Tag Archives: #topcrime2014

Follow the Leader by Mel Sherratt – a review

I was given a copy of this via netgalley.

Mel Sherratt has written a number of novels and was at last year’s festival. This is the second in her series starring DS Allie Shenton. As Allie and her husband return to work after their Christmas break a body is found with a magnetic letter on it. Soon a second body this time female is found, again with a letter. This starts a hunt for a serial killer where the clues seem few and far between. Alongside this investigation we are introduced to Patrick both his thoughts in the current day, and with flashbacks to his childhood at school.

This was an unusual book in that right from the start the reader knew who the killer was and why he was doing the murders. Yet this didn’t distract from the story at all. I didn’t feel it was the most original storyline, but was written in an unusual style which made up for that. We are all profoundly affected by our school experience and it is a fine line as to whether we become better people for it or it ruins us. This is a story of what happens when it goes wrong.

There were some bits I thought were a bit odd, for example people hear something on the radio about someone being killed. In order to find out who the victim is they wait until the next news bulletin rather than just look it up on their phone like most people do now. However as I always say, books are fiction, and the use of poetic license to move a story on is never a problem.

Putting my slight reservations aside I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was an interesting style in that there would be a chapter of flashback that told what happened to Patrick in the 80’s and then the main culprit in that chapter would be re-met in present day. This added a different dimension to the usual serial killer books I read and made it a real page turner.

Although this is the second in the series it works as a stand alone novel as well. There is some element of back story references but Follow the Leader can still be enjoyed with no knowledge of them. The characters within the story all seem very believable and the strand with Allie and her sister was incredibly sad.

This novel ended on a cliffhanger that means I can’t wait to hear what happens next and am looking forward to the third in the series from Mel.

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The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – a review

I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this at the Crime Festival last year. It was attached to a display that included a copy of a newspaper article proclaiming that the Girl in the red coat will be appearing at a church ceremony with her healing powers.

Beth has recently divorced and is trying to rebuild her life with her daughter. Eight year old Carmel is a dreamy child, who even her mother thinks is strange. Beth and Carmel go to a local children’s festival one day. Beth wants to make it a special day for them both, but is still distracted by her recent divorce. It’s from the festival that Carmel goes missing. As her mother frantically searches for her, Carmel is being taken away by a man called Pastor Dennis who believes she is a healer. Pastor Dennis runs the Church of Truth and thinks that Carmel could be the saviour he is looking for.

The Girl in the Red Coat is the debut novel from Kate Hamer and it certainly shows promise. The story is told from the viewpoints of both Beth and the young Carmel which gives the book an unusual perspective. The passages from Beth when she realises Carmel has gone are disturbing and you can feel her terror. Equally I enjoyed the story from the point of view of Carmel and her gradual realisation of the situation she is in. The story spans 5 years as Carmel grows up into a teenager without her mother as she travels round America, and Beth tries to move on whilst never wanting to give up hope that somehow she will find out what happened.

I enjoyed a lot of the descriptions throughout the book and felt that it was an interesting premise. Rather than just following Beth, reading Carmel’s story and knowing that she was still alive meant this book felt quite unique. My only slight criticism, that meant I wasn’t completely bowled over by it, was that personally I did feel that it was a little long. Towards the end it seemed to vear off track slightly and the ending was almost too abrupt with a few too many coincidences for me. However it did mean that all the loose ends were tied up which I like.

The Girl in the Red Coat is most definitely worth a read. I imagine that Kate Hamer will certainly be an author to watch out for in the future, and fingers crossed we see her at a festival soon..

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The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney – a review

As I’ve mentioned many times before, one of the great things about the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is the abundance of free books by both well known and new authors. The selection within the goodie bags is quite random, so myself and the Sister often end up with different books, which means even more choice for us both to read. The Liar’s Chair was one that the Sister received which I borrowed over Christmas on her recommendation and she wasn’t wrong.

The story starts with Rachel driving home still drunk from her assignation the night before. She hits a homeless man and kills him but doesn’t call for help. She goes home to her husband David and admits what she has done. David agrees to help her cover up the crime to save their reputation. On the outside Rachel and David have the perfect marriage, a husband and wife team running a hugely successful business together, with money and a fantastic house. However as that would make a rather dull story, all is not what it seems and David is an abusive controlling man. Rachel continues to stay with him, despite his utterly appalling (but sadly not completely unbelievable) actions. Whilst also having a secret side of drink addiction and affairs which we are shown intertwined with flashbacks to her childhood which was just as unpleasant as her marriage.

The Liar’s Chair was a disturbing, yet compelling book. The main characters are all as unlikable as each other, which gives an unusual perspective to a story of domestic abuse. Whilst the husband is without doubt a vile being, I have to say I didn’t warm to Rachel either. Her actions make you want to give her a shake, although as her childhood story is explored you realise why she acts like she does. Saying that, it’s impossible not to have sympathy for Rachel and the situation that she finds herself in, whilst at the same time disliking her for it.

The writing is interesting, with a lot of description and clichés used but this didn’t distract from the story. In fact I felt that it helped increase the tension within the book and served to highlight the decline in Rachel’s mind as the guilt seemingly overtakes her. It was an incredibly claustrophobic book, with some pretty distressing scenes. Whilst the story itself was not full of shocks and unexpected twists like some crime novels, it was an excellent read that gave a different perspective to a simple hit and run story.

Once again the TOPCWF has highlighted another great author to watch out for, and I’m looking forward to finding out what will be in the goodie bags for 2015.

 

 

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The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes – a review


I bought this novel at the festival last year, but it was actually a case of mistaken identity. I thought Natalie Haynes was talking in a session I was about to attend, but then I checked the programme again and she wasn’t down to speak. That meant unfortunately I left this book in the bedroom and didn’t get it signed. Then however it turned out she was talking anyway to cover for someone who had been unable to attend. Therefore I didn’t manage to get my copy signed, which is a shame as I thought this book was excellent.

A grieving Alex moves to Edinburgh after the death of her husband in violent circumstances. She has previously been a theatre director but takes a job as a drama teacher at a pupil referral unit. She becomes very attached to one class of teenagers whom she teaches the Greek tragedies too in an effort to get them engaged with something. Unfortunately whilst she succeeds, she isn’t aware of just how strongly these stories of revenge and violence will affect this group of children.

As soon as I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down. It was not my usual choice as I do love a good serial killer, murder mystery type novel, however it was a great departure from my norm. The story of Alex as she tries to deal with her grief is interspersed with diary entries from one of the children, which gives a different almost behind the scenes angle to what is happening in the classroom. Alongside this we start to unravel what actually happened to Luke, Alex’s husband, and find out why Alex goes to London every week. Interspersed throughout all of this there is the description of the Greek plays done in such a simple context that I felt I was learning things along the way. It was interesting to see how one crime affected the people around it, and how that lead to another one.

The story itself with hindsight is quite slow, there is a lot of description and it’s pretty obvious what is going to happen right from the start. However that in no way diminishes any enjoyment I had. Each chapter builds up to the actual violent outcome, and it’s written in the style of a play with three acts. Putting aside the fact that I’m not convinced that Alex would actually have been allowed to teach a bunch of children at any school due to her being a director not a teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s hard to explain what made it so compelling but its most definitely worth a read and I’m very glad of the mistaken identity purchase.

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Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus – a review

This is the first novel from Nele Neuhaus that has been translated into English, although it is actually the forth in the series, and she has apparently sold over a million copies worldwide. Tobias has just finished a ten year prison sentence for the murder of two girls, one of whom was nicknamed Snow White. Once released from prison Tobias returns to his family home in the village. As expected he is not welcome with open arms except by new girl Amelia, and his old school friend Nadia. When another young girl goes missing, the finger soon points at Tobias.

I had borrowed this book off the Sister, who had purchased it at the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival a couple of years ago. I had been looking forward to this book, as both the cover picture and the blurb made it look good. I had read the prologue and had high hopes; however I’m afraid I was a little disappointed.

This book was originally written in German and had therefore been translated so I’m not sure how many of the issues were due to the translation rather than the writing. Certainly the majority of people have nothing but praise for this book, so I wonder if this did let it down. Also as it was actually the forth in the series, I suspect that there was a lot of back story around the central detectives that would have been in the previous books and helped build a bigger picture of their lives.

On the positive side the main story of the murder of two young girls whose bodies had not been found was good. The young girl going missing once Tobias had been released was predictable but I really did want to know what had happened to them.

However I really struggled to finish this book if I’m honest. I’m not usually someone to struggle through reading a book. Personally I think there are too many good books out there waiting to be read to bother struggling through something that you are not enjoying. Therefore its testament to how much I really wanted to enjoy Snow White Must Die and how much I wanted to find out what happened that meant I persevered but it was a slog.

I felt that it was quite a confusing read. There were an awful lot of characters that kept coming in and out of the plot. The fact that they were called by both their first name and surname seemingly interchangeably just added to the confusion. I had to keep double checking who I was actually reading about. This along with the huge number of characters and the fact that there was a lot of description meant that for me it wasn’t the easiest to follow.

However as I say the main story of the missing girls and previous murders was interesting. Overall I suspect that the main problem lies in the translation of this book rather than the writing, as a million people surely can’t be wrong.

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The Kill by Jane Casey – a review

I should start this review with a bit of a caveat. I’m completely biased about this book having had the great pleasure of sitting next to Jane Casey at this year’s murder mystery dinner at the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. It was a lovely evening, with a great bunch of people on our table and therefore I really wanted to love this book.
Unfortunately that brings me to my second caveat. I was halfway through reading this when we went on holiday, and due to being lucky enough to own the hard copy of the book I decided to leave it behind whilst I went on my jaunt. Therefore I picked it up, three books and two weeks later, to try and remember where I’d left off. Obviously as I’m not known for my great memory this did cause some confusion.
The Kill starts with a group of police officers, including Maeve Kerrigan at a wedding party. They find out that a fellow officer has been killed. This starts a wave of police killings which Kerrigan and her boss Josh Derwent are desperate to solve, however they are soon in fear for their lives.
This was the first of the Maeve Kerrigan series that I’ve read, which combined with the fact I stopped half way through did mean I struggled with the plot a bit. However overall I’m pleased to say this was a good read. Although it is the third in the series, the novel works as a standalone story, I didn’t get the impression I was missing out on lots of background information. I enjoyed the mix of police action and the relationships between Maeve and her rather unpleasant boyfriend, as well as senior officers. I can’t say I particularly warmed too many of the characters except Maeve, although I enjoyed the fact that the characters weren’t one dimensional. They could spend half the book acting like complete idiots and then suddenly turn round and actually be quite nice, which is a pretty human trait.
The story itself was interesting, and the concept of the police being under attack, and the motives behind it were good. I especially liked the contemporary setting of the novel, with references to real world events such as the riots in 2011. When the policeman is found dead at the start of the novel, local politicians are soon quick to put the blame on the fact that allegedly the police shot an innocent boy.
Overall I enjoyed this book, despite the second half taking a bit of getting back into and would be keen to try the series from the start as I have a suspicion that if I started at the beginning this is a series that would really grow on me.

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You by Caroline Kepnes – a review

One of the best things about the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime writing festival is the amount of books by new authors that are given out. One of the treasures in the goody bag this year was You by Caroline Kepnes the paperback of which is released in October (I can’t deny there is something very exciting about being able to read a book that isn’t yet available to the general public)

As the title page states this is a novel of dark obsession. Joe works in a small independent bookshop in New York. He started working there as a child for the mysterious now absent Mr Malooney. Joe meets Beck, an aspiring writer living in a bed sit who makes the mistake of walking into Joe’s bookshop and requesting a book by his favourite author.

Taking this as a sign that they are destined to be together he becomes obsessed with her, and believing that she also likes him he starts stalking her. He tracks down her friends and uses the wonders of the internet to follow her every move, even going so far as to remove anyone he thinks might get in their way.

I thought this was a fantastic story. It is all told from the viewpoint of Joe, which gives the whole thing a creepy edge. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say I understand him, you can see how he interprets things to fit in with his own warped sense of relationships.

This book reminded me of the Dexter novels, where you know that you shouldn’t really like the character but actually I did feel a bit sorry for him. Beck rather than just being portrayed as an weak little victim is a manipulative unpleasant woman. I couldn’t warm to any of the other characters in the book either, but that’s obviously how it’s meant to be as you only know anything from Joe’s point of view and he clearly dislikes anyone who gets in his way.

I liked the way that although there are crimes committed in addition to the stalking, these are almost glossed over. To Joe these were just necessary actions to further his main goal and if you skim read fast enough you’d almost miss them.

Overall I thought this was a great book that I couldn’t put down and would recommend it to anyone who likes crime but fancies a bit of light relief.

 

 

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