The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

This is the third book in the Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard series and, like the other two, it’s a cracker.

Semi-retired, Harry is still keeping his finger in the investigation pie when his old mentor, John Jack Thompson, dies, leaving him with a murder book for an unsolved case. Harry calls upon Renee to see if they can crack the 20-year old death of a young man.

But, the further they delve into the case, the further aspects of Thompson’s life and character are revealed, aspects that don’t represent him in such a positive light. Conflicted, but determined to uncover the reasons the murder book was removed from archives, both Harry and Renee start to wonder, is it because Thompson wanted the case cracked or was it to ensure it never got solved?

Once again, Connelly is able to meld the lead characters’ past and present, adding richness and depth to not only Harry and Renee, and also Harry’s brother, the Lincoln lawyer (who makes an appearance), but the cases they’re working. The social and cultural scene of LA is fabulously set as are the changes that twenty years has wrought. The dialogue is smart and real and what I really love about all Connelly’s books is there is a logic to the investigation and the steps Harry and Renee take that demonstrates not only their intelligence, but the barriers they encounter and how they need to be overcome if possible. Connelly also never steers away from exposing his main protagonists’ weaknesses and flaws as much as their strengths, and we love them all the more for it.

I was shocked to find Harry admits to being almost 70 in the book. Seventy! While it’s clear Harry is struggling with the notion of retiring, I think they’ll be a revolt when Connelly eventually allows our erstwhile hero to surrender his badge (properly). I’ve no doubt when that happens (and not too soon, I hope!), it will be with a bang and not a whimper.

Another fabulous addition to a taut, gripping and great series. 

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Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver, the second novel by Chris Hammer, commences virtually where his first, Scrublands, finished. Journalist Martin Scarsden is enroute to Port Silver, the place he grew up and where, with his new partner, Mandalay Blonde and her baby boy (who have gone ahead) he hopes to start afresh. But fate has other plans. 

When an old friend is brutally murdered in the hallway of the flat Mandy was renting on the day Martin arrives in town, he understands that not only are the ghosts he thought he’d laid to rest when he left Silver all those year ago still waiting to haunt him, but fresh spectres are set to destroy the plans he hasn’t even set in motion.

In the initial stages of the murder investigation, Mandy is both key witness and suspect, so Martin determines to prove her innocence. While Mandy may have blood on her hands, all is not as it seems – not in Martin’s relationship, his past and the terrible secrets it holds, nor the town he’s avoided for so long. When another horrifying event causes a media scrum to descend upon the tiny town, Martin finds himself not only reporting the story as it unfolds, but becoming, as is his inadvertent way, very much a part of it. But will he be able to write the happy ending he so desires?

This was a much denser book than Scrublands. The plot is thicker and, as a consequence, the exploration of character is as well. This worked both for and against the novel and sometimes, the story seemed to tread water as it became burdened with telling – mainly character backgrounds, as interesting as some were – rather than showing. Still, the writing is clear, evocative even, and the way Hammer represents the media, the drive to break the news, even at the expense of those who find themselves thrust into the spotlight, the ruthless behaviours and strategies deployed, is excellent. I also like that Scarsden and Mandalay are deeply flawed humans. It makes them both frustrating and real. I enjoyed this and look forward to seeing where Hammer takes us and possibly Scarsden next. 

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The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

How fabulous is this, hey? Anne Cleeves has started a new series and while I am disappointed I won’t get to read any more about Vera Stanhope or Jimmy Perez (the lead characters from her other respective series), it’s been exciting to get to know a new character. In The Long Call, the first book in the Two Rivers series, this lead character and detective is the rather gentle and self-effacing Matthew Venn. A man with an interesting and troubled past, having been raised and then rejected by an evangelical community, Matthew has a tendency to empathise with most people he encounters, even the criminal kind. The hard-bitten, gum-shoe detective he ain’t.

The book opens with Matthew as an outsider at his father’s funeral, a position to which Matthew is, sadly, sort of accustomed, as much as he’s tried to compensate for this as well. When he takes on his first major case in the Two Rivers area, Matthew has to both learn the strengths and weaknesses of his team as well as the area he and his beloved partner have moved into. But just when Matthew thought he could forge ahead personally and professionally, put his difficult past behind him, the killer lurking in the region has other ideas…

This book, like the first book in any good series, is a slow-burn. Beautifully written and constructed, the reader is taken into not only the crime that rocks a community, but the lives of those seeking to solve it, in particular, Matthew and his team. We’re given insights into the personal foibles and ambitions of all involved and it’s so typical of Cleeves that she says so much with so few words. Likewise, the area is brought to life with a few choice phrases, and it leaps off the pages in all its rainy, coastal and cold glory.

A wonderful, lose-yourself-in-an-armchair read. Cannot wait for the next instalment.

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The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Ever since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson was released, I have adored this series featuring one of the most original and feisty, bad-ass women in crime/thriller fiction, Lisbeth Salander. When David Lagercrantz took over writing the series in the wake of Larson’s death, like many, I was worried about how another writer could replicate and progress Larson’s characters, let alone his vision. Well, Lagercrantz has done a stellar job and his books are page-turners and thrillers par excellence. Up until this book, I also thought that Lagercrantz had kept Larson’s Lisbeth alive and kicking. However, in this latest instalment, there’s a sense in which she’s diminished. No, possibly that’s not the right word. There’s a sense in which her brilliance, her capacity to embrace both her dark and light sides, has weakened and thus this book doesn’t twinkle as brightly in the Salander/Blomkvist universe. However, it is very plot-drive – for better and worse – and it is still a well, written and mostly gripping read.

The novel opens with Lisbeth hiding in Moscow. There to enact vengeance, when push comes to shove, or gun to trigger, she finds herself unable to perform and is forced into the type of hiding on Lisbeth can pull off.

Concerned for Lisbeth’s welfare, back in Stockholm, Mikael Blomkvist is caught up in the death of a homeless man. Sadly not unusual in itself, a persistent coroner has cause to believe the man was murdered and asks Blomkvist to look into his background. Knowing Salander will be unable to resist, Mikael asks for assistance as well. What unfolds is a story of corporate greed, political machinations, ‘fake-news”, Russian cyber “troll-factories,” cover-ups, betrayal and murder.

There were parts of this book I raced through, eagerly anticipating how something was going to be resolved, but other parts were a bit pedestrian and dull by comparison. There are basically two storylines unfolding simultaneously and, frankly, one feels quite contrived (even though it’s interesting) while the other doesn’t quite meet the high standards Larson set and Lagercrantz has, up until this novel, easily met. I am possibly being hyper-critical because this was a good read nonetheless but there’s also a sense in which the Lisbeth we’ve grown to know and love is missing in action for too much of the book. As for Blomkvist, well, he’s in danger of becoming someone who rests on his impressive laurels. Let’s hope Lagercrantz doesn’t do the same.

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All That’s Dead by Stuart McBride

Each new addition to the Logan McRae series by Stuart McBride has become my “reward” book: that is, I set myself certain writing and research tasks and only once they’re finished do I permit myself to read the next installment in the life of Inspector Logan McRae and the motley band of loyal, hilarious, brave, foolhardy and often clever people who work with and, sometimes, against him. As a consequence, I relish the experience and then mourn when it’s over, knowing I have to wait at least a year until once more, I can be, albeit for a brief time, part of this madcap, dangerous world that is policing in Aberdeen, Scotland.

In this book, Logan, Steele, Rennie and co have to pit their wits against some Alt-Right Scottish nationalists who go on a spree, committing terrible atrocities against those they believe have betrayed Scottish independence and fostered more than cordial relations with the Brits. The results are bloody and terrifying and the criminals, though identified early, hard to pin down. As a result, the media make scapegoats of the police, representing the law as buffoons who are about as much use (as one great phrase in the book puts it) as a plasticine bicycle.

Against time and bad will, Logan and the team try to prevent another crime, another grisly death. But just when it seems they have all the answers, more questions surface which throw the entire investigation on its ear.

Filled with fabulous, quirky characters, crackling dialogue (that has you alternately splitting your sides laughing or appreciating the emotional depths of a seemingly simple phrase) and written at a pace that will keep you reading well into the night, this is another splendid addition to one of my all-time favourite crime series. Cannot wait for the next one. 

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