Fiction – February 2020

A month of solid good quality reading. Plenty to enjoy here.

The first in Garry Disher’s series featuring DI Hal Challis working at the Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, Australia. Fortunately for us readers, while Challis is a well drawn and interesting character, the supporting cast is more robust and also worthy of attention. The backdrop is superbly drawn, with nuggets of observational beauty peppering the descriptions of life and death in this part of the world. The main plot here is about a serial killer targeting young women. While the plot is not as complex as some of the genre, it has enough twists to satisfy and is credible. In short, a good police procedural novel.

Inspector Logan McRae to the rescue again in this bloody – very bloody – crime caper set amidst a Scottish political battlefield populated by pro and anti nationalist extremists. One public figure with strident acerbic view goes missing. The hunt uncovers some nasty stuff which somewhat complicates matters. As usual, the dialog has its moments of comedy.  If there’s a weakness, it’s that the supporting characters are generally lacking depth; this is the proverbial one man show. And, the caricature of some of the players as English haters is not the author’s finest moment. If you are, like me, following the series, this is essential reading. Newcomers should not start here.

My first Greg Iles book, this was on the whole impressive. Set in Natchez, Mississippi, it centers on the return home of Penn Cage, a widowed lawyer seeking to bring up his daughter.

Cage is drawn into a decades old murder of a black activist, public disclosure of his interest setting in train a series of troubles. Cage’s father is only one of the locals caught up in the event, and Cage has to at least try and carefully navigate the rocky road that’s mined with the best defense that vested interests can put up. There’s not only the inevitable racial strife, but the dark underbelly of corruption and cronyism.

This is a chunky read; a well constructed plot with a nicely done backdrop and some interesting characters and encounters. While parts of the book are way too much exposition, and sometimes the writing seems overcooked, the general flow is taut. This is a good storyteller. I may well be investigating the next in the series.

This is a collaboration by two talented authors about a sort of investigative collaboration by Alexander Blix of the police and Emma Ramm, celebrity blogger.

Blix’s backstory is that he once killed the father of a young girl in a hostage situation and the memory continues to haunt him. Ramm fills her time by writing mostly filler  pieces about celebrities. Meantime, a local celebrity doesn’t turn up for the launch of her autobiography, a book that is full of poison barbs. When it looks like the woman has been kidnapped, Blix and Ramm are, in their own ways, caught up in the hunt for the perpetrator. Who did she offend? Or was she simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Soon, it’s apparent that the investigation is being led in a particular direction, with the authorities trying to figure matters out before the list of victims grows.

The two main characters are, on the surface, interesting, but they will need more attention if they are to become more solid creations. The backdrop is OK, but nothing outstanding.

On the whole I enjoyed this. I thought the baddie’s motivation stretched credulity. However, with that put to one side, it was an entertaining and suspenseful crime novel. Oh, and the ending is quite a cracker.

This is a standalone novel featuring Alan Auhl, a formerly retired policeman brought back to look at cold cases. He’s a loner, dogged, diligent, and decent. But this detective has his flaws, and the dark side beckons.

There’s a mix of cases for him to tackle. All are well paced, enthralling, and draw Auhl on as much as the reader. The Australian backdrop is terrific – minimum words, maximum impact, Great stuff.

This is a good counterbalance to the Hal Challis novels with a bit more bite in places. The central character is great, and the storytelling is top notch. Highly recommended.