Sunday, December 6, 2009

Review: HALFHEAD - Stuart MacBride

They're called Halfheads. They are the convicted violent criminals of society: the murderers and rapists. They are lobotomised and surgically mutilated ("halfheaded") and sent to do society's most menial tasks. If you're convicted and sentenced to halfheading there's no way back for you. No one notices halfheads. The are little more than sexless zombies, incapable of independent thought.

Will Hunter is a high ranking officer with the tech-crimes and police actions unit. Part of their job is investigating murders. Will and his team are called out to a particularly grisly murder scene in one of Gaslgow's vast connurb blocks. When more than a quarter of a million people are crammed into a vast high rise complex in one of the most deprived areas of the city, is it any wonder things can and do explode?

However, there's more to this murder than meets the eye and Will's determination to find out what is really going on despite orders to the contrary lead him to a very dark conspiracy.

MacBride's vision of the future is a dystopian nightmare. It seems to be a combination the worst of Soviet Union dysfunction and a high technology, uncaring big-brother state. And it is a totally compelling one.

Make no mistake, HALFHEAD is very violent and bloody, but MacBride's ability to create characters with both humanity and humour transcend the bleakness of the violence.

If the book has a flaw it is that in the latter stages, Will and his team seem to get bogged down in hunting for a killer who is right under their noses all the time.

Despite that I found HALFHEAD very difficult to put down. The imagery of the halfheads will haunt me for quite some time I imagine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A novel idea for a novel.

Australian crime fiction writerP .D Martin has come up with a good idea for a new novel. This one is audience participation.

Phillipa is writing a new Sophie Anderson book but what she's doing this time is asking the readers what they'd like to see happen next. She gives a number of options and then readers vote - the one with the most votes wins. At the end of the exercise the book will be made available as a free download e-book.

You can follow what's happening and have your say in what happens next.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hypothermia: Arnuldur Indridason

A woman wanting to get away from it all borrows her friend's cottage. It's a cold autumn night and she arrives to discover her friend hanging from a beam. Everyone believes it's suicide. The dead woman had been depressed since the death of her mother two years earlier. However the friend doesn't believe it and approaches Detective Erlandur.

Erlandur is interested enough to begin an unofficial investigation. At the same time he is haunted by the mysterious disappearance of two young people over thirty years earlier.

There is something very disconnected about HYPOTERHMIA which didn't quite work for me. For a start all Erlandur's investigations are unofficial. He isn't on vacation; so how is he allowed to take all this time to persue private interests? His colleagues make only the briefest of appearances at the beginning of the book and take no further part. In fact they aren't even mentioned.

Erlandur's daughter, Eva Lind then begins to nag Erlandur to meet up with his ex-wife and talk to her. He asks her why but she doesn't really give any answer. When they do meet there are recriminations on both sides. Nothing is really achieved. The thread is then dropped. It doesn't relate to anything else in the book; it just hangs there on its own without any resolution at all.

There is also a thread about Erlandur's childhood trauma of being lost in the snow with his father and brother. His brother was never found. Again it seems to be a thread hanging there and not connected to anything else at all.

The whole family is somewhat dysfuncational and Erlandur in particular has great difficulty communnicating. It can make for frustrating reading.

While the plot of HYPOTHERMIA is interesting enough, the disconnection of the plot threads and Erlandur from everyone around him, make the book less than satisfying.

Apologies to those who have left comments on my site recently.

I only just discovered a bunch of comments. It appears the comments notification gizmo isn't working and I haven't been getting emails when someone has left a comment. Off to find out why.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review: ICE COLD - Andrea Maria Schenkel

Andrea Maria Schenkel's first novel, THE MURDER FARM won considerable acclaim for its clever orginality. While it's not exactly factual, it's not entirely fiction either. Rather it's the fictionalised story of a real case cleverly interwoven with witness statements taken at the time of the murder.

Schenkel's second novel ICE COLD does something very similar with the rape/murders of a number of young women in Munich just months before the outbreak of World War II.

The main focus of the book is Kathie. A young country girl who comes to Munich wanting to get away from the restrictions of her life with her family. She discovers getting a job is harder than she thought and finds herself in a somewhat sleazy world of late night bars, casual sex and occasional prostitution.

Kathie's story is the thread that ties the narrative together. In between learning Kathie's story is a series of witness statements taken from people who knew or had contact with other young woman who were murdered at the same time as Kathie is making her way in Munich.

Somehow the format that worked so well in "The Murder Farm" doesn't seem to have quite the same impact in ICE COLD. Whether it's because of the story of that the novelty of the unusual format isn't as fresh, I'm not sure.

Perhaps it was the blurb on the book jacket which asked the question, "but is he really guilty?" It is a question that maybe leads to false expections about the ending. I found myself none the wiser at the end of the book than I did when I first opened it. It could be more the fault of the publicists and powers that be who decide what goes on the blurbs, than the writer's. Whatever the reason I was left feeling quite unsatisifed by the ending of ICE COLD which wasn't present in "The Murder Farm".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: MEANER THAN FICTION - edited by Lindy Cameron

The law is there to protect us, right? To bring justice to victims; to punish the wrong-diers. WRONG!

MEANER THAN FICTION is a series of pieces written by crime writers, lawyers, academics and those involved in the legal/justice system that demonstrates that the legal system doesn't always dispense justice.

Lindy Cameron writes about the doctor who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a man who felt he was wronged by the medical profession, unable to find the doctor he was seeking, decided to take out his anger on the nearest medical professional. He was shot several times and the perpetrator spent less than two years in prison. Compensation for being a victim of crime, came too little, too late for the doctor whose subsequent ill-health and the long legal procedings took a high toll on his practice.

Or how about Shelly Robertson, the forensic pathologist, who is constantly being frustrated by constraints on her testimony? Her thoughts are that the oath should be changed from "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" to "the truth, those bits of it I'm allowed to give and nothing but the truth.". She claims that after the lawyers have finished, what the jury hears is far from the whole truth.

Leigh Redhead tells the story of her younger sister's encounter with a peeping tom/hidden camera pervert.

Robin Bowles recounts the long fight by Bernard Munro against bureaucracy to try and have the authorities reopen the inquest into his daughter's death. He encountered brick walls and backside covering.

Kerry Greenwood delves into the past and finds several instances of injustices done and the tenacious souls who worked tirelessly to right wrongs.

All these pieces add up to a compelling, if slightly depressing examination of the flaws in our legal system.

The title of the book, MEANER THAN FICTION is an apt one. If these stories had been crime fiction, readers would have been up in arms about unresolved plots and untidy endings. For many of the people in the book there is no happy ending, because this is life and it is MEANER THAN FICTION.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review: FEVER OF THE BONE - Val McDermid

A Tony Hill/Carol Jordan Wire in the Blood mystery
Published: 2009

Someone is luring teenagers to their deaths; killing them quickly and then and mutilating them in the most horrifying manner. Someone who spends weeks online grooming them for their fate. Someone who knows what teens like.

Carol Jordan's team has been set up for this very type of case. However, just when they need profiler Tony Hill the most, Carol's new commander has placed a ban on him being used; budget cuts have to begin somewhere.

Meanwhile Tony is working on a case in a nearby county. One that he begins to suspect might be linked to Carol's.

In order to catch the killer the police have to work out how these kids are being selected and Tony Hill is just the man to do the job, but can he convince the powers that be to allow him back into Carol's case?

There are reasons why Val McDermid is one of the best in the business when it comes to writing crime fiction and they are all contained in FEVER OF THE BONE.

Tony, Carol and her team are all familiar but evolving characters. Characters you care about. Several different threads of the plot weave in and out of each other, changing emphasis at just the right time for maximum suspense.

FEVER OF THE BONE differs from many books featuring serial killers in that McDermid doesn't take you inside the killer's head and doesn't describe graphic violence.
It is a police procedural and one of the best I've read in a long time.

FEVER OF THE BONE is one of my top books of 2009 to date. It would take something very, very special to knock it off that list. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review - Born or Bred?: Martin Bryant - the making of a mass murderer

authors: Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro
Publisher: Fairfax Books, 2009
ISBN: 978 1 921486 09 8
RRP $34.99 (Aus)

All Austrailans know who Martin Bryant is. Overseas readers may find the name familiar but not be certain where they have heard it. Martin Bryant holds the dubious record for being the person to kill the most number of people as a lone gunman on a killing spree.

On the lovely sunny day of 28 April, 1996, Bryant loaded his car with a sports bag and drove to the Port Arthur historic penal settlement site in Tasmania and gave the place another reason to go down in infamy.

Bryant took his bag out of his car, pulled out a gun and began shooting. At the end of his rampage 35 people lay dead and many wounded.

Men, women, children; Bryant didn't discriminate. The question that has been asked since that day is why did he do it?

BORN OR BRED? began life as a book to tell Bryant's mother's story. However, unhappy at what the authors wanted to do, Carleen Bryant quickly pulled out of the project. By that time Wainwright and Totaro had become fascinated into trying to find if there was something in Bryant's past that would explain in inexplicable.

They spoke to neighbours, friends, family, teachers; anyone who knew Bryant and his family willing to talk, trying to shed light on the man.

All are interesting; some are revelatory. Probably the people who come closest to giving us an understanding are Bryant's defence lawyer, John Avery and forensic psychiatrist Paul Mullen.

No one really knows why Martin Bryant went on that killing spree, with the exception of Bryant, and if he knows, he's not telling. Chances are the man with an assessed IQ of a child of 10 or 11 and an emotional age of 2 doesn't know himself.

What does emerge from the book is a picture of a tragically pathetic man who, while he did the unforgiveable, just didn't have the skills to fit into society and is more to be pitied than despised.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: DEAD OF WINTER - Rennie Airth

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Rennie Airth
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: 2008
ISBN: 978 0 230 73696 2
RRP $32.99 (Aus)
THE DEAD OF WINTER is the third in the the John Madden series. The first novel, River of Darkness took place in England just after World War I.
DEAD OF WINTER is set in London in 1944 when a young Polish woman is garroted on the streets of a darkened city street. She is on her way to visit her aunt. Police begin investigating. John Madden, recently retired from the police force becomes involved because the young woman was living and working on his farm.
The young woman was universally liked and no one can figure out a motive for her death. She wasn’t robbed, she wasn’t sexually assaulted. The case becomes more complex when a prostitute who saw the girl tells the police she thought a man was following her. The prostitute is later found murdered in the same manner.
It ‘s not often that I don’t finish a review book. I feel obligated to read the entire book in order to do justice to the review.
Sadly, I had to give up on THE DEAD OF WINTER. Not because it was a necessarily a poorly written book. I don’t think it is. I have read worse and finished them. So why did I give up at page 197 of a 408 page book? I ran headlong into one of my pet peeves. This particular peeve is when the author pauses the plot to give the back story of a character. It’s all very fine and dandy for a couple of major characters but when the reader is being told the history of minor characters it becomes a major distraction. That’s what happened in this case. Do we really need to know the history of the relationship between the main character and the local village bobby, who up until i stopped reading the book had a very minor role. If this had been a movie it would have been with half a dozen lines.
When that was all I was noticing I decided to call it quits. This may be unfair to the author, but everyone has their quirks and Rennie Airth ran into one of mine.
For a less biased perspective perhaps read Michael Ripley's review on Eurocrime ( or Nick Hay’s review on Reviewing the Evidence

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: SMOKE AND MIRRORS - Kel Robertson

SMOKE AND MIRRORS by Kel Robertson. The 2nd in the Bradman Chen series.
Brad Chen is a member of the AFP (Australian Federal Police). He is Chinese Australian.

In SMOKE ND MIRRORS Brad is recovering from injuries he received in the first book (DEAD SET) and is persuaded to return to work part time by his friend and superior officer, "Talkative". A retired politician from the 1970's Whitlam Government has been found murdered with his editor. He has been working on a book which he claims will reveal all about the inside story of the Whitlam Government's controversial dismissal by the Governor General in 1972.

When Brad starts to dig deeper some nasty characters begin to emerge from the woodwork, all of them seemingly determined to inflict major physical harm on him.

Why are the Russian mafia interested in a book about 1970s Austrlaian politics? And who the heck hired a bunch of South African mercenaries to dash about the landscape ambushing people and sometimes bumping them off?

Smoke and Mirrors was one of the joint winners of the 2009 Ned Kelly Award and deservedly so. Brad Chen is a cyncial, wise-cracking police officer who operates according to his own conscience. His new offsider is a tall skinny red-head with the surname of Filipowski who is very close-mouthed about his private life.

What I enjoyed about DEAD SET was the banter between Brad and Filipowski. Very entertaining stuff. There is a fun little diversion when Brad meets up with a journalist acquaintance who is in trouble after writing an editorial for his blog after a choof and a drink too many one night. It's about George W. Bush's reasons for invading Iraq which is politically incorrect in the extreme and very very funny.

There's quite a bit of action as well as an entertaining mystery. And then there are the nickames: Talkative, Voodoo, Baby's Arm (don't ask.)

I'm not sure how well SMOKE AND MIRRORS would travel outside Australia. It requires a knowledge of the events of 1972 in Australian politics and the various conspiracy theories that surrounded it. If you know about this stuff or are prepared to do your homework prior to picking up the book, then it is going to be worth it.

The sad thing about Smoke and Mirrors is that after having his first book DEAD SET taken up by an Australian publisher, the author, Kel Robertson, had to finance the publishing of SMOKE AND MIRRORS himself. I hope the Ned Kelly win will mean he won't have similar problems in the future - he deserves better.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS is available from the publisher's website at a cost of $22.00 plus postage

Scroll about 2/3 way down the page asnd click on BUY NOW .

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Comes with 2 subwoofers

My friend Sally sent me this and I found it too cute not to share.

Review: Debut novel by Dan wells about someone who claims he does not go about bumping people off

Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 9780755348817
This edition published: July, 2009
$16.99 (Aus)

YA Novel

Most books are easy to review. You give a rundown of the plot and then share your thoughts. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is not that simple because to tell you much about the plot would be to give away twists that would spoil it for you.

John is a fifteen year old sociopath. His mother and aunt own one of the town mortuaries. John is obsessed with serial killers but is afraid that one day he may become one himself. In order to keep “the monster in the wall” John has set up an elaborate set of rules to live by. If a person interests him he will follow them around, but only for a week; to do so any longer would be dangerous.

John wants to please his mother and be a “normal” person and he does not want to do any harm, but the monster in the wall makes it difficult. He discovers he’s not the only “monster” in town when the mutilated corpses of some of the townsfolk begin to appear. In order to understand the killer and perhaps gain greater insights into himself, John starts investigating. What he discovers is something far more strange and chilling than he could ever imagine. The dilemma John finds himself facing is should he unleash the monster within to stop the killing or will the monster in him become worse than the one currently causing such mayhem?

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is not a book that can be easily put into a category. Initially the reader could be forgiven for feeling that the subtitle of this book might well be Dexter: The Early Years, because there are similarities. Young Dexter as conceived by Stephen King might be more to the point. However you describe it, first-time author, Dan Wells has come up with a novel idea (if you’ll pardon the appalling pun). In John he has created a character that will find the reader with conflicting emotions at every turn.

In researching I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER prior to writing this review I found it was listed in a number of places as a Young Adult novel. I think the adolescent voice of John and his desperate efforts to appear “normal” and fit in with society will resonate with teenagers. I can imagine many parents may have a problem with the violence in the book. I have two sons who are both now in their mid 20’s. Would I have allowed my sons to read this book when they were teens? Yes, without hesitation. The other themes in the book such as the need to fit in with perceived norms of society, facing moral dilemmas, loss and grief, family and relationships are far more important. Violence is part of the human condition. We see it every day in the media. We can protect our kids to some degree but we cannot lock them away from such things and pretend they don’t happen.

Dan Wells has a Bachelors in English from Brigham Young University where he was the editor at The Leading Edge Magazine. He now runs

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: FAN MAIL - P. D. Martin

I heard that FAN MAIL by P.D. Martin has been published in both the UK and the US. So here is a re-post of the review I wrote when the book was published in Australia early last year.

P.D. Martin
Pan Macmillan.

Australian FBI profiler Sophie Anderson is given an easy job on her last day at Quantico. She is to give a guided tour of the FBI facility to a crime novelist and brief her on profiling. Sophie doesn’t warm to Loretta Black whom she finds rude and aloof.

One of the first things Sophie learns on arrival in Los Angeles to begin her new posting is that Black has been murdered. This obviously wasn’t a random act of violence. Black has been killed and her body posed in a manner that exactly duplicates her newly released novel. Feeling that she can give some insights Sophie contacts the detective investigating and offers to help. Among the fan mail Loretta Black has received is one signed simply “a fan”. It criticises the violence in Black’s book and seems to contain a thinly veiled threat warning her to stop. When another author is found murdered in the same way as the book she has written, Sophie and Detective Dave Sorrell believe they have found a serial killer who has perhaps killed before and will almost certainly kill again.

FAN MAIL is P. D. Martin’s third in the Sophie Anderson series and her strongest to date. Martin follows Sophie and Detective Sorrell as they conduct the investigation. So many detective novels are linear; we start at point A, go to point B and end at point C. No so FAN MAIL. It twists and turns; sometimes at breakneck speed, other times almost stalled as they hit dead ends. There is backtracking to re-question witnesses and suspects and frequent revisiting of evidence in light of new information. Gradually the detectives build up a picture of the crimes and the person responsible which enables them to solve the case.

Martin has also managed to pull off something that I don't think too many can do successfully. That is to write in the first person, present tense. Too often when an author does this, it feels awkward and contrived but in the case of FAN MAIL it works very well.

There quite a few references to Martin’s previous novel, THE MURDERERS’ CLUB, and a resolution of some loose ends that were left in that book. So if you are new to P.D. Martin’s writing, I recommend you read them in order.

Martin seems to be getting better and better with each book and I have become an unashamed fan of her work. I eagerly await her next offering.

2008 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A plea to authors - easy on the adjectives. I beg you.

*Sunnie drags out her soapbox, climbs onto it, clears her throat and begins her rant*

I'm afraid it's one of my pet peeves: the overuse of adjectives.

I seem to be coming across it more and more these days and it annoys me no end.

It's all very well to say a man is short, but do we need subsequent paragraphs to also describe him as "compact" and "dwarfish"? I get the idea already. I don't need it to be rammed home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer on my noggin.

This passage ensured the book I was reading was a DNF for me as the author had indulged in similar adjectival overuse prior to this.

Another recent instance of adjectival abuse I came across was an author seemingly addicted to one particular adjective. I lost track of the number of times the word "whinge" was used (for those not familiar with this one - the wiktionary definition of whinge is to complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner). There seemed to be an entire squad of detectives all whingeing their way through the story. In the end it became a distraction.

I'll close my rant with my favourite example of adjective overload from a book by an author who shall remain nameless.

"She took two of the upturned glasses standing on the crisp white
towel on the black marble counter and poured them both a drink before
gliding across the room, extending her long slender arm and handing him
his water."

The above was a very minor detail. She gave him a glass of water
would have sufficed.

Yes, I know that's probably at the extreme end of the spectrum with the overuse of adjectives, but you get the point. Less truly is more.

What I want to know is why? Why the need for over description and why do editors let it go through to the keeper?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kill City?

The following link was posted to rec.arts.mystery newsgroup by Ian.
It's a graphic map of the homicides committed in New York City between 2003 - 2009. They number 3,402; an average of 540 a year.

For someone like me who comes from a small place with a population of about 70,000 which has a homicide rate you could count on the fingers of one hand each year, this is just mind-boggling.

You can mouse-over the map and read the statistics of each homicide. The age and ethnicity of the victim and perpetrator, the motive and the weapon used.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some times they just don't think it through do they?

This turned up on one of my newsgroups and it so tickled my sense of humour I just had to share.

From the New Scotsman.

"...However, one pensioner who also found fame on Britain's Got Talent as
a breakdancer has found the downside of celebrity after part of his
disability benefits were stopped when he was seen by government
officials on the show.

Fred Bowers, 73, from Leicestershire, was an instant hit when he
performed the act, honed on dance floors seven days a week, in front
of millions of viewers."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When truth truly is stranger than fiction

Australians with even a passing interest in crime and crime fiction will be familiar with the Melbourne gangland wars and the demise of the Moran family. Everyone thought that saga was over, but no. More developments this week.

Yet another member of the family has been gunned down. Desmond Moran, brother of Lewis Moran (murdered), uncle to brothers Jason and Mark Moran (both murdered). Desmond was widely regarded as a pretty minor player in the Melbourne underworld.

Now his sister-in-law, the larger-than-life Judy Moran has been arrested for being an accessory after the fact of his murder as well as Suzie Kane, sister-in-law of her murdered son Jason . Kane's boyfriend (both of whom were living with Judy) has been charged with the murder of Desmond.

If you wrote a soap opera about all this, no one would believe it. It would be dismissed as being too fanciful.

If you want to find out more about this fascinating saga visit for a potted family history
for comprehensive coverage.

Do you follow true crime stories like this and if so which ones have sparked your interest?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review; THE PREACHER - Camilla Lackberg

Puhblisher: Harper Collins
This edition published: 2008
ISBN: 978 0 00 725395 1

Twenty years ago two holiday makers disappeared from the tourist town of Fjällbacka. Now a young boy has discovered the bodies along with a third which seems to be fresh.

Detective Patrik Hedstrom is on vacation. His partner, Erica is expecting their first child in less than a month. Fjällbacka is experiencing a heatwave and Erica is restless and short-tempered so when Patrik receives a phone call cutting short his holiday he isn’t too upset.

Attention focuses on the Hult family. A family divided by the suicide of one member who was the prime suspect in the disappearance of the holiday makers. It is also a family divided by wealth: one branch inherited the estate and has prospered, the other lives in poverty. This is a family of misfits, religious fanatics and criminals. A rich vein of suspects in anyone’s book.

Patrik also has to deal with Erica and the unwanted visitors who keep turning up on their doorstep wanting to take advantage of their hospitality for a cheap holiday during the summer season.

These days translated books are things of quality; it’s seamless. If it wasn’t for the name of the translator in the book you’d never know it wasn’t originally written in English The other upside of translated books is that rarely do the publishers go to the extra cost of hiring a translator if the book is a dud.

THE PREACHER is a first rate detective novel. The mystery really sucks you in, there are clues and red herrings scattered everywhere. I changed my mind about the murderer a number of times while reading the book. I’d think I had it nailed and Lackberg would throw in another twist. I figured it out about the same time as the author revealed whodunit.


Author: Ken Bruen
Publisher: St Martin’s Minotaur
Published: 2008
isbn: 978 0 312 38440 1

WOW!! A wow book. What is a wow book? A wow book is a book that has you glued to the pages, resenting every interruption. A wow book sees your hubby putting his head around the bedroom door saying, “aren’t you getting up today?” A wow book finds you lying in the bathtub and realising with a jolt you’ve been in there so long reading this book that the water has nearly gone cold.

ONCE WERE COPS by Ken Bruen is a WOW book.

Michael O’Shea is a Guard (Irish police officer) in Northern Ireland. He is known simply as Shea, Shea is seen as a good cop, but he is hiding a secret. A very dark secret. Shea has a black heart and a taste for violence and death; especially young women with swan-like necks.

Northern Ireland and New York City have a police officer exchange programme. Shea feels like his dream has come true when he is selected to spend a year on the streets of New York City. The big apple. Or in Shea’s case The Rotten Apple. Shea finds himself teamed with Kebar, an officer whose name comes from the fact that he likes to mete out justice with short metal stick called a K-bar. Kebar is corrupt and unstable. The murder of his beloved sister puts him over the edge.

No one could ever in their wildest dreams describe Bruen’s writing as cozy. Bruen is contemporary noir. Midnight noir.. His writing is to the point and punchy in every sense of the word. Pick up a Ken Bruen novel and you’re hooked. I guarantee your bath-water will be ice-cold before you know it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: FLESH AND BONE by Jefferson Bass

Publisher: Quercus
Published: 2007
ISBN: 978 1 84724 280 8

I'm always excited when I read a book that is first in a new series that I enjoy. A few weeks ago I reviewed Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass, the first in the Body Farm series, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So it was with some anticipation I picked up FLESH AND BONE; the 2nd in the series.

Sadly, FLESH AND BONE didn't live up to my expectations. The plot revolves around the protagonist, Dr Bill Brockton being framed for the murder of a close friend. There is also a secondary thread of the murder of a man who had been dressed as a woman. Are they connected?

What worked so well in the first book seems be lacklustre in this one. There are so many cliches that I don't know where to begin. The first is the hero being framed for murder by someone with a grudge. It was patently obvious to me who it was almost from the word go. I could see only one suspect. Then there is the transgender "southern belle" nightclub singer with a heart of gold. Oh pu-leaze. And let's not forget the defence lawyer who is a shark; up until he defends the hero, whereupon he sees the light and stops taking on cases where he knows the accused is guilty. This is where the book almost hit my bedroom wall with great velocity; if it hadn't been a library book it might have. And what cliche wouldn't be complete without a gathering of the book's characters at the end to pay tribute to one of their fallen colleagues. Yes, folks that was thrown in there too.

Dr Bill Brockton is painted as a good man, who is uncomplicated and does a difficult job. Now that's all very fine when the book f0cuses on the job. You like the guy and the job is fascinating, but when that uncomplicated man is in a relationship that is the focus of the book, it falls down completely. Romances involving uncomplicated characters just aren't interesting.

After such a good debut, I'm prepared to give Bass another chance but it will be a while before I try another of his books.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A copule of mini-reviews.

My reading has slowed a little of late. Perhaps it's my frame of mind or perhaps it's the demands of life intruding. Or it could be after a spectacular reading month in April, May's offerings haven't held me glued to the page as much.

Richard Montanari
Publisher: William Heinemann
ISBN: 9780434016020

Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are on the trail of a serial killer. He murders young women and leaves clues for the police to find. Solve the clues and they might just save another victim. He also dumps his bodies in very specific locations. The detectives also have to try and work out the reasoning behind the locations to unlock the riddle of the killer.

PLAY DEAD is about riddles, puzzles and magic tricks. At least for the killer that's what it's about. For Bryne and Balzano it's about catching him before there are too many more victims.

We know who the killer is pretty early on in the book. We also know something of the reasoning of the killer. It's up to the detectives to find out what it's all about.

I enjoyed PLAY DEAD while I was reading it but when it came to writing this review I had to pick up the book to remind myself of the plot and the characters. There were parts of the plot that I didn't particularly like. The connection with a murdered colleague seemed just a bit too coincidental.

My verdict: Fairly quick and entertaining read, but details will soon fade.

DEATH'S ACRE - Dr Bill Bass (with Jon Jefferson)
Bass and Jefferson write crime fiction under the name of Jefferson Bass. The protagonist in their fiction seemed to me to be very closely based on Bill Bass himself. This opinion was confirmed when I read DEATH'S ACRE which is the story of Bass' professional career, how he came to established the now famous "body farm" and some of his landmark cases which have led to advances in the science of forensic anthropology.

The book is packed with fascinating facts and details of the work done by Bass and his colleagues at the Body Farm. He relates this information in a cheerfully conversational manner that cuts down the "ewwww" factor considerably.

My verdict: Anyone who is even vaguely interested in how the experts can find out so much about how, when and why a person died will find DEATH'S ACRE informative and entertaining.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

This edition published: 2007
ISBN: 978023002006 (HB)

Winter 2002. The body of a teenage girl is found murdered on the border between North and South of Ireland in an area known as Borderlands.

Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is given the case. The only clues are a rather expensive looking gold ring on the girl's finger and an old photo left where she died.

Another teenager is murdered. Devlin finds a link between these killings and the disappearance of a prostitute twenty five years ago. The trail leads Devlin not only to people with links to "the troubles" but also, to his mounting horror, a suspect who is one of his colleagues.

A well written police procedural is one of the reasons I'm so addicted to crime fiction. A good police procedural will introduce you to the police,take you by the land and lead you through their investigation as they unearth clues by interviewing people, sifting the evidence and following leads. There will be a careful balance of detecting and learning about the lives of the detectives. If the author has done the job properly s/he doesn't deliberately hold back clues or have the the detectives catch the culprit in the act, just two pages before the end.

In his first novel, BORDERLANDS, Brian McGilloway has succeeded in all of the above. He has also avoided producing a door stop of a book. At just 227 pages, BORDERLAND doesn't muck about. You're straight into the story with no unnecessary padding. It's something I wish more authors would try to achieve.

If, like me, you enjoy police procedurals, you can't go wrong with BORDERLANDS. I look forward to reading more of McGilloways' writing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

SUNDA SALON: Guilty Pleasures.

You know it's rubbish, you know it has little merit, but despite that you enjoy it anyway. You might be reluctant to tell others you enjoy it because they'll laugh. But we all have them.

Perhaps it's a series of books, or some movies or a tv show. Some come on 'fess up. What's your guilty pleasure(s)

I shall admit to an addiction to the tv show NCIS. The plots are trite and predicitable. The characters aren't believable, but I love their quirkiness and hubby and I eagerly await the slap in the back of the head each week. We are on the edge of our seats. Who will be be the slapper this week? Who will be the slapee? One week there was no slap at all.

I also have to confess to always giggling at Dude, Where's My Car? and Wayne's World. So there, I've bared all with my guilty pleasures. What are yours?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE : a real curate's egg.

Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Quercus
This edition published: 2009
ISBN: 9781847245564
569 pages

Lisbeth’s friend, Blomqvist is working on a major story for his magazine Millennium. They are about to blow wide open the details of human trafficking for prostitution in Sweden. They are going to name names. The couple working on to story are gunned down in their apartment and Salander’s prints are on the gun left behind. A country-wide hunt for the girl with the violent past ensues; most think she’s guilty but when the investigating officer begins to question the people in Salander’s life, he gets a very different picture of the woman described in official records.

I’ve heard the expression “curates egg” and know what it means but I’ve often wondered where that expression came from. I found a nice explanation of its origin on the Phrase Finder website.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE fits that definition exactly. Good in parts but annoying and exasperating in others. The book begins with a recap of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and a very detailed account on the minutiae of the life of Lisbeth Salander. In fact these elements are so detailed that its past page 150 before the meat of the story even begins. I nearly gave up on the book, but a number of people urged me to keep going because it was worth it. I did persevere and I’m glad I did. But there were other things in the book that I struggled with: overlong-fight scenes with a minor character that was almost invincible which might have worked in an action movie but seemed silly and out of place in the book and a scene with Salander in danger towards the end that had me rolling my eyes.
My reaction to the book had me asking questions about the accolades the book has received. Does it truly merit this or is there the “Marilyn Monroe” effect happening? Would the books have been as universally acclaimed if the author hadn’t died tragically young before the books were published? How much editing was done on THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE? Was there a sense of “we mustn’t’ touch this work”? Would the publishers have allowed nearly 150 pages of back story and Salander’s daily life to stand as it does if Larsson had lived?
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, but I enjoyed it with reservations which not many seem to have expressed. Am I alone? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: BROKEN SKIN Stuart MacBride

Publisher: Harper Collins
This edition published: 2007
ISBN: 9780007193172

There’s a rapist on the streets of Aberdeen and the violence of the attacks is escalating. Police fear sooner rather than later one of the victims will die. While Detective Sergeant Logan Macrae’s girlfriend is acting as bait, Macrae is working on finding out who is responsible for inflicting the wounds on a body dumped outside the hospital.

Some films are discovered; bondage and discipline featuring the dead man, police begin to wonder if the man was the victim of a session gone wrong or if someone out there has developed a taste for inflicting serious damage. The investigation takes Macrae into the twilight world of the BDSM scene with some unexpected and reluctant help from one of the uniformed constables who has some unusual interests.

BROKEN SKIN is Stuart MacBride’s third Logan Macrae novel. The first, COLD GRANITE had him working with DI Insch. In the second, DYING LIGHT, DI Steele was the officer in charge. In BROKEN SKIN, MacBride seems to have gone for a bet each way and had Macrae working for both at the same time. It’s a plot idea that does not seem to work terribly well. Rather than concentrating on a single investigation, Macrae is pushed from pillar to post, grumbling all the while and becoming impatient himself. Macrae and his colleagues moan, groan and whinge their way through the book. We know this because these adjectives are used often; to the point of annoyance on my part.

The issue of the over-used adjectives aside, BROKEN SKIN is entertaining enough. However after the wonderful debut novelCOLD GRANITE, BROKEN SKIN is a bit of a disappointment. I only hope this was a glitch and subsequent novels will be of the standard of MacBride’s first.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Salon: Ever wanted to write your own crime story? Here's your chance.

Have you ever been to a progressive dinner? You know the type of thing. You have a different course at each house.

Well, my friend Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise has set up a progressive crime story.

Each person has just 140 characters to make their mark. You can contribute as many times as you want. It's great fun. It's like watching a bunch of lunatics trying to wrest control of the steering wheel of a runaway bus.

To check out the story so far and to add your own piece of madness, go to

Sunday Salon: 15 books. you've been tagged

This has been doing the rounds of Facebook recently. I thought it was worth a blog entry.

The name of the game is to list 15 books that will always stick with you and do it within a 15 minute time frame. Pass it on to 15 friends and see what they come up with.

Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Graham

Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Ten Little N*ggers (yes, that's what it was called way back when dinosaurs roamed) - Agatha Christie.I found this on my grandmother's bookshelf when I was a teenager and it introduced me into the world of crime fiction.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Christine - Stephen King (my first horror book and it gave me the heebie jeebies)

Needful Things - Stephen King (it was supposed to be horror but I laughed all the way through - it made me realise I had a taste for sick puppy humour)

all of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels by Reginald Hill

Riotous Assembly - Tom Sharpe - political commentary in the form of farce - glorious.

The Colour of Night - Terry Pratchett (audio book narrated by Nigel Planer - introduced me to Pratchett's beautifully odd disc world)

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

Be My Enemy (aka F*ck This for a Game of Soldiers) - Christopher Brookmyre - Mad, bad, tacky, tasteless, politically incorrect, hysterically funny and the best ranter in the business

Underbelly - John Silvester & Andrew Rule - hooked me on Australian true crime

The Body Farm- Patricia Cornwell - my first encounter with the forensic side of crime - that fascination has stayed with me even though Cornwell hasn't. I've long since given up reading her books.

Diamond Dove - Adrian Hyland - so many themes in this book combined with aboriginal spirituality

A Beautiful Place to Die - Malla Nunn - I've just read it and it truly was a WOW book. Set in 1952 South Africa, the fear and paranoia that apartheid laws brought is all through this book.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: A Beautiful Place to Die

Author: Malla Nunn
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (Aust)
This edition published 2008
ISBN: 9781405038775
399 pages

South Africa in 1952 is not a comfortable place to live. Apartheid laws have been introduced just a few years earlier and the National Party are tightening their stranglehold on the country with their vision of what South Africa should be. The security forces are being granted more powers and are exercising them freely.

When an Afrikaner police officer is murdered in the small town of Jakob’s Rest, Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. The dead man Willem Pretorious is from a prominent family in the district . As an English South African, Cooper is regarded with hostility and suspicion. Cooper’s task is made more difficult and dangerous when the Security Branch decides to take over the case. They have no interest in finding out who was responsible for Pretorious’ death; certainly not if the killer is white. They just want to link the murder to the Communist party and they don’t care how they go about it.

Cooper is out of place in South Africa. He is a man of principle who doesn’t see skin colour and hates the apartheid laws; an attitude that endangers his life as the sons of Pretorious attempt to take the law into their own hands assisted by the Security Branch.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is a book that paints a vivid picture of life under apartheid in the early 1950s. And that picture isn’t pretty. Suspicion and hatred, fear and paranoia are never far from the surface and racially motivated violence ever-present. One wrong move; a look in the wrong direction can cost a life.

The author, Malla Nunn manages to infuse the book with with a strong sense of what it must have been like to live under racial segregation laws without sacrificing plot. As crime fiction it works beautifully. As a commentary of the time it pulls no punches and spares no feelings in portraying supporters of Apartheid as arrogant with a sense of entitlement that they were born to rule. A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is impressive on every level, particularly more so when you realise this is Nunn’s first novel. I can’t wait to read more.

Malla Nunn was born in Swaziland, Southern Africa, and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. She is a filmmaker with three award-winning films to her credit and is currently at work on her second novel.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: THE CORONER - M. R. Hall

Publisher: Pan Macmillan (Aust)
This edition published: March, 2009
ISBN: 9780230709843
422 pages

Jenny Cooper is recovering from a bitter divorce. Her husband has custody of their teenage son and Jenny suffered a breakdown. For fifteen years she worked as a lawyer in family court; a job that was emotionally and physically draining. When she is offered the position of coroner for the Severn Vale, she jumps at the chance. A job where she can remain detached and not become emotionally involved is just what she needs.

On her first day, Jenny discovers that her predecessor, who died suddenly of a heart attack, seems to have been less than diligent in two cases. There is a teenage girl dead of an apparent overdose and a fourteen-year-old boy who appears to have hanged himself in a juvenile detention centre. No one seems to have bothered to dig deeper. The pathologist’s report is so brief as to be almost negligent. The boy’s mother insists her warnings to the authorities about her son’s state of mind were all ignored. When Jenny decides to re-open the inquest she is met with hostility and aggression from many quarters. Are they just trying to cover-up that they didn’t do a thorough job or are there more sinister motives?

How do you find books to read? For many, it’s the tried and true. Authors you’ve enjoyed in the past. For those of us active in online reading groups, new authors are frequently discovered by word of mouth. It isn’t very often that a new author comes my way about whom I know nothing at all. Usually if they are good, there is a buzz about them. People start talking about the book they’ve just read and others pick up on it. I hadn’t heard a word about M.R. Hall’s, THE CORONER so I had no real expectations that this was anything other than just another run-of-the-mill crime novel. You know the type of thing. You read it and a couple of weeks later you’ve forgotten most of the plot. I am happy to admit that this time my expectations were entirely wrong.

THE CORONER is an impressive debut novel. Hall’s portrayal of Jenny; a middle-aged woman struggling with life and career is engaging. She is a very flawed individual who makes mistakes but you can’t help but be on her side. The book is long: 420 pages, but there is enough substance and pace in the plot to sustain that length. There is also some social commentary. Some of the comments about the privatisation of detention centres leave the reader in little doubt about the author’s feelings on the subject.

If, like me, you haven’t heard of M.R. Hall before, don’t let that put you off. Do try it. I read THE CORONER in just two afternoons. I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know what was going to happen next. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

MR Hall is a screenwriter and producer and former criminal barrister, a profession he left due to a constitutional inability to prosecute. The Coroner is his first novel. Educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Worcester College, Oxford, he lives in the Wye Valley in Monmouthshire with his wife, journalist Patricia Carswell, and two sons.