Fiction – April 2020

Despite the cover quotes, I didn’t like this. The central character did not interest me. Neither did the overlong passages of text where nothing happened other than the word count going up. In my opinion, over hyped and under-edited. First miss from this author.

Novella in the typical K. J. Parker style: a first person dialog from someone whose narrative – telling of his experiences as an exorcist – may not be the whole truth, in a fantasy world that reflects all of humanity’s failings. Easy to read, entertaining, and fun.

A youngster is kidnapped but escapes. The police are sure the victim knows who committed the crime, but the youngster is refusing to name anyone. Why? Though the writing is often a bit clunky, this is a great story, breathlessly told, and highly enjoyable.

Who is it who slaughtered the young man in the forest? And why? D.I. Helen Grace to the rescue! This is decent enough crime novel that doesn’t ever rise above that level. Not bad, but not the best.

Now you’re talking! Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf, is an investigator who gets himself too deeply involved in a case involving the brutal murder of a friend. Circumstances force Caleb back to his home town of Resurrection Bay, meeting up with his ex-wife and her extended family. But this is no refuge. A taut tale that sharply exposes the racism the aboriginal community in Australia endures, as well as the outright injustices. Caleb is a great character, a detective with more than one challenge in his life. way. You do not want to miss this, the first in a well received series.

I’ll be brief: number two in the Caleb Zelic series. You want to read this.

Yes, that True Grit, the one that was made into a John Wayne film. It’s the tale of Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old girl of unusual maturity and focus, seeking justice for the slaying of her father. Rooster Coburn, ex-Confederate cavalryman, is no one dimensional hero or baddie, but he is the one recruited to do the job. The book is wider in its range than the film, and has many more comical moments. I get the impression reading this wonderful story that Charles Portis would have made an excellent dinner guest.

Whatever this was trying to be – psychological drama, horror, or fantasy – it didn’t work. It bored me to bits. Avoid.

This is the first Nils Shapiro story which I read out of sync, having already finished Broken Ice back in August 2019. Shapiro is a private detective, in this case investigating the death of a divorcee at the suggestion of a former police colleague. In addition to the challenges faced there, such as the involvement of the FBI (who want Shapiro well away) our hero is trying to get over his ex-wife and facing struggles in his private life. While a bit raw in places, overall this was pretty good. The character and backdrop are well done, and the dialog has its moments.

This is a Cold War spy novel, featuring grizzled espionage expert Harry Mackintosh in an operation that goes badly wrong. Seeking his revenge, Mackintosh recruits safe cracker Jimmy Walker. You can see where this is going. On the plus side, the story races along and the tension is well maintained. There are twists and turns and some veritable stretching of plausibility in some corners of the plot. On the down side, the writing is workmanlike rather than elegant. And there are chunks of cliche punctuating the portrayal of the characters. Overall, OK, but nothing more.

Liar, Liar – M J Arlidge


This is the fourth of a crime series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace, and as I said in my review of the third book, she is:

“…a female character of some complexity and depth, and for that alone we should be grateful.

Last time around, I wasn’t overly impressed, but was willing to give the author another chance. Well, I am glad I did. This book is much better than the last.

Once again, Grace is the key character. There’s a dangerous arsonist at loose in her city, and the pressure rises as the body count rises. Can Grace hold it all together – because again she has a lot on her plate – and catch the perpetrator?

The tension is gripping. The writing is sharper, and the short chapters deliver a very good page turning experience. However, while the story is cracking along, there are one or two well done – and not overdone – moments of sharp observation; times when the author fleshes out the world that is being described.

There is a fine game of smoke (ahem) and mirrors going on as the author drops the clues unobtrusively, while the plot is ever so slowly unwrapped.  The story, when viewed in retrospect, is a dark, dark tale, well told. It fits together like the much compared jigsaw, and does not stretch the imagination too much. And the twists are well crafted, too.

Grace is an interesting, believable, character. By way of a bonus, some of the subsidiary characters are nicely built up to bring a better range to the story and the background.

I was not impressed by the editing in the last book. In this I only spotted one clanger, and given how much I enjoyed it can only congratulate whoever was responsible on a job well done.

On the whole, a much better book, and one that means I will be waiting keenly for the next. Recommended as an easy, entertaining, chilling read. A good one.


The Doll’s House – M J Arlidge

This is the third of a crime series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace, a female character of some complexity and depth, and for that alone we should be grateful.

In this book, Grace – while battling internal enemies and worrying herself sick about her missing nephew – tackles a serial killer who likes to kidnap and kill young girls. We are given a good insight to the character of the latest victim, and that is some of the strongest writing in the book.

The hunt for clues and the general progress of the police investigation did not come across so well, with some of the writing very much falling into the let me tell you what’s going on here, dear reader mode. The baddie’s portrayal is a bit lackluster, too. That having been said, the author does more than enough to build up the tension nicely.

The plot was passable, the pacing – as hinted above – was good, the characters a mixed bunch, and all in all this was an OK book, rather than a great read. I have this suspicion – completely untested – that a quality editor let loose on the manuscript could have really sharpened the impact. As it was, it came across as just another crime book, with only Helen Grace to make it rise above the masses.

I won’t be reading any of the earlier books, but will probably keep an eye open for newer outings to see if things improve.