Digging up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Described as a cosy-mystery, I was really looking forward to getting into Pamela Hart’s latest book, Digging Up Dirt, a relatively new direction for this prolific and much-loved author as well. 

Poppy McGowan is a researcher for the education arm of the ABC, responsible for producing kids’ TV shows. She’s recently bought her dream home, an old settler’s cottage with more history than she bargained for. When bones are discovered beneath the floor mid-renovation and everything grinds to a halt while heritage investigate, Poppy finds herself incredibly frustrated. When one of the heritage experts is found murdered in her home, things take a turn for the worse. Suspected of the crime and then willingly roped into solving it, Poppy is a resourceful, determined woman who finds ways to make people talk. The reader meets her boyfriend, her family and the new man that wanders into her life,as well as a cast of well-drawn characters. 

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read, though I wouldn’t really call it “cosy” as in many regards, the novel pulls no punches, not only with a violent death and thus who-dunnit at the centre, but because it also tackles some hard-hitting themes such as domestic violence, feminism, racism, homophobia as well as Pentecostal religion. The book doesn’t steer away from critiquing the control these kinds of faiths can exert over their followers (and the kind of fiscal demands they make) as well as the hypocrisy that can lie at the heart of any institution which relies on power structures to function. I really enjoyed this aspect very much, and while it will push some people’s buttons, I’m all for that when reading.

Thoroughly enjoyed what I hope sincerely hope is indeed, as the subtitle promises, a first book in a new series. 

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Girl, 11 Amy Suiter Clarke

Girl, 11 is a crime novel about a serial killer who, twenty years before the book opens, murdered a number of women and girls without ever being caught. A methodical person with an obsession with numbers, the killer picks up young woman in descending age, keeps them for a period and then deposits their bodies for the authorities to find and their broken families to mourn. Most people believe the killer died in a catastrophic fire which also destroyed the body of the last girl he took.

True Crime podcaster, Elle, has long been fascinated by the TCK (the Countdown Killer), so when she starts to release a weekly podcast featuring a new angle on the investigation and interviews with the retired chief investigator, medical people, bereaved parents, it quickly becomes popular. But popularity isn’t necessarily a good thing and attract numerous trolls and personal threats as well. Yet, it seems as if Elle is on the cusp of learning the identity of TCK and, when someone about to give her crucial information is killed, she’s convinced the murderer has surfaced again.

Understanding how obsessed Elle is, there are those even very close to her that believe she’s allowing this to overtake her reason, putting herself and others in terrible danger. When someone close to Elle is kidnapped, she no longer knows whether she can trust her instincts. Is the killer back? Is it a copycat? Or is she torturing herself for other more personal reasons or worse, for none at all?

A clever, well-plotted book that segues between the first-person transcripts of the podcasts and third-person flashbacks and present day accounts, it’s a story of trauma, grief, incredible resilience and trust. 

A fabulous, fast-paced read that will keep the blood pumping into the wee hours.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger

The second book in the “John Gower” series, The Invention of Fire is stellar historical fiction, with a gripping plot, terrific characters and a fantastic grasp of the period that plunges the reader into the political machinations of 1386 London.

When numerous bodies are found dumped in a the public latrine in the city, all bar one having died from being shot by the new and deadly weapon, the handgonne, Gower (and others) are both concerned and intrigued. When yet more bodies turn up, including some innocent peasants in the English settlement of Calais, it’s evident something dark and terrible is afoot. All the evidence points to one of the Lord Appellants, those who managed to wrest power from the mercurial King Richard II.  

Gower, in his usual indomitable way, does what he can to not only discover the culprit, but the reasons behind what appears to make no sense – these random multiple deaths – and on the eve of the Riding – the changeover of the London Mayor. 

In the meantime, a talented craftsman, who works at a London foundry, is asked to develop a new weapon without informing his employer. Torn between loyalty to his mistress and his country, but also carrying a deadly secret, the man has little choice but to obey what’s against his better moral judgement. 

A married couple join a pilgrimage to the Palatinate near Durham – innocent enough on the surface, but what are they really hiding?

Only Gower, with a little help from the newly appointed JP of Kent, Geoffrey Chaucer, has the nous to unravel the threads that tie these people, mysteries and dire circumstances together – but can he before more death hits the streets – or worse, those closest to the throne?

Masterfully written, with great use of real history and invented scenarios, this is a murder-mystery filled with intrigue, suspense and great dialogue, all set against the medieval landscape of England. Characters from history and Holsinger’s imagination leap from the page and his eye for detail – historic and personal – make this an exceptional read. 

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Ever since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson was released, I have adored this series featuring one of the most original and feisty, bad-ass women in crime/thriller fiction, Lisbeth Salander. When David Lagercrantz took over writing the series in the wake of Larson’s death, like many, I was worried about how another writer could replicate and progress Larson’s characters, let alone his vision. Well, Lagercrantz has done a stellar job and his books are page-turners and thrillers par excellence. Up until this book, I also thought that Lagercrantz had kept Larson’s Lisbeth alive and kicking. However, in this latest instalment, there’s a sense in which she’s diminished. No, possibly that’s not the right word. There’s a sense in which her brilliance, her capacity to embrace both her dark and light sides, has weakened and thus this book doesn’t twinkle as brightly in the Salander/Blomkvist universe. However, it is very plot-drive – for better and worse – and it is still a well, written and mostly gripping read.

The novel opens with Lisbeth hiding in Moscow. There to enact vengeance, when push comes to shove, or gun to trigger, she finds herself unable to perform and is forced into the type of hiding on Lisbeth can pull off.

Concerned for Lisbeth’s welfare, back in Stockholm, Mikael Blomkvist is caught up in the death of a homeless man. Sadly not unusual in itself, a persistent coroner has cause to believe the man was murdered and asks Blomkvist to look into his background. Knowing Salander will be unable to resist, Mikael asks for assistance as well. What unfolds is a story of corporate greed, political machinations, ‘fake-news”, Russian cyber “troll-factories,” cover-ups, betrayal and murder.

There were parts of this book I raced through, eagerly anticipating how something was going to be resolved, but other parts were a bit pedestrian and dull by comparison. There are basically two storylines unfolding simultaneously and, frankly, one feels quite contrived (even though it’s interesting) while the other doesn’t quite meet the high standards Larson set and Lagercrantz has, up until this novel, easily met. I am possibly being hyper-critical because this was a good read nonetheless but there’s also a sense in which the Lisbeth we’ve grown to know and love is missing in action for too much of the book. As for Blomkvist, well, he’s in danger of becoming someone who rests on his impressive laurels. Let’s hope Lagercrantz doesn’t do the same.

Tags: , ,

Comments: 2

Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson

I adore Kate Atkinson’s writing, and I particularly love her Jackson Brodie series. Big Sky, the fifth book to include the exacerbating PI, finds him older, not necessarily wiser, and relocated to what he thinks is a sleepy seaside town. Waltzing in and out of his life is his former flame, the actor, Julia and their monosyllabic teenage and the lovable Labrador who, just like Jackson, is ageing – sometimes disagreeably.

When the novel opens, Jackson is in the middle of a fairly standard case, investigating a suspected adulterer. But it’s when he has a confrontation with a man on a cliff, that Jackson stumbles into something both incredibly seedy and very dangerous, not just for him, but for an ever-widening circle of victims – some who don’t even know that’s what they are.

Once more, Atkinson produces a marvellous, slow-burning and atmospheric work that not only deepens readers’ relationship with Brodie, but introduces us to a dizzying cast of characters. At first, I have to admit, I did wonder where the book was going, as so many other characters seemed to dominate the chapters and Brodie didn’t seem to get much of a chance to shine. Even so, I loved the way that, in a few words, she could capture the essence of a person – their flaws, foibles and strengths. The deceptions that seemingly decent people perpetrate on each other all while occupying high moral ground is explored and exposed. As the book continues, you become caught up in the lives and relationships of these other characters and the tangled web that is being weaved but – and this is to Atkinson’s credit – never so tangled that you can’t or don’t want to know how it’s going to unravel.

About half to two-thirds of the way through, there’s like a eureka moment where this large cast and their motivations suddenly (in my head at least) find their place and it all becomes clear, but not to the point you’re not astonished at where the finale takes you. What has already been a good read suddenly becomes a great one as you race towards a resolution and finally get to see what role, if any, Brodie will play in this masterful, twisty and clever plot.

As always, the writing is sublime and the characters so wonderfully and realistically portrayed, they breathe life into the pages. Cannot wait for her next one.

Tags: , ,

Comments: No Comments