The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

The second book in Horowitz’s series featuring taciturn and egotistical retired detective, Hawthorne, The Sentence is Death, is absurdly excellent. 

The story opens with divorce lawyer Richard Pryce being brutally killed with a bottle of expensive wine and the numerals 182 being painted on the wall above the body. Called into aid the investigation being undertaken by an unpleasant and bullying female detective, Hawthorne insists Horowitz accompany him so he might add this murder to the books the author is writing about him. For that’s the marvellous premise of these clever, humorous and beautifully plotted books: Hawthorne has persuaded an unwilling (or at least, against his better judgement) Horowitz to write what will be essentially biographical novels about Hawthorne, featuring his skills as a detective and the cases he solves. As a consequence, the author is a character in his own novel, presenting himself as a rather bumbling Watson-style character to Hawthorne’s Sherlock, becoming a very appropriate foil for the detective’s undoubted and oft infuriating brilliance. 

Suspects present themselves with alarming frequency in this case as not only Richard’s present and high-profile legal cases leave a trail of clues as to the culprit, but the past also proves fertile ground. Hawthorne and Horowitz have to pull out all stops and make, not only leaps of imagination but find facts to uncover the killer. 

Self-deprecating, frustrated and torn between professional curiosity and fury at the way he’s treated by Hawthorne and other members of the constabulary, Horowitz waivers between regretting his decision to write about Hawthorne and wanting to quit. Fortunately, he persists. This case has him (and consequently, the reader) hooked. Laden with references to real writers, actors and thinly veiled swipes and praise for others, as well as his own family and work Horowitz genuinely undertakes (such as writing the television series, Foyle’s War), increases the frisson the novel already creates. 

A clever, easy read that already has me looking forward to the next installment. 

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The Blood Road by Stuart McIntyre.

Yet another sensational instalment in a Scottish crime series that even though it started fabulously, just keep getting better and better. In this latest “episode” DI Logan McRae and his team of Tufty, Rennie and the best written female detective in any series (alternately infuriating, funny, clever and outrageous), DS Roberta Steele, confront a shocking truth: someone they thought they’d buried and farewelled with mixed feelings is resurrected albeit, briefly. Nevertheless, the short return sets off a chain of events that lead Logan and his colleagues to confront a dreadful truth: someone is selling children at auction. There is nothing else that can explain the disappearance of young boys and girls from the local area nor the fact that no evidence or trail is ever discovered, leaving behind misery and despair – and not just for the parents.

But when Logan understand the connections between an old case, a difficult colleague and the current ones, a series of tragic events is set in motion that puts not just the force at grave risk, but innocent children as well.

As usual, McIntyre doesn’t steer away from exposing the terrible underbelly of Aberdeen and the type of crimes committed as well as the lives of perpetrators and their victims. Brutal, McIntyre also manages to not only introduce a gallow’s humour through his main characters, but the warmth of their interpersonal relationships and the desperate lengths they go to try and help the community and the victims of crime. Nevertheless, the ingratitude of society, the culpability of the media in generating this and the way in which even good intentions can not only be foiled but misrepresented and the consequences of this are all there on the page.

Rich in so many ways, the Logan McRae series (and associated spin-offs) are a fantastic read that I find myself savouring because I don’t want the book to end. Alas, it does, and now I have to wait what will seem an eternity for the next one. *sigh*

 

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The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

What a magnificent novel this is – the fact it’s a debut work makes it even more astonishing. It is at once, accomplished, tightly plotted, with beautifully crafted characters and a terrific setting – Galway, Ireland.

The book opens in 1993, when a young constable (Garda), Cormac Reilly is called out to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds the body of once-glamorous Hilaria Blake and, sadly, her two young children – the teenage Maude and little Jack, both of whom have clearly suffered years of neglect and abuse. It’s a case Cormac has never forgotten, especially when, after taking them to hospital at Maude’s insistence, she abandons her younger brother, never to be seen again.

The book them moves forward in time. In 2013, the reader meets a young, ambitious doctor, Aisling Conroy, on the cusp of a career move and faced with a huge personal choice. When her beloved boyfriend is found dead in the river, having committed suicide, and Cormac, newly transferred back to Galway and a DI, hears about the case, past and present collide.

As the investigation into the suicide proceeds,  the past and dark secrets let alone the lengths people are prepared to go to protect them are revealed, even people who, above all others, should be able to be trusted.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot except to say that it moves at a good, solid pace and is, at all times, plausible. Furthermore, Cormac is such a refreshing character for a plod. Filled with common sense and not one to take crap from his peers, he isn’t burdened by alcohol, nor is he a brooding loner with a string of broken relationships behind him (not that I mind those sort of cops, but they are becoming a wee bit of a cliché). Cormac is in a stable and loving relationship and, believe it or not – he actually talks to his partner and his peers about what’s bothering him! I know! I couldn’t believe it in this genre either!

The bleak Irish setting is marvellous and we move through the city and various towns with ease, guided by an expert hand.

I have to digress for a moment here and just have a bit of a rave about the quality of crime and mystery books being produced by Australian authors and publishers. From Katherine Howell, Candice Fox, Michael Robotham, to lately, Jane Harper and now Dervla McTiernan (and so many more), we are in the midst of a literary banquet and I love coming to sup at this imaginative table. Thank you.

If you enjoy crime or just an excellent read, then I cannot recommend this moody, atmospheric book with a fabulous central character and plot enough. Cannot wait for the next Cormac Reilly case.

 

 

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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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The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

28233082The Girl in the Ice is the first crime novel for Robert Bryndza, an author better known for his frothy romantic comedies and it’s a doozy. Opening with the gruesome murder of a young, privileged and rich society girl, a murder that will form the focus of the rest of the narrative, the novel takes off at a cracking pace that doesn’t relent until the past page.

Detective Chief Inspector, Erica Foster, transferred from Manchester to London after some kind of recuperative period, hits the ground of her new job sprinting. She not only has to try and solve a high-society crime with very few leads, but deal with the hostility of some of her colleagues and interference and direction from the powers that be as well. Furthermore, there is a terrible recent tragedy in her past, and the demons memories of this conjure almost highjack Foster’s return to work, making her job even more difficult.

When Foster and her team start to realise that the killer they’re trying to catch has struck before and will again, catching the murderer becomes a race against the clock and more personal than Foster and the force are prepared for.

From the very first page, the story grabs you by the collar and drags you along at a furious speed. It also doesn’t steer away from gruesome (but you never feel gratuitous) detail – murder, after all, is a grisly, horrid event that affects everyone involved. Foster, who arrives carrying more baggage than Heathrow, while arcing people’s backs up initially, quickly wins over the reader and the more reasoned of her colleagues with her work ethic, intelligence and warmth. The suffering she also experiences, the grief that tries to break her, also endears you to her as she does everything possible not to let this impact on her professionalism. As a character, she is both remarkably strong and yet possessed of a vulnerability that gives her depth and complexity and places you firmly on her side at all times.

Saying this, however, there were two very small things that bothered me with the novel: the first was that Foster repeatedly argues with her superiors and does some really ballsy things in order to get her own way (which does and doesn’t work). Smart and clearly able to negotiate the complexity of egos in the force, I wondered about her repeating some of her behaviours when she was initially punished for them (even though those doing the punishing were clearly stupid and ill-informed). Narratively convenient, the repetition didn’t ring true for such a steadfast and competent character.

The other small bugbear I have is that there are a few chapters told from the point of view of the killer who is denoted as “the figure”. I am not persuaded these added anything to an already tight plot and pace… on the contrary, they detracted in my humble opinion and deleting them would have made no difference to the story.

Overall, this was a terrific, fast-paced read that gives crime fans another rich and interesting cop to love, ache for and champion through the few highs and terrible lows of solving crimes. Can’t wait for the next one, which I have already ordered!

 

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