Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Pestilence is sweeping England, having arrived on its shores from Europe and sparing few. Camelot, a scarred and old medieval pedlar of relics, is doing a reasonable trade as the superstitious and religious seek any talisman they can to ward off fear and sickness. Against his better judgement, Camelot finds himself in the company of a group of strangers, all brought together through circumstance and forced to travel across England, doing everything in their power to avoid not only the judgment of the plague, but the deadly force that appears to be following them.

Told from Camelot’s point of view, this tale, set during 1348, is gripping. Over a period of months and across the desolate and literally dying English landscape and villages, we’re introduced to a disparate group of people – from Zophiel, the sharp-tongued and angry magician and his curmudgeonly horse, to Cygnus, the one-armed story-teller, a pregnant woman and her painter husband, a pair of talented Italian musicians, a troubled midwife, and the silver-haired Narigorm whose reading of the runes and strange prophecies fill them all with foreboding. As the reader gets to know each character and the dreadful secrets each person carries, we’re also plunged into the terrible realities of pestilence-torn England and the impact all the deaths and the superstitions they arouse have on society. The historical details are masterfully woven through the tale; the belief systems – both Christian and pagan – are juxtaposed and their power to influence behaviour – good and bad – are sharply and terribly drawn.

This was a marvellous book, beautifully written which draws you into this strangely claustrophobic world where friends are strangers, strangers potentially deadly and lies are safer than the truth… or are they?

For lovers of terrific books, mysteries and well-written and researched history. Sensational.

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Mosaic by Michael C. Grumley

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, both knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others both “good” and “bad”, all working to understand or subvert and control a mysterious and powerful substance, gets taken to the next level.

Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and it’s implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission. 

Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favorites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction.

Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s evident Grumley’s cares about his story and the characters that populate it and, as a consequence, the reader does as well.

I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort of Avatar meets Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Dr Doolittle. I am just astonished that a major publisher or production company hasn’t picked them up. James Cameron? Where are you? Grumley’s series is waiting for you. My only disappointment is that I have to wait so long for the next book. 

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Wildfire, Shetland #8 by Ann Cleeves

I have simply adored the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Beautifully written, atmospheric, filled with characters that are rich and flawed and who you champion and, better still, understand, these are superb novels. The islands that make up the Shetland group are brought to life with all their quirks and uniqueness, much like the locals. But it’s Jimmy Perez, the “emotionally incontinent” Detective Inspector, single father and widower who steals the show.

I think this is why, after investing in Jimmy so deeply and feeling like I knew what makes him tick, I found this final book in the series less than satisfying. While the central crime and plot surrounding it were terrific, it was Jimmy’s actions and motivation that didn’t feel true to the man we’ve grown to know and, like his love-interest Willow, adore. Not only that, but it felt as if the last part of the book was hurried, as if Cleeves had grown bored with her main characters and just wanted to bring the saga to an end. This was disappointing. After spending so much time with Perez and co, enjoying the warp and weft of the narrative threads and seeing the tapestry come together, it seemed to unravel a bit as it was rushed and untidy.

Maybe it was just me, but I have left the Shetlands and Perez, Sandy and Willow a wee bit frustrated and, after being welcomed as a local, feeling very much a soothmoother.


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The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

The latest book in the Joseph O’Loughlin series, The Other Wife is a cracker of a read that I dare you to be able to put down once you start. I forced myself only so I could savour the joy of a great story with characters I’ve grown to know and love and who are embroiled in a plot both dark and, for Joe at least, deeply, personal.

The book opens with Joe relocated to London with youngest daughter Emma, contemplating life after the death of his wife, when he receives the call adult children both dread and half anticipate: his eminent surgeon father has been admitted to hospital and is on life support.

Racing to be by his father’s side, Joe reflects upon this cold, distant and judgemental man he barely knew and yet whose approval he endlessly sought. When he arrives at ICU, his father is not alone. A younger, lovely woman is sitting by his side, clutching his father’s inert hand. But it’s when she tells Joe who she is, that his world is turned upside down and inside out.

Everything Joe thought he knew is now unstable and with each new piece of information, he seems to lurch from one discovery and response to another. Not even the grounding presence and help of Vincent Ruiz, retired cop and now a corporate investigator, provides the stability Joe needs.

The more Joe delves into his own and other’s histories, the more suspicious he becomes about what really happened to his father and why, but when the truth is finally revealed, not even Joe is prepared for the consequences.

Superbly written, tight, fast-paced and emotionally fraught yet always true, this is a magnificent book that puts family and personal histories under the microscope and doesn’t hold back. It’s explores the assumptions we make – about those we think we know and those we don’t. How unfair and self-righteous these sometimes are and the terrible outcomes that can occur when we’re swift to judge.

No-one is more honest or raw in his judgements than Joe – especially about himself. I think that’s what makes his character rich, real and so appealing. Flawed, vulnerable and yet with a strength he isn’t always aware of, this book really has him centre stage, placed in an oft-cruel spotlight under which he still manages to star.

My only disappointment (as always happens with Robotham) is that I now have to bloody well wait for his next book. Please don’t leave me waiting too long. This was stunning.


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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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