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 – especially her boss – is 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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Bloody Mary – J A Konrath


The second in the Jack Daniels series, this is a bloody, tense, crime book that rarely lets up. It’s another hunt for a serial killer, but one which comes with a genuine mid book twist that turns things completely around. (I am not going to offer any details that might spoil the plot.) The pace builds up again to the inevitable final scene showdown.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, with a good main character, and some real signs of life from the supporting cast. The cat is something new in my reading experience, but that may be because I am not so fond of the damn things. Jack’s partner Herb is a good foil, and the dialog between the partners is one of the strongest parts of the book. The humor sometimes falls flat, but that is often a hit or miss affair, and there were far more occasions when it was laugh out loud funny.

I would like to get a bit more of the city backdrop, though I can well see the author’s clinical devotion to avoiding anything that would unnecessarily slow down the plot or reduce the tension.

I think I’ll keep reading this series.

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Rupture – Ragnar Jonasson

Another crime novel featuring Ari Thor Arason and the fishing village of Siglufjordour, in Northern Iceland. Unfortunately, I found this to be as dull as ditchwater compared to the others. Maybe my tastes are becoming jaded, but while there was a decent historical mystery, and a contemporary crime narrative too, neither excited me.

The cold case goes back to 1955 with two young couples moving to the very isolated Hedinsfjörður. One of their number dies in strange circumstances, but there is no apparent solution to the mystery of what exactly happened.

Meanwhile, there’s a hit and run and a kidnapped baby for the police to deal with. How these cases become connected leads to a potentially stunning conclusion. The potential is not realized.

It was a real slog to finish the book, hoping for an upturn in the excitement or tension. It never came. I could not recommend this. I hope the author returns to form with the next one.

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Whiskey Sour – J A Konrath

This is a police procedural novel built on a strong female character with the unfortunately alpha male name of Jack Daniels. Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels is a Chicago detective with more than her fair share of personal challenges, never mind the serial killer the Gingerbread Man who is taunting her and the forces of law and order.

The writing style is a cross between Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct realistic fatalism, and Carl Hiaasen’s comical commentary. Sometimes the humor works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I have a bigger problem with the serial killer character. I was not convinced about the completeness or authenticity of that person in the book. Fortunately, the Jack Daniels character is just about sufficient quality to carry the rest of the book on her shoulders, and there were moments of genuine tension and excitement. Indeed, this is a pretty good page turner, meaning I will be trying out more in the series.

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The Sacred Cut – David Hewson

This is the third in the author’s Detective Nic Costa series (see here and here). Again set in Rome, the author branches out slightly by moving away from the lines of a traditional police procedural, and going more for the mystery conspiracy market.

It begins with Rome covered in snow, and the discovery of a dead, posed, body in the Pantheon. Before our hero and his colleagues can get the investigation started, along come a couple of FBI agents from the USA embassy who want the body for themselves, and the investigation to be run their way. Cue inter agency rivalry as the Italian secret service are also involved. Of course, Costa is not for letting things go, though the investigation is somewhat problematic as the only potential witness has gone on the run. From there, the action heats up, with the target of their sleuthing seemingly always one step ahead of them.

I confess to being disappointed in the book. The story was OK, but the writing felt somewhat heavy handed and oppressive compared to the previous books. Also, the characters didn’t seem to grow very much in this book. Even the Roman backdrop was described in dark, Gothic terms, so that the atmosphere was more of a ghost or horror story. Since I know the writer’s recent output has been excellent, I am hoping this was a minor bump in the development trail of his talent. So, I will be trying out the next one. But if it is more of the same, I will not be happy.

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