Original Skin – David Mark

The second in the DS McAvoy series (my review of the first is here), this is a fine crime novel with a nicely balanced mix of good characters, decent backdrop, and snappy writing.

The plot, such as it is, involves a young couple who are sexually promiscuous and adventurous. Their journey through life takes them to the wrong place at the wrong time, and one of them ends up dead. The other is next on the killer’s list, if only the killer can track down the victim. At the same time, the police in Hull are struggling to cope with high levels of drug related violence, and bitter complaints from the locals about lack of action being taken against traveler folk.

The plot is the weakest part of the novel; it’s not complex, and is somewhat mechanically unwound and revealed. However, it’s a plot that is much more realistic and grounded in actual human desires and capabilities, with no requirement for super duper evil or worldwide conspiracies.

McAvoy is a great character – as is his wife – and seeing the fractured world through his eyes is a worthwhile experience. His police colleagues include some who rise above the cardboard cutout status, and that surely helps.

In short, this is a bit of a step up in quality from the first, encouraging me enough to ensure I will be returning to the series. I wouldn’t bother with the first unless you are a completist. This one is definitely worth reading if you like crime books.

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Blind Sight – Carol O’Connell

One word review: Beautiful.

Longer review: This is crime fiction with panache: written in honeyed prose dotted with little mines that explode in the middle of some previously routine observation about Mallory – the lead in this book – and the wacky world of crime in New York. It’s crime procedural entertainment where the procedure is irregular, the plot off-the-wall, and the mix all too realistic. Mallory is a wonderful character – I think this is her twelfth outing – but the real star is the prose. The writing is beautiful, different, haunting, and powerful. It’s the type of book you read over and over, indulging yourself in the crafted text.

Plot and Stuff: The story involves a dead nun, whose body – along with three others – is dumped on the mayor’s lawn. Then there’s this blind kid, with a familial tie to one of the victims, and the hit man. Where is the blind kid? Who is the hit man? Who is paying the hit man? And what is the purpose of the killings? It’s a plot that will stretch your imagination in a book that will give you hours of great fun, action, and no little tension and surprise.

You do not need to start with the first Mallory book – Mallory’s Oracle – but if you want my recommendation, to get the best out of the books, do read them in order.

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The Shout – Stephen Leather

This is a nice twist on perspective for a crime novel, being a story putting a firefighter front and central in the proceedings, and a female firefighter to boot. Vicky Lewis is a strong character, and needs to be. This young crew manager in the London Fire Brigade becomes shunted sideways into the Fire Investigation Unit, working alongside a non PC male boss, Des Farmer, aka the Grouch. Cue misogynist chatter and all sorts of bruising encounters, but Vicky keeps going.

We know what is going on, because the parallel story thread is told from the perspective of a serial killer, who covers his tracks by setting fires that look like accidents, removing all forensic evidence of his dirty deeds.

Vicky finds about this killer from the Grouch’s private investigation – an investigation the authorities are very much against because, as far as they are concerned, accidents happen and there is no evidence of foul play at any of these scenes. Vicky joins in the Grouch’s off-the-books investigation, and sets off on an adventure dicing with death and destruction.

I enjoyed the story, and learned a lot about fires – at times it felt like I was in a fire safety training session. I am guessing the author thought this was important for context and scene setting, and the realistic detail did not intrude too much, even if it was close. It will be interesting to see if the character merits a series, as I thought Vicky was worthy of more development. Perhaps she will have to move on from the fire brigade?

Good stuff.

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Thirteen – Steve Cavanagh

The biggest disappointment about this book was finding out after I had read it, that it was part of a series, and not the first. However, on its own merits, this was a cracking mix of courtroom drama and murder mystery, full of twists and action.

The central feature is that there is a killer who has framed an up and coming Hollywood star for murder. The killer – a serious nutter – wants on the jury to enjoy his kill that much more. Against this seriously dangerous foe is set Eddie Flynn, former con-artist now defense lawyer. The courtroom maneuvers and the investigation intermingle well, the story rattles along, and the end result is a highly entertaining read.

Highly recommended, but not for the squeamish.

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The Fallen – David Baldacci

This is a story featuring Amos Decker, the FBI man who has total recall, and sees emotions and events as colors. This particular tale is set in small-town America, namely Baronville, Pennsylvania, where dead bodies are turning up all too often. Along with his FBI partner, Alex Jamison, Decker works at solving matters.

Underpinning the mystery is a current American hot topic which I will not name for fear of spoiling your enjoyment. It’s enough for you to know that whatever criminal enterprise is going on, it seems all too realistic and likely.

Although the storytelling is great, I wasn’t convinced there was much more development of the characters. The backdrop is well done, and the plot revealed in Baldacci’s best style.

Overall, it’s a good read. Not Baldacci’s best, but worth reading.

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The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

One word review: brilliant.

More detail: this is a clever modern murder mystery novel with a unique perspective, savvy writing, interesting characters (including the author) in a package that has a beautifully engineered plot, plenty of twists, some laughs, and is just good fun.

Bit more detail: a woman goes in to organize her funeral. Several hours later she is dead. Former Detective Daniel Hawthorne is on the case, and he’s trying to convince a certain Anthony Horowitz to write the story of the hunt for the killer. Bizarre, but it works ever so well, and allows lots of unique touches to pop up. For example, the scene with Steven Spielberg is hilarious.

Don’t miss out.

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The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata

Military sci-fi with a twist. In the near future, USA soldiers are out on patrol in Africa. Apparently the defense industry has manufactured this conflict – it is not explained how – and Lieutenant James Shelley and his high-tech soldiers are on the hunt for insurgents.

Shelley is not only a good soldier and leader, but he also has this uncanny knack for knowing when things are about to go wrong. Is it a sixth sense, luck, or something else? That last part is the twist, with suggestions that there is another major power working behind the scenes. But you do not get to look behind the veil in this first novel of a trilogy.

What you get here is a large dose of high adrenaline action with some corporate corruption background, and some paper thin and somewhat naive politicking making an appearance. The main character is OK, but there’s nowt else to supplement that, and at the end I was not sufficiently interested in the story line to think about buying the next book in the series.

Disappointing.

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Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is in trouble. A killer he put away a long time ago is about to be released because new evidence – evidence that puts Harry in the firing line. At the same time, he is trying to help his colleagues in the San Fernando police department after a double killing at a local pharmacy. Harry is the guy with the most extensive experience of dealing with this type of case, and his bosses have no real option but to let him call the shots. Harry does his best to keep things going in the right direction, while managing the resources and egos around him. And then there’s the small matter of the undercover operation…

If you have read any Bosch books, you will be on familiar territory. Harry’s half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer Micky Haller, is involved as one of the final showdowns is a courtroom drama. It’s well done, indeed, and confirms that the author is as sharp as ever.

Highly recommended.

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Spook Street – Mick Herron

Fourth in the generally excellent Slow Horses series (see here for reviews of 1-3), this is the weakest of the novels so far, primarily because it relies on too high a level of suspension of disbelief. But, if you can get over that, you will be rewarded with being able to enjoy the author’s wonderful cocktail of strong characters, snappy dialogues, and plain good writing.

This book begins with a terrorist atrocity in Britain. At the same time, current spook River Cartwright’s grandfather – an old spook – is rapidly descending into the hell of dementia.  The author does an amazing job – assuming you buy the central idea – of tying these threads together.

There are turns, twists, surprises, and pathos aplenty.

In short, if you have not read these books, start at the beginning. And do it now!

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