The Killing II – David Hewson


The second in the series featuring the somewhat abrasive Detective Sarah Lund, sees old ghosts from Denmark’s wartime past stirred up. Our heroine, packed off out of the way to a remote posting after the disaster of the Nanna Birk Larsen case (in the first book), is brought back to solve the slaying of a female lawyer. Nothing, of course, is quite what it seems, and Lund can be relied upon to kick up enough of a storm to unsettle the perpetrator just as much as her colleagues.

The central character is uncompromising, and the portrayal no less so; she carries the show with aplomb, and the odd grimace as you wonder ‘how – or why – the hell did she do that?’ The plot is well constructed, and equally well revealed.

While not as fresh as the first book, it still packs a wallop. Highly recommended, but only after reading the first

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The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss


The second of an unfinished fantasy trilogy, this book continues the biographical narrative by Kvothe, as he tells the story of his life to a scribe. Around this island of history, we get hints of a world on fire, with death and destruction circling in the background and perhaps getting closer with every chapter in the telling.

The quality of the writing also continues the same high standard on show in the first book, and it is an immensely enthralling tale in the main. I would exclude from that one extended sexual encounter which simply did not work for me. Or, it didn’t work because it went on for too long and bored me. That apart, there were plenty of surprises, some loose ends tantalizingly dangled in front of us to – no doubt – give some meaty hooks for the next book to connect to.

It’s not the absolute best of the genre that I have read (as mentioned last time) but I’ll be getting the next book whenever it finally appears.

If you like fantasy fiction, this is a pretty close thing to a sure bet.

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The Killing – David Hewson

This is a novelization of a Danish television series that has attracted rave reviews for matching – if not exceeding – the high quality of the source material. The story is simple, but complex. The simple part is that a young girl is found, murdered, having been brutalized then dumped to drown in the boot of a car driven into a lake. The complex part is unraveling how she got there and who did it.

The central police character is a somewhat loose cannon called Sarah Lund. She is supposed to be going off to Sweden to start a new life with her son and boyfriend. But her last day turns up the young girl’s body, and from there things spiral out of control.

One reason for the chaos is that there is an election going on for the mayor, and the key challenger and his party are dragged in to the investigation. Politics being what it is (or can be) the truth about who was where, and when, and what they were doing, is not something the witnesses are so keen to divulge. So false lead follows false lead, until the investigation appears to be eating its one tail. At the same time, the distraught parents are eager for news and justice.

This is a brilliantly constructed crime story. The writing is terse, short, descriptive, and full of non stop action and an ever changing focus. Lund is a whirlwind, and her partner Meyer suffers from the fallout. There’s a bitter inevitability about the hunt that the author postpones with surprise after surprise. It’s a great example of a page turner that left me gasping for breath at the end, while simultaneously trying to work out how all the loose ends came together.

In short, it’s great.

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Blood Wedding – Pierre Lemaitre

Sophie is slowly going mad. Those around her are suffering, some fatally, and there seems no way out of the nightmare. But will things get worse when she goes on the run?

This is a white hot novel, full to the top with suspense and twists, and rushing along at a frantic pace. There’s a lot to recommend here, including the carefully weighted portrayal of Sophie, and the slick plotting. It’s a story well told, and well worthy of your time. Highly recommended.

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The Deepest Grave – Harry Bingham

This is book six of the series featuring Fiona Griffiths, a very singular police detective character. The five preceding books have been, on the whole, excellent. I wondered if the author could maintain the quality. Having read the book, I can confirm the character is still as engrossing, and the portrayal is top notch. However, this time around I didn’t feel quite the same connection between our heroine and the deceased, and the plot was way beyond far fetched. However, it was still a great read.

The story begins with a murder. Not your average murder, but one involving the beheading of an archaeologist with nary an Islamist in sight. Fiona is on the case, and soon she has worked out what is going on. Unfortunately, her colleagues Рespecially her boss Рis going off on a different investigative direction. Inevitably, the tension builds up, and there is more danger for Fiona to face.

So, on the plus side, the main character is an absolute corker, and is brilliantly and sympathetically described.  Some of her colleagues are a bit too cliched. The baddies are a bit trickier for me to rate. I thought that some of the scenes featuring the main criminal were good, but the motivation and plausibility were a bit lacking. The plot is tight in the sense that it is logical, but I found it wholly implausible.

The book was still a page turner, but just couldn’t match the quality previous books. I must stress that it is not the case of the author going off track; simply that this is a good book that is not quite as good as the others.

One interesting aside is that the book includes an essay by the author explaining – almost justifying – why he writes about such fanciful crimes. He claims to follow the Arthur Conan Doyle line in preference to the Raymond Chandler one. I wasn’t sure I completely understood the necessity for the essay, nor its likely effectiveness, but I did enjoy seeing how the author was thinking about matters.

Bottom line: I’ll be buying the next one, for sure!

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The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

This is a fantasy novel – the first in an as yet unfinished trilogy – which was highly (and repeatedly) recommended to me. It’s the life story of Kvothe, who starts off as part of a travelling troupe, becomes a street urchin, and then a somewhat unlikely and down at heel student. The book begins with Kvothe in the role of an innkeeper who, eventually, starts telling his whole story to a travelling scribe. Therefore, we get the first person perspective driving the main narrative, with the occasional intercession as the focus switches back to various scenes with Kvothe taking a break from his story to deal with several issues, like customers, and wandering mercenaries.

The following are worth noting:

  • The world around Kvothe is vast, but more hinted at than completely described
  • The magical system is lovingly rendered, and adds real weight to the sense of awe
  • The characterization is good
  • The storytelling is mostly good, too, though there were a few patches that I thought were over written
  • This is no Tolkien ripoff, nor juvenile fantasy; it’s solid, believable, and gripping

Despite all of the above, while it is a good book, it did not hit me the same way my first contact with Joe Abercrombie or K. J. Parker did. So, while I am happy to say that I enjoyed it, for me it does not quite reach the top rank. It’s absolutely worth reading though, and I do recommend it.

 

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Die of Shame – Mark Billingham

This is a crime novel which features a therapist (Tony De Silva) and the attendees of his Monday night session. These people – all on the road to recovery from one sort of addiction or another – share their feelings and their secrets, guided by De Silva like some form of shepherd with a wayward flock. One of them is murdered, and so far as the police are concerned, it’s obvious that another member of the group must be the killer. But who?

I found this a little underwhelming. First, the police investigation is almost on the periphery. Instead, up front and center stage are the group members. Second, there are pages of dialogue and description covering several therapy sessions. It’s realistic, believable, and also numbing. It went on for too long, and I lost any empathy for the characters. That lasted until the mystery was solved, but by then it was time for the book to end.

SPOILER ALERT!

There’s a bit of a recovery in the closing pages when the author introduces one of his regular police characters, and not so subtly leaves the reader wanting more.

Overall, I was disappointed. It’s well written, clearly been fully researched, and seems grounded in reality. But it largely bored the socks off me, and so I can only say it was OK.

 

 

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The Bone Field – Simon Kernick

Twenty six years ago, a young woman went missing in Thailand. She was never seen again. Back in the here and now, that woman’s bones are discovered in an English field. Shortly after that shocking discovery, her former boyfriend – who reported her disappearance – is dead. The something of a loose cannon that is DI Ray Mason is part of the team investigating the crimes. Inevitably, he goes one way as the team goes another. The action and dead bodies pile up in this relentless tale, which is full of twists and turns, and does a good job of conforming to its page turning description.

So, from one point of view, this was an enjoyable read. However, it’s very much in the light entertainment category as far as I am concerned – think airport reading and you won’t be far wrong – with some clunky writing that sometimes stopped me in my tracks. A sharper edit might have substantially improved the experience. There were times when I almost cried out loud in frustration at the prose.

Mason is the lead character, and is reasonably well done. Private Detective Tina Boyd’s guest appearance – apparently she is a character from other books by Simon Kernick – is also pretty good. But the rest are less believable, and simply did not work for me.

It’s not a bad book, but it is bad in places. One to read and forget.

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The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon

Commissario Brunetti’s wife’s family are part of Venetian high society. So it is not unusual that our hero occasionally finds himself forced to attend social events in which he has little interest. But, ever the gentleman, he participates with apparent willingness, an easy smile, and constant inward reflection. Following on from one such society dinner, his hostess – Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of his mother-in-law – asks for his help. In her advancing years, the Contessa is increasingly troubled by the sad state of her granddaughter, Manuela. The girl was rescued from drowning, but suffered severe brain damage and lives out her life like a young child, the eternal youth of the book’s title. She cannot remember what happened. But the Contessa believes there must be an explanation, and wants Brunetti to get to the bottom of it.

Opening up an old case with no good reason is typically challenging fare for Brunetti, and it is a challenge he rises to, using his long experience of the system, and his deep understanding of how his boss thinks. Brunetti starts investigating, recruiting a sympathetic fellow policewoman to help him connect to Manuela, thus beginning and developing a friendship that assists the police to slowly make some progress.

While this is ongoing, the backdrop of modern Venice, with all its corruption, cronyism, and peculiarities, are portrayed as lovingly as the central character is. Brunetti’s family are also neatly sketched stars in their own right, offering a clear contrast to the world around them.

This is a fine, gentle, yet powerful book that shows yet again one of the greatest fictional detectives in all his glory.

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Before the Fall – Noah Hawley

At the core, this book is a simple story about a private plane that crashes, leaving two survivors: the four year old son of parents who died in the crash, and Scott Burroughs, a struggling artist. What makes the book that much more enthralling and rewarding is the well crafted way the author takes us through each of the personalities on the plane, and breathes – somewhat ironically – real life into these doomed individuals. Of course, the fact that there’s a mystery to unravel as to what caused the crash, also helps.

The passengers on the plane include a right wing TV news tycoon, and a (er….) high flying business man with lots of money, lots of influence, and lots of dodgy deals to his credit. However, the shining star is Burroughs, as he discovers the joy and pain of suddenly being the center of attention. This is another irony, given that he has spent his life trying to achieve recognition for his art. His canvases portraying disasters, including a plane crash, allow some to form unfavorable opinions about the man. We readers, however, get to see the whole view, and should benefit from the perspective we are given.

There are several strong undercurrents as the author offers a peak into media incitement, power, and corruption, as well as the embattled human spirit trying to cope with a chaotic world. The investigative forces deployed following the crash also get some coverage, with no lack of attention to the quality of the characters and the pitching of their involvement in the story.

It seemed to me that the author’s care and consideration for his characters – good and bad – was reflected in the high quality of the writing, and that the story flowed easily, carrying the reader along. At the same time, there are no flashy flourishes, nor attempts to show how clever the author is. (He’s clever, but he’s not boastful.)

I highly recommend this book as an example of a well written, well rounded, thoughtful, entertainment.

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