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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The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Can this guy write a bad book? If The Wrong Side of Goodbye is anything to assess the others by (and it is) the answer is a categorical and resounding “NO!” Frankly, this crime series is one of the most consistently terrific I have read, and over so many instalments.  Just when you think Harry Bosch, can go no further, do no more, fail to surprise you, Connelly takes your expectations and dashes them. He takes Bosch and thus the reader to the most unexpected heights and thrilling of places – emotionally, physically (even for an ageing cop) and psychologically, but without once asking you to suspend your disbelief.

imgres-2Working in a part-time position for the San Fernando PD, Harry, who also has a Private Investigator ticket, is asked by an ageing, wealthy tycoon to find out if he has an heir from a love affair he had many years ago. With no family to leave his billions, the reclusive old man hopes to leave his estate to family as opposed to the board of directors currently in line to inherit. Harry is to work only with this man and reveal anything he discovers only to him.

Unable to refuse a cold case that may as well have come out of a freezer (and a decent pay cheque), Harry accepts, and it’s not long before he discovers a connection to the man during the VietNam war. Before he can pass on the information, the billionaire dies. When the circumstances of his death turn out to be suspicious and Harry is warned off pursuing the notion of an heir further, Harry does what he does best: refuses to be bullied or threatened.

When Harry asks his half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, to help him, the ante is upped and the danger grows – not just to Harry, but to those he cares about deeply.

In the meantime, the hunt for a serial rapist tightens and when a colleague’s life is put on the line, Harry stops at nothing to save her, his reputation and bring criminals to justice.

I really don’t want to say too much more about this book except Connelly is so on the money in terms of plot, character and the depth of history and, dare I say, nostalgia for a young Harry and his pre-police life (and that beckoning him from the shadows of retirement) this book evokes. It’s not simply about the cases Harry investigates, but about the relationships he forges and the bonds he forms, professionally and personally. I love the way Harry’s character is so consistent across the novels – the way he grows, or refuses to change and how he simply will not compromise his ethics.

This is a wonderful addition to the Bosch canon. I just wish they weren’t so readable so I could put them down, if just to savour the stories and make them last that bit longer.

As it is, I can’t wait for the next one.

 

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The Black House by Peter May

11713120The Black House, the first book in the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May is simply sensational. Set on one of the northernmost islands in the Outer Hebrides, it tells the tale of Fin McLeod, a Lewis native who has been living in Edinburgh for the past 18 years. A Detective Inspector, Fin is sent to Lewis to investigate the murder of a man who, it turns out, went to school with Fin and was generally regarded as no-good thug. While Fin’s knowledge of Gaelic was considered when sending him north, it doesn’t endear him to the man in charge of the case nor to some of those he once called friends. 18 years is a long time between drinks and Fin left Lewis the way he has returned, with secrets in his heart and ghosts to lay to rest. But when one of the ghosts returns to haunt and harass him, Fin finds it not just those keeping his secret he has to protect, he has to watch his own back as well.

Beautifully told and masterfully plotted, this is poetic and character-driven writing at its best. May places you right there in wind-swept, ruggedly beautiful Lewis, amidst the machair and under the grey skies pierced by sunlight. Segueing between first and third person, past and present, Fin’s personal story from child to adult and that of the current investigation begin to intersect and become clear, all of which builds to an utterly breath-taking and simply stunning climax.

I put this one down so reluctantly and quickly picked up the next book in the series. I am so happy I discovered May because he has so many books to his name, and now I have a new author in whose work I can lose myself.

A sublime read.

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The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

30832002The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift is one of two books (the other is The Gilded Lily, but read this one first) that basically deal with a similar set of characters during the same period in British history, 1660 and the Restoration. Instead of being set in London or focussing on the royal family, aristocrats, and their various scandals (as so many wonderful novels set in this period are wont to do), this novel tells the story of Alice Ibbetson, a talented painter and the grieving wife of Thomas Ibbetson. Mourning the death of her younger sister a year earlier, Alice is finding it difficult to embrace life and even tolerate the demands of her rather dullard husband. Finding solace in her painting, she has become obsessed with not simply flowers, but capturing the beauty of various plants for posterity. When a neighbour, the rather strange but also fascinating Quaker, Richard Wheeler, shows Alice the location of a rare and very beautiful orchid called The Lady’s Slipper, which also happened to be her sister’s favourite flower, Alice knows she can’t merely paint it, but must preserve it for the future.

When the flower disappears and a pair of lady’s slippers go missing as well and then a local healer, Margaret Poulter is found murdered, suspicion is rife and there are those with their own motives keen to lay blame for both the flower’s disappearance and the death at Alice’s door. When Alice’s maid, the selfish and rather lazy, Ella, who’s been having an affair with Thomas, presents evidence linking Alice to the crimes, not even the truth and justice of Quakers can save her.

Using the beauty of nature as a theme to explore the ugliness of which human nature is capable, the title is a clever nod to two very different variations of “lady’s slippers” both of which set off a chian of catastrophic events. As the plot twists and turns and characters are tested and mostly found wanting, this book explores loyalty, faith, greed and loss as well as what lengths people will go to protect their power – even before each other.

Dark at times, what I particularly liked about it is that no character is clearly “evil” or “good”. It’s a strength of Swift’s writing that all the characters, even the heroine, Alice, are not above questionable behaviour that has the reader recoiling at times, even if we understand their motives.

Swift also recreates the period beautifully – from clothes, to social ranks, food, faith and politics.

A terrific read for lovers of historical fiction and a fine book.

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Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham

25887021I couldn’t believe my eyes when, upon looking for books to read over Christmas, I discovered I’d missed (missed!), the publication and thus acquisition of Michael Robotham’s latest, Close Your Eyes, earlier in the year. Yep – mine were shut, weren’t they! I can only plead work as an excuse. So, while I was disappointed I’d missed reading the novel when it first came out, I was thrilled to know another Joseph O’Loughlin adventure was there for me to devour – and that I did.

When the bodies of a mother and daughter are found in a farmhouse, one brutally murdered, the other carefully arranged on a bed with barely a mark upon her, suspicion falls upon the neighbours, estranged members of the family and the multiple online sexual partners of the mother. Against his better judgement and despite promises to the contrary to his family, Joseph is drawn into the case, one that’s not only baffled the officers in charge but has been seriously undermined by the leaking of details to the press and accusations of incompetence levelled by a man who fancies himself as a celebrity-psychologist. A former student of Joe’s, Milo Coleman, the so-called “Mindhunter” is arrogant and reckless and feeling somewhat responsible, Joe agrees to help Chief Superintendent Veronica Cray –not only with the case, but in trying to reign in Milo’s ambitions.

But the perpetrator is also watching and the closer the Mindhunter comes to destroying public faith in the force and Joe to cracking the case, the closer the killer lurks as well.

In the meantime, Joe has been asked to move back with his wife while she undergoes an operation. Ignorant as to the state of Julianne’s health, Joe is horrified to learn that her condition is very serious. Trying to balance the case with caring for his wife’s well-being and that of his two daughters, conflict arises when his eldest daughter reveals she too wants to be a clinical psychologist like her father and demands he include her, when appropriate, in his investigation.

Soliciting the help of his old mate, Vincent Ruiz, not even the combined efforts of Joe and Vincent can keep Joe’s family safe, particularly when killers come in all sorts of guises and when you least expect it…

I am not going to reveal any more except to say, as usual, Robotham has written a cracker of a book with a terrific plot, dialogue that both simmers and sparkles and prose that is poetic an moving in parts and fast-paced and riveting in others. There are rich and rounded characters with whom you identify so strongly (no more so than Joe), and an ending that will leave fans of the series reeling. I cried a tissue-box.

I simply adore this writer’s work and this series in particular and cannot wait to read the next instalment for which I will keep my eyes peeled!

 

 

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