Dark Skies, DCI Ryan #& LJ Ross

This is the last instalment in the DCI Ryan series currently available (at the end we’re told to expect the next oImage result for Dark Skies L J Rossne early 2018). In this novel, DCI Ryan investigates the case of a body at the bottom of a reservoir. Found by a tourist doing a diving course, its discovery is timed with arrival of Ryan’s wife, Anna, and a mini-bus-load of her masters’ students engaged in a history study of the region. Since the body has been there at least 30 years and this appears to be a cold case, Ryan reassures Anna it’s OK to continue with her history trip. Only, when more bodies start turning up, both Ryan and Anna come to deeply regret their initial decision she remain.

To make matters worse, Ryan’s new boss who is also an old, unstable and manipulative flame, is making her presence felt, driving wedges in both friendships and professional practice. Not only does Ryan have an unhinged killer to deal with, but a woman scorned and Shakespeare warned us what they are like.

The book is tightly plotted and paced and hard to put down and I did really enjoy it. However, I am a little concerned that once again, there’s a rotten cop in the shop determined to bring Ryan and what he’s built down, and though The Hacker has gone, it’s like a carbon copy of him has been resurrected. More caricature than believable, I am very interested to see if he will be fleshed out and become the threat Ross clearly intends. Likewise, with Ryan’s boss, whose motives and actions seem so transparent, it’s ridiculous he and his friends appear to be the only ones to see it!

Still, it’s testimony to Ross’ prose and how much you come to care for the main characters that you simply have to have resolution and keep turning the pages. The repetitions could also be regarded as clever narrative devices, and I will reserve judgment to see where these two antagonists take the tale.

The descriptions of the area the crimes occur in are delightful and there’s no doubt, landscape becomes as much a character in this book. I would have liked to have more character to the villains and less reliance on repetition, but that’s just me. I like shades of grey instead of black and white, clear cut “goodies” and “baddies.” But I do enjoy this series and hope it’s not long before the next book appears.

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Extraordinary People by Peter May

18867320I read Extraordinary People by Peter May, the first in what’s called the “Enzo series” during a May reading binge. Whether it was because I simply adored his Lewis books, Entry Island and Coffin Road and expected more of the same and therefore wasn’t thrilled with the change of direction and tone or whether it was because this book featuring the forensic expert, the Scotsman Enzo was a bit Dan Brown-lite, I’m not sure. Needlesstosay, I didn’t find it extraordinary, but nor was it ordinary either. It was somewhere in the middle. Good without being great, which is fine.

The novel introduces readers to middle-aged Enzo who gave up his life and first wife and daughter in Scotland to follow his lover and heart to France many years earlier. Reduced to teaching biology in Toulouse and dealing with the anger of the daughter from which he’s alienated and basking in the love of his second and younger daughter with his now dead lover, Enzo is very affable and clearly clever.

When an old journalist acquaintance basically dares him to crack a cold case involving the disappearance of a famous person, Enzo is up for the challenge. What he doesn’t anticipate is a treasure hunt replete with clues, sometimes a map, and grisly body parts which all point to the man they’re searching for being dead, but nothing to reveal the murderer.

It’s only when Enzo (and the group he’s gathered around him), using brawn and brains starts to get close to the killer’s identity, that his own life and that of those he loves is placed in danger. The dare is no longer a game, but deadly serious…

Well written, well paced, I am not sure why this novel didn’t resonate like the others. I think the hunt drags a bit, some of the characters are two-dimensional and some of the secondary characters and their motives detract from the prime narrative.

I did find I was turning pages and wanting to know what happened and can easily rate the book 3.5 stars, but I am not sure I care enough about Enzo or his adventures to embark on another one. But I still really rate Peter May and I know other people have simply relished this book and the series.

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The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves

21421297I have never before read an Ann Cleeves book (though I have watched and thoroughly enjoy the television series, Shetland, which is based on some of her books), but if The Sleeping and the Dead is any indication of her talent, then I look forward to reading many more.

The Sleeping and the Dead, while a crime novel, is also a psychological thriller. Set in the present, the body of a teenager that has been submerged in a lake for 30 years bobs to the surface, catapulting both the investigative team and those who knew the dead man to explore events that happened a long time ago.

The detective heading the case is a man called Peter Porteous. A loner, he has his own personal demons to deal with. Thorough and old-fashioned, it would be easy to regard him as Inspector Plod, but to do so is to underestimate a man who has seen it all and thus understands how to balance work and life.

Memories are tricky things, and there are many characters in this book with connections to the dead teenager who have secrets to hide, and knowledge they’d rather forget. One in particular is Hannah Cranwell, a prison librarian, who years earlier had a close connection with the dead man and motive for killing him. When someone else involved in the case turns up dead, suspicion once more falls on Hannah.

With what appears to be an eidetic memory, what is that Hannah is not telling Porteous and his colleagues? And why are so many of the people involved not telling the complete truth?

This was a terrifically paced and beautifully written book that had me right until the end where it sort of ended with a whimper, not a bang. After being immersed in the story, I sort of pulled away thinking, “is that it?” and felt slightly disappointed. After drawing the characters and setting so well and establishing great back-stories for the central characters, the links between the murderer and the victims was, in the end, tenuous to say the least. The motivation for murder was incredibly weak; it was not convincing – especially since everything else was so real and logical.

Overall, however, I did enjoy it. I just feel the end, to borrow from the play that forms a centrepiece to the book, Macbeth, was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”

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Book Review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

The latest in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly, The Black Box, more than delivers.

While this book is part of a series featuring the wonderfully named detective, Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, and there are rich rewards for readers who have followed the life and adventures of the main character, the beauty of Connelly’s books means that new readers can come to this book with no Bosch baggage and still receive so much pleasure – the type that comes from reading an author who is a master of both his craft and the genre.

Now a member of the cold case squad, Bosch, who has been given an extra five years on a special contract (DROP) so he doesn’t have to retire, finds himself reinvestigating a murder he originally encountered twenty years earlier. Back then, a young and lovely Danish reporter, Annika Jeppersen, was shot dead during the LA riots. Due to the increased crime at the time and the demands placed on the police, Bosch was forced to hand over the investigation to the Riot Crimes Task Force and the case was never solved. It was one that never really left Bosch and when it’s handed back to him two decades later, he determines to uncover the murderer, even at the expense of his reputation and his job.

The “black box” is the name Bosch gives to the one piece of evidence that, like the black box flight recorder in a plane, explains all the other clues, creates a clear context that leads to the murderer and often the motive. Working alone, Bosh is at first unable to piece the evidence together, but when he discovers the all-important “black box” everything changes. Bosch’s instincts that Jepperson’s death wasn’t simply collateral damage from a city out of control, but the result of a deliberate murder, proves right. What Bosch doesn’t expect is that this discovery will lead him to uncover a conspiracy that goes back decades and involves people at the highest levels…

While the novel contains the usual elements of suspense and the inevitable piecing together of the murder puzzle and coming to grips with suspects, what makes the Connelly books terrific is that all of the nuts and bolts of crime writing is interwoven with aspects of Bosch’s private life – the way he struggles to do the right thing by his daughter as a single dad and the growing pains of a new romantic relationship – giving him extra dimensions and humanising him in wonderful ways. Bosch is so ethical and yet, he also doesn’t suffer fools, endearing him to everyone but his superiors and the criminals who often underestimate him.

Connelly has this terrific capacity to make even the predictable (in terms of the investigation) unpredictable and when Bosch makes a few poor choices, his future in terms of career and even his life, keep the reader guessing.

If you enjoy well-written crime and great characters, then make sure you pick up Connelly. I did and my only regret is that he can’t write faster!

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