The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

I have long been a fan of Horowitz’s work – from his screen plays in Midsomer Murders to Foyle’s War, his Sherlock Holmes books and Magpie Murders, so was very excited to read his latest, The Word is Murder.

What an unusual and gripping book it is. Opening with a woman, Diana Cowper who, after planning her own funeral, is found dead hours later, this is not the most captivating element of this engrossing book. The most unusual and fascinating aspect is that Horowitz inserts himself as both narrator and a character into the story.

Drawn into the investigation of Cowper’s murder when it’s used to bait him into writing a book about the lead investigator, a curmudgeonly fellow named Hawthorne, Horowitz finds himself playing reluctant second-fiddle to the irascible and narcissistic ex-copper. Thrown out of the Met some years earlier for something he refuses to discuss with Horowitz, Hawthorne is nonetheless employed on a consultancy basis to run parallel investigations – the murder of Diana Cowper being one such instance. His policing talents, he informs Horowitz, being formidable.

Horowitz finds the story surrounding the murder too compelling and reluctantly agrees to write the book, shadowing the detective who, as the novel progresses, slowly reveals he is more than first impressions indicate.

When another body turns up after Diana’s actual funeral, Horowitz is not only hooked, but finds himself desiring to play detective as well. Only, he’s a far better writer than he is a gum-shoe investigator, and he finds himself putting his foot in it on more than one occasion.

Often self-deprecating, Horowitz’s unreliable narrator-writer-would-be-detective is also highly amusing. Not afraid to name-drop, the reader l

earns of meetings with the likes of Spielberg and Peter Jackson, his agonies over Foyle’s War and his Alex Jackson series of YA novels among many others. His relationship with his agent is woven into the story as are his writerly doubts, ego and undoubted joy in what he does – well, the agony and the ecstasy.

Playing with the genres of autobiography, biography, crime and mystery, Horowitz writes and is written into a book that celebrates and defies all of these. The main plot is intriguing enough to satisfy any crime buff, but what is delightful and extraordinary about this book is Horowitz’s role and the relationship between truth and fiction, characters and their creators, the art of writing versus the business and so much in-between.

A terrific page-turner of a novel that once you start, you’ll find impossible to put down.

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Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a marvellous, beautifully written novel that while it sits under the crime genre, is so much more than that.

When Cambridge University post-graduate student, Edith Hind – a privileged young lady whose parents not only have royal connections but friends in high political places –  goes missing, DS Manon Bradshaw, a self-described misanthrope is put on the case. A shade this side of 40, Manon seems to be the only one not too perturbed by the high-profile nature of the case – not even when every possible suspect has a water-tight alibi – Manon has more things than death and kidnapping on her mind. Yet, there is blood at the scene of Edith’s disappearance, suspicious circumstances and behaviours leading up to the event but, there’s no ransom note or any other clue as to where in the hell Edith is.

With the media breathing down their throats, time ticking and budget limitations, never mind stressed parents on their backs, the police are hard-pressed to know what to do. Every angle appears to lead to a dead-end or uncovers an element that bears no relevance to Edith’s disappearance.

In the meantime, Manon does her job and gets on with her rather miserable life. Stuck in the predictable rut of internet dating, she uses sex as a panacea for loneliness and just exacerbates her condition. With good friends and a reliable partner, however, it’s not all bad, especially not when a young street kid comes into her life.

However, there is the over-arching case and associated pressures of solving Edith’s disappearance and when more death follows, Manon begins to understand that they’ve all been looking in the wrong places and at the wrong people.

Superbly written with shifting points of view, allowing you to access other characters in the story in ways that are unusual to this genre, this story is an absolute cracker of a read. Insightful, deep characters with moving and logical interactions all set to a wonderful pace, this is a story you can get your teeth into. You see the crime from multiple perspectives, get to know all the police involved in the action and the people who are affected by what has occurred. You care deeply what happens and no more so than to Manon.

Filled with surprises and ah ha moments, more because of the rich street-philosophy and observations about people and life than anything, this was a joy to read. I didn’t want it to end. Cannot recommend highly enough for lovers of crime but also literary, well-written books with great plots and characters. Cannot wait to fall into another Susie Steiner.

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Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

513u4CwDsoLSent a copy of Daniel Coles’ Ragdoll by the publishers through NetGalley (thank you to both), I was excited to read a new crime book by a debut author. While the premise of the book was quite daunting and ugly (six dismembered bodies sewn together to form one Frankenstein’s monster), I was keen to see how Cole developed the professional and personal relationships of his leads, as well as resolved the hideous crime, in the first book in a series.

After reading a really charming foreword where readers learn Cole thought to write a screenplay after watching the character of Jack Bauer in the TV series 24 and, having his efforts rebuffed, wrote this novel, it’s easy to see the influence of what was, at the time, cutting edge television.

The main character in Ragdoll is Detective William (Wolf) Fawkes – his entire name forming the neat and symbolic anagram. Having disgraced himself and his profession in an earlier case, and served time, Fawkes is assigned to track down the ragdoll killer along with his former partner, the edgy Emily Baxter.

Complicated, irascible and capable, Wolf is a loner in every sense. Divorced from his wife, the anchor of a tabloid news show that is stalking the Ragdoll investigation’s every move and impeding it, he’s also loyal and believes himself smarter than everyone in the room. This is fair enough, as he mostly is – he’s also attractive to all the women, including his professional partner and ex and even a suspect in the crime. But for someone so smart, he really ends up doing some very silly things. This, frankly, annoyed me.

Well-written, paced and mostly plotted, I loved the first three-quarters of the book. But, for me, the last quarter lost a bit of credibility – and it was Wolf’s character that caused this. I was happily taken for the ride he started, enjoying the repartee between characters, pop culture references, the way tabloid TV and it’s unethical practises and cut-throat manner were exposed, and even the reminders of Wolf’s masculine superiority and inability to put himself first (unlike, apparently, his ex-wife – though she is redeemed – sort of) gelled. But, in the end, I found my credibility stretched to breaking point, even within the world Cole has created. While Jack Bauer got away with a great deal, it was partly because his organisation operated outside the law. Wolf tries to and while that’s fine, it’s how and why he does and what he gets away with (he is only a detective after all) which most often happens because others are prepared to risk their jobs and reputations for him or, worse, are conveniently blind to what’s going on, and the consequences of this that left me a bit disappointed.

Having said that, I do think this is a really good read, with some terrific writing that throws some interesting characters in the mix. And, though I was a tad disappointed with the outcome, I am looking forward to another instalment of the man called Wolf and his pack.

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The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte by Lesley Truffle

31306285The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte is the fantastically titled second novel by Melbourne-based writer, Lesley Truffle and I have to say, it is unlike any book I have ever read. Part historical fiction, part-fantastical and whimsical romp, part crime mystery, cooking extravaganza and cautionary fable, it’s also a picaresque novel that tells the tale of the irrepressible Sasha Torte, flame-haired daughter of a murderess and heiress to a bad reputation and melancholy, who becomes not only a world-famous pastry-chef in, of all places, the wilds of Tasmania in the early 1900s, but courts men, drugs and danger with abandon.

Told with Truffle’s wonderful flair, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of a book that opens with the heroine in a luxuriously appointed prison accused of murder. Deciding to pen her memoirs, Sasha then takes the reader back through her childhood, revealing how she grew up in a brutal and unconventional family surrounded by dedicated servants and a doting grandfather. As she matures, she learns to deal with nepotism, bullying, the cruelty of strangers and their kindness in equal measure. When her Aunt Lily enters her life, she finds a soul-mate and confidant to whom she can also aspire.

Launched into the society that wants to reject her, but finds they’re unable to resist her, the beautiful Sasha appears set to conquer not only men, but the globe.

But in earning devotion, Sasha also attracts enmity, even from those who purport to love her and it’s when the handsome Dasher brothers enter her sphere that trouble for Sasha and those she cares about looms large and deadly.

Featuring wilful, sassy and smart women, dedicated and dastardly men, horses, dogs, a psychic goldfish (no, I’m not kidding) ghosts, gangs, and, of course, amazing confectionary and pastries, this novel is fast-paced, enormous fun and heart-aching at the same time. Able to transport you from the docks of fictitious and rough Wolftown, to parties on wealthy estates, then sail you to London (where the Hotel Du Barry has a cameo role), Paris, Vienna and beyond, you find yourself captivated by Sasha – honest, steadfast and fair – as you ride the roller-coaster of her full and often tragic life.

For all its fantastical elements, the book coheres into a luminous whole, an adventure and story like no other that you feel the richer and more fulfilled for reading. Like one of Sasha’s sweet creations, it lingers in your mouth, head and heart long after you’ve finished it. Quite simply, it’s so completely different and a real treat.

 

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The Westminster Poisoner by Susanna Gregory

10577975This is the fourth Thomas Chaloner book I’ve read featuring the much put upon and impoverished former roundhead spy who now works for the ungrateful (and disloyal – to him) Earl of Clarendon. This time, a poisoner is at work killing the King’s clerks in brazen circumstances. When the Earl asks both Chaloner and a new man he’s appointed to investigate these crimes and the case of the king’s missing Bernini sculpture, setting them against each other, and the Earl’s own secretaries Bulteel and Haddon take bets on whether Chaloner or the new man will solve the cases, Thomas understands his job is at stake. But, it’s not only his employ that’s under threat. As usual, on the mean streets of Restoration London, it’s his life as well. With his only friend, his former boss, Thurloe, about to leave the city and his old friend, the former Puritan and now brothel madame, Temperance, fast losing patience with him and a new relationship with one of the queen’s ladies to foster, Thomas has his work cut out and many dangers to avoid – never mind worrying about where his next penny will come from.

But as the body count mounts and he’s no closer to solving the case, Thomas understands that his priorities and friendships may have to change…

Gregory has such a rich and detailed understanding of the period, of the complexities of the political, social and sexual machinations of the court, it’s sometimes hard to keep up as a cast of hundreds appear and disappear and the plot thickens until it almost congeals. Only, it doesn’t. Immersing the reader in the murky settings and even murkier plans of those who seek power at all costs, Gregory’s novels are a great way to rediscover history and cleave to a marvellous but also very human and flawed character, Thomas Chaloner.

Once again, I found part of the novel a bit slow and occasionally had to stop and remind myself who is who, but never did I lose my respect and appreciation for Gregory’s lovely writing and ability to recreate history and weave historical fact (detailed facts too and people) with fiction. It’s not surprising, considering Susanna Gregory is the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cruwys a Cambridge academic. She was also once a coroner’s officer, so her eye for detail and for being able to relate it in an authentic way is outstanding.

I do think this series is getting better and better and cannot wait to read the next instalment.

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