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The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald – a review

After the upheaval of the past few months I’m now back at work as normal which is good (honestly!) Unfortunately this means I’ve had to curtail my addiction to watching back to back episodes of criminal minds. However it does mean lots of train travel again, which if nothing else means good kindle book reading opportunities. Last week I had a trip up to Scotland so armed with my programme for the festival, I downloaded (or uploaded I’m never certain of the difference) some books and got stuck in.

My first read of the journey was ‘The Cry’ by Helen Fitzgerald. She is talking in the session called Worse Things Happen at Home. I think that this was the first book I’ve read by the author which I’m very surprised about as it was excellent.

Joanna, her husband Alistair, and their new baby son are travelling to Australia from Scotland. They are going in the hope of winning custody of Alistair’s daughter. When their son goes missing they become involved in a widespread media campaign to try and find him. However obviously things are not as straightforward as they seem and their lives soon start to fall apart.

It’s very hard to review this book without giving away any of the plot. The story is told through the eyes of both Joanna and Alexandra the ex-wife and flits between their viewpoints. There is also a jump around in timeline, as the story slips between what happened on the actual flight, the aftermath after they’ve lost the baby, and also the outcome. This adds to the build up and suspense as everytime you think you know what happened something else changes.

Whilst I throughly enjoyed this novel, I did think that some of the actions of the main characters were a little unbelievable but as I’ve often said, in fiction you have to sometimes suspend the truth a bit to enjoy a good story. Equally I don’t think any of us really know how we would react to a stressful situation until it happens. I thought the description of the crying baby on the plane, and the reaction of the others around her was a great way of building up to the main crux of the plot. As someone who would have been complaining and wondering why the child wasn’t being shut up, I hope that I’d now think twice in that situation. There is a certain element of predictability regarding elements of the plot but I suspect that’s done on purpose as it is used to great effect to build up the tension leading to the eventual, and I thought unforeseen, climax.

I would certainly recommend this book to others, especially if you like the style of story that is being given the term ‘domestic noir’. It’s one of my favourite types of fiction and makes a nice break sometimes from the more hard-nosed style of detective novel, which is not to say these stories are any less gritty or unsettling.

I think the ‘Worse Things Happen at Home’ panel is going to be excellent as alongside Helen Fitzgerald is the lovely Julia Crouch who I was fortunate enough to sit with at dinner last year. Both excellent authors, and I look forward to reading more of their books soon. In the meantime I’ll be downloading the other panellists novels ready for my next trip out.

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Breaking point

With less than a week to go until the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival its time to take stock of how the TOPCWFC2013 has gone.

Unfortunately however it looks like I’m definitely more Novak Djokovic than Andy Murray. Even for a reasonably fast reader like me there are just so many authors at the festival it’s impossible to read them all. By my calculations I counted 43 at the beginning of the challenge. That’s nearly a years’ reading at my normal one a week rate, and as much as I do love reading sometimes other distractions just get in the way (a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show this week for one) There has also been a big difference this year in that I have more blog followers, which in turn means I’ve actually been asked by people to review their books. This is not a complaint at all as it is still very exciting to be asked to read someone’s book, and I’ve discovered some very good authors that way. It does mean though that the challenge has come somewhat unstuck.

However when it comes to looking at the ‘TOPCWFC2013 Lite’ then things are a lot more rosy. There are 17 sessions not including the opening party, the quiz (at which we did rather well in last year, our team PTCK came third) or the dinner. Of these 17 I have read authors in all but two of the sessions.

Unusually for me the missing authors are actually two of this year’s ‘big hitters’. Someone recently accused me of sounding like a frog when in a bookshop ‘read it, read it, read it’ and so to admit that I have never read either William McIlvanney or Lee Child is rather embarrassing.

Crime itself is such a huge genre that it can be difficult sometimes to work out which authors to try. Often the easy option is to stay with the tried and trusted such as Val McDermid and Mark Billingham as you know you are going to be getting a great book, and straying away can be disappointing. It can also be a great experience though. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing this challenge, sometimes it may take over my life but its also addictive. The more I read the more I want to read and the festival provides such a plethora of new writers it is impossible not to want to try them. It is not even just about showcasing brand new writers such as those in the New Blood session, the festival is also about discovering writers that have been around but somehow slipped through my net, such as Lee Child.

Therefore with a week left to go, its down to the break point I’ve got a William McIlvanney book in my bag ready for a train journey this afternoon, and then I just need to fit in a quick Lee Child next week and its game set and match for the TOPCWFC2013 Lite.

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Vows to Kill by Mark Capell – a review

My most recent read (again on a train, this time to spend a lovely couple of days being Christamassy in London) was Vows to Kill by Mark Capell. He is a new author to me and this was Mark’s second full length novel, which he kindly sent me an e-copy of.

The basic premise of the book is that Lee is a detective who receives an email saying ‘I will kill you on your wedding day’ Understandably he wants to track down the sender of the email and make sure that his wife-to-be doesn’t find out what is going on.

Now ignoring the ridiculous notion that a couple would get married within six months of meeting (although of course novel three could be based around the divorce!) and the fact that half the characters seemed to be able to take weeks off work to organise the worlds smallest wedding. I really liked this novel. One line states ‘what’s past is prologue’ and that almost sums up the story within this book. People can bare grudges for a long time, and doing so makes them bitter and frankly pretty tragic.

The whole story is based during the 6 week lead up to the wedding and Lee’s race to uncover who wants him dead before he ends up having to call the event off. Obviously the first place to look is in his past, and like any good crime protagonist, he has to confront a secret he’s been trying to hide.

Its virtually impossible to review this book without giving the game away. The cast of characters that are created are very cleverly interwoven. The story goes back and forth gradually uncovering more of the characters lives and their reasons for possibly wanting to kill Lee. This gradual uncovering seemed to be quite an organic process, and unlike some novels I didn’t feel that scenes were being forced into the story unnecessarily just to include some back ground information.

One of the things I liked about this book was that at no point did I guess the outcome. At one stage, I don’t think its spoiling anything to say I even thought it was the brother! The ending itself was a little bit of a disappointment as it seemed a little bit too neat, but if it had been any other way then I’d no doubt be complaining that it hadn’t been wrapped up neatly enough.

This book was very enjoyable, and the writing style was nice and concise which worked well. I think Vows to Kill would make a great 2 part ITV drama!

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The Consultant by Claude Bouchard – a review

As I have mentioned many times on this blog, one of the best things about train journeys is the opportunity it gives for a nice uninterrupted time of reading (as long as you get lucky and don’t get stuck next to some deaf idiot listening to Take That at full tinny volume) Trains really are a readers best friend, well second best behind a sunny beach and a nice cocktail!

This months trip to London therefore afforded a great opportunity to read a book I’ve had on my ‘to do’ list  for a while, The Consultant by Claude Bouchard. This was an author I found via the twittersphere who I believe is based in Canada. The Consultant is the second in his ‘Vigilante’ series although the first of his I’d read and I wasn’t disappointed.

This story was about a bloke who spent a short time being a ‘vigilante’ (unsurprisingly the first novel) tracking down people who had harmed his wife and her family. He spent his time killing them in varying gruesome ways. He is then headhunted by a special ‘under the radar’ government type group. He joins them (they live outside of government protection!) and infiltrates a drug ring. This drug ring then kidnap the aforementioned wife and he must try and save her.

This was not my normal type of book really, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was an incredibly fast read, with lots of action and shoot outs, and unbelievable scenes of people being knocked down and just getting up again. There was very little back story to any of the characters. There was enough that they weren’t just two dimensional but not so much that it slowed anything down.

I must confess I didn’t really care about any of the characters and throughout the story I wasn’t that bothered whether they lived or died. This wasn’t a complaint though as I felt it was a ploy to add to the sense of having to power through the story at high speed. It was also a bit strange to read a book with essentially a serial killer who didn’t get his comeuppance, but this made quite a nice change. Plus he had only killed criminals so it wasn’t like they were completely innocent!

This story helped pass an enjoyable couple of hours, and I look forward to reading the next in the series. If Action Man could read (and wasn’t actually just a lump of plastic) this is the kind of story he would want to devour!

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The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver – a review

Once again me and my kindle (someone should write a song about that) have been out and about, this time reading The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver. This is the first of his novels I’ve read although the second he has written. In the Dead Tracks a girl is missing and her parent’s employ widower Raker to help find her. As this is obviously a crime book, she’s not the only missing girl,there are lots of suspects and there is a serial killer involved.

I thought this was another good story that was a great introduction to this author. However I did feel that it slightly lost its way towards the end. The ‘who’ of the ‘who dunnit’ was quite predictable, although the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ were not. There were a lot of potential suspects throughout the book which I did feel was an issue and almost a bit farcical.

It seemed to be heavily influenced by films, for example Silence of the Lambs, and Seven, both had echos of their plot lines in this. They are both however, very good films so that is not a criticism although it does make for a bit of confusion at times if you don’t concentrate properly. I did think though that the overall story was qute interesting and original.

Tim Weaver is talking in ‘Drawing the Line’, where authors apparently describe their struggles with morality. This was quite a descriptive book, with some blood and gore which I do like in a crime book. It involves a Russian Mafia type group so it was never going to be a nice fireside rom com (which would have been very disappointing!) so I can see how he fits into that particular session.

I would definitely want to pick up his first book, and I think that would help to understand Raker and his background, and maybe garner some sympathy for him (which I found myself distinctly lacking) Yet to me this book just seemed a little bit too long, and I suspect that a bit of firmer editing would have changed it from good to excellent.

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No time for goodbye

I was in Glasgow last week running an exhibition stand. Our stand was positioned directly opposite the internet area where delegates could sit and check their emails and ensure they kept up to date with all important work related things.

Having spent 5 days sat watching the people using these computers I can categorically state that the most used website at this conference is guess what…Facebook! As you may have guessed from my previous posts the whole Facebook addiction has rather passed me by. Don’t get me wrong I have been known to check the site from time to time and having been sat here on my own and rather bored this week I’ve probably looked at it more than normal. I am naturally a very nosy person. But it still saddens me to see how people are so obsessed with the minutia of other lives and how people seem to live their lives via Facebook updates. As for ‘liking’ things, that’s just plain weird. For example, ‘Little Johnny is currently waiting for the doctor to sew his arm back on’ and people like it!

There will be a whole generation of people who grow up unable to interact with other human beings face to face. They will get the shakes if they have to go somewhere with no internet access. There will be support groups to join – My name is Nigel and I’m an internet addict. You’ll be able to go to the doctors to get tranquilizers if you have to travel by tube with no internet connection.

It’s the inordinate amount of time it wastes that I think upsets me most. At one point during the conference I got out my kindle to take advantage of the free wifi and make sure I had a couple of books ready in case my train was delayed and I ran out of reading material on the journey home. One of the delegates saw me and started chatting saying how they would love to read but don’t have the time. They then proceeded to go over and spend 25 minutes staring at Facebook. That 25 minutes could have been spent reading a book! I bet there is a direct relationship between people who check their emails every 5 minutes and spend hours staring at Facebook to those who say they have no time to read or take up other hobbies. (Potential psychology experiment there sis?)

I have never understood how people don’t read? As you will be aware by now I love reading and read almost anywhere stain on the silence  Its so accessible. It doesn’t matter what age, or how much money you have reading is a hobby that can be done by all, and I’m sure if people spent as much time reading as they do updating their status the world would be a happier place!

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