Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter

Firstly, I want to thank the publishers and Net Galley for providing me an ARC of this gripping novel.

This is the first book by Chris Carter I have read, though it is the 9th in the DI Robert Hunter series. This didn’t matter as it was easy to plunge into and get a sense of the central characters, especially Hunter who, according to everyone who knows and works with him is an intellectual force to be reckoned with. Heading up the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit within the LAPD, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia, think they have seen everything. That is until a gruesome discovery alters their assessment.

Not only is the body brutally disfigured, the room in which it is found is presented in such a way that it sets off alarm bells, not only in Hunter but, when more bodies are discovered, also violently dispatched and with a specific signature, the FBI as well. Joining forces, the LAPD and FBI are working against time and a strange and deadly psychopathy. They are also working against each other and must learn to put aside internal tensions and prevent the serial killer from striking again. But it’s not just the killer with a big ego and personalities and personal lives soon become intertwined with shocking consequences.

I mostly enjoyed this book and the characters. While the murders were gruesome, the rationale behind them was explained, and the narrative progressed steadily, building tension. However, two things bothered me in relation to character. The first was the main character Hunter. It felt as if the reader was continually being told, through other characters, how amazingly brilliant the man was, rather than being shown. That one of his colleagues makes the first major break-through in the investigation also undermines his apparent cleverness and people’s desire to impress him. I found that aspect a little frustrating and even rolled my eyes once! Apart from that, he was a fascinating character who, perhaps, is explored and explained in earlier books and that was one disadvantage of reading the ninth book in the series and would explain why these reminders of his intelligence and likeability kept appearing.

The other character that really got up my nose was the female FBI agent, whose name I appear to have forgotten already. Why the woman had to be the one to grandstand, rile and rub people up the wrong way and be such a pain in the arse (almost a caricature), I am not sure. I understand that in pop culture (and maybe even real life) enmity between the police and FBI is legendary, but surely, when a psychopath is on the loose, it’s time for the professionals to be just that: professional. Not for this woman agent. Some of her actions and comments were so OTT and I wondered how her partner could stand working with her let alone have genuine feelings. She was a silly cow much of the time. This also went some way to undermining the final chapters of the book and what happens. It was hard to have sympathy for someone who hadn’t been a good colleague, took offense at just about everything and went out of her way to aggravate people throughout most of the investigation.

Looking briefly at other reviews, no one else has passed comment on this, so maybe it’s just me. I have no issue with women being pariahs and pains, but again, it was so at odds with the loyalty and affection she commanded, what others said about her, I just felt the latter didn’t ring true. Again, the reader was being told not shown – though in this instance what we were told (by other characters) was the opposite of what we were shown. Actions were speaking louder and contradicting words.

Overall, however, I thought this was a really entertaining read – one which, despite a couple of minor misgivings, I really enjoyed.


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The Burning Man by Solange Ritchie

25359216I love a good crime book and, when I began reading The Burning Man by Solange Ritchie, I was delighted to find this is exactly what I’d been given to review – a good crime book – one in which we follow an horrific case through the eyes of both a top FBI forensic pathologist, Dr Cat Powers, and that of the perpetrator – a killer with a twisted, maniacal mind.

Basically, a series of dead women are found, all of whom have been brutally tortured. Cut with precision all over their body and with acid poured into their wounds, it’s clear these young women have suffered. But what links them and why have they particularly been targeted?

Assigned to the case, Cat is forced to leave her young son in the care of her estranged husband as, along with a group of other police and agents, she determines to hunt down the killer before he strikes again… Only, he does. Yet, it’s the victim he’s determined to add to his growing tally that makes this case suddenly very, very personal for Cat.

A driven woman, one whose intelligence, talent and hard work has taken her far in her career, Cat is nonetheless torn between the eternal binary of family versus professional life. Respected by those she works with, she is also aloof and it’s really only the reader and one or two of the men with whom she works who are given an insight into what makes her tick and her various vulnerabilities – the latter which come to the fore as the killer tries to manipulate her and those she loves.

The writing in the first two-thirds of the book is mostly very good. While there are some repetitions in terms of character motivation and even odd decisions that seem out of character for not only Cat, but the other people who populate the book – for example, Cat flies here, there and everywhere at a crucial point in the case and narrative when, surely, other options (eg. telephone, skype or relying on colleagues in situ) would have made much more sense. She also makes a really silly decision towards the climax – one that doesn’t sit with this strong and smart woman – there is a consistency to the attitudes being expressed and the processes unfolding.

Now, while I really enjoyed the first two thirds, even three-quarters of the book, something happened in the latter half that had me most perplexed. The narrative (after a silly choice by Cat) suddenly jumps all over the place. At one stage, I thought we were in the middle of a dream sequence and had to go back to ensure we were not. Sense is briefly lost and, as we build towards the climax, it’s hard to makes sense of the action – someone appears to get shot and is bleeding all over the place, then they appear to be well enough to do quite physical things. The killer and Cat are also involved in scenes that are fraught with problems in terms of logic and it was hard for this reader at least, to suspend her disbelief. I started to lose interest.

After a very promising start, the end was disappointing in terms of plot and writing. Nevertheless, I think for the most part, the book itself is quite good, though the murders were incredibly and sometimes gratuitously gruesome, there was a cracking pace set and in the lead character, Cat Powers (a name laden with symbolism) there is a strong woman with many cases left to solve.



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Book Review: The Broken Sword

What a miThe Broken Sword (Forever King, #2)xed bag this book was! As the sequel to the magnificent,  The Forever King, I have to say, The Broken Sword is more than a little disappointing. Picking up a few years after the events in the first book, it continues the story of Arthur Blessing, Mr Taliesin – the Merlin – and Hal. Just like in the first book in the trilogy, there is an evil force embodied in a man, trying to claim the grail cup and destroy Arthur. And so the adventure continues – from the Middle East, to Europe and the UK and ultimately, New York.
Whereas The Forever King was fast-paced, cinematic and often unpredictable, The Broken Sword was mostly pedestrian and predictable, repeating too many tropes and characteristics from first book, and suffering by comparison. For example, whereas Saladin was an incomparable and quite scary villain, Thanatos was a caricature. As a reincarnated knight, Hal the former FBI agent and recovering alcoholic struggles to keep reader interest and, frankly, some of the scenes with the Knights of the Round Table didn’t gel. That an ancient knight can drive a truck, let alone ride a motor bike and seemingly embrace contemporary life and technologies with such ease was hard to swallow. Also, some of the plot resolutions were a little too ex machina for my liking and had me rolling my eyes. I became frustrated that I was expected to take such a leap of faith. However, just when I was about to toss the book aside in disgust, a wonderful back story, steeped in the fundamentals of Arthurian myth (with modifications), or some tight action in the present appeared and reminded me of what I so enjoyed in The Forever King – neat, imaginative prose and powerful storytelling.

Saying that, I do believe The Broken Sword relies too much on telling rather than showing, a cardinal sin in a novel. But, when the authors do show, they are damn fine.

I will read the third book but I have to say, my expectations are not so high. I hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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