigrant who is seen as a kind of private detective / fixer within the polish community. He is asked to help find a missing girl. He suspects she has just run off with her boyfriend, but agrees to look into it anyway. The other main character is Natalie Kershaw, the young police detective. She is tasked with investigating the death of a young woman found floating in the Thames. Another body soon appears and she connects the two. Both characters paths cross and Janusz becomes both a suspect and a source of information.

This novel was not only an intriguing murder story, it also gave a fascinating insight into the history of Poland, and the Polish community living in London. However unlike some novels which can get bogged down in detail, none of this detracts from the story. In fact it simply enhances it and at no point do you get the feeling that you are being preached at. This was probably testament to the quality of the writing.

I thought both the main characters were equally likeable and annoying, which I find tends to be the case with most human beings anyway and meant that they seemed very realistic.  I also enjoyed the way that the story was interspersed with polish words as it seemed to give a realism to the dialogue that added to the feel of the book. You get a real sense of how it must be to have lived both in Poland under communist rule, and now as a settler in a foreign country. The descriptions of London, and then Gdansk in Poland had a certain darkness to them that gave an almost gothic feel. This was interspersed with bits of humour that  lifted what could have been quite a dark novel.

I would definitely recommend this book and look forward to hearing about future books featuring these characters at the panel at the theakstons crime festival.


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