25 October 2014

Review: AFTER THE SILENCE, Jake Woodhouse

Synopsis (Penguin Australia)
 
A body is found hanging on a hook above the canals of Amsterdam's old town, a mobile phone forced into the victim's mouth.

In a remote coastal village, a doll lies in the ashes of a burnt-down house.  But the couple who died in the fire had no children of their own.  Did a little girl escape the blaze?  And, if so, who is she and where is she now?

Inspector Jaap Rykel knows that he's hunting a clever and brutal murderer.  Still grieving from the violent death of his last partner, Rykel must work alongside a junior out-of-town detective with her own demons to face, if he has any hope of stopping the killer from striking again.

Their investigation reveals two dark truths: everybody in this city harbours secrets - and hearing those secrets comes at a terrible price . . .
 
My Take
 
This is a well constructed thriller, particularly considering it is a debut novel. A police procedural set in Amsterdam, but by a new British writer, it clearly shows that there is a fine line between crime and fighting against it, that too often it is easy to cross that line, and that it is hard to know who to trust.

The novel brings together a trio of detectives whom I presume will be the core of the team for the next: all are flawed in their own way but each is well drawn.  I thought perhaps the action of the final pages was a bit rushed, but there are plenty of openings for the next in the series.

My Rating: 4.4
 
About the author
Jake Woodhouse has worked as a musician, winemaker and entrepreneur. He now lives in London with his wife and their young gundog. After the Silence is the first book in his Amsterdam Quartet.

23 October 2014

Review: THE CROSSWORD MURDER, Nero Blanc

  • source: NetGalley review book, e-book (Kindle)
  • first published 1999 - available from Amazon
  • this edition published 2014 by Open Road Media.
  • #1 in the series
  • author website
Synopsis (NetGalley)

Solving puzzles can be murder when a PI and a crossword editor join forces to catch a killer in the first novel of Nero Blanc’s fiendishly clever crossword mystery series.

Playboy Thompson C. Briephs has just been found strangled in his bed. The police believe the Newcastle Herald crossword editor, a scion of a blue-blooded New England family, died from kinky sex gone wrong.

But cop-turned–private investigator Rosco Polycrates thinks there’s a six-letter word for what happened. Enlisting the help of Annabelle Graham, the crossword editor for a rival paper, Rosco unearths a crazy quilt of suspects who had it in for the victim—and one of them was blackmailing him. Belle is certain the answers lie in Briephs’s twisty puzzlers. Now she and Rosco will have to employ some dazzling wordplay of their own to stop a cunning killer from crossing paths with another victim.

Readers will delight in solving the crime, along with six crossword puzzles, which can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book. The Crossword Murder is a book to be savored by mystery lovers and crossword-puzzle enthusiasts alike.

My Take

Thompson Briephs, Newcastle playboy (Massachusetts) and crossword editor is found murdered in his bed in his Minoan-style mansion on his private island.

Briephs always works five days ahead of his deadline and he outwits his murderer by leaving five unpublished crosswords which reveal the murderer's identity. These will be published in the Newcastle Herald by his assistant on five consecutive days. The first two crosswords are published and then the other three go missing when Briephs' assistant is threatened over the phone and decides to post them to various people as insurance.

These crosswords are provided for the reader to play with both in the book and online, and so there is the opportunity to solve the mystery along with the sleuthing pair, cop-turned–private investigator Rosco Polycrates and Annabelle Graham, the crossword editor for a rival paper. Many of the crossword clues are cryptic, and Briephs also taunts some of the people he worked with by naming them in the crosswords. In the story these provide red herrings although the murderer is actually named (using a nickname) in the very first one.

The murder mystery is quite well plotted while the crossword clues are designed to further tantalise the reader.

This was the first in a series written by husband and wife team, Cordelia Frances Biddle and Steve Zettler who are serious crossword buffs.

Fantastic Fiction
1. The Crossword Murder (1999)
2. Two Down (2000)
3. The Crossword Connection (2001)
4. A Crossworder's Holiday (2002)
5. A Crossword to Die for (2002)
6. Corpus De Crossword (2003)
7. A Crossworder's Gift (2003)
8. Anatomy of a Crossword (2004)
9. Wrapped Up in Crosswords (2004)
10. Another Word for Murder (2005)
11. A Crossworder's Delight (2005)
12. Death on the Diagonal (2006)

My rating: 4.1

21 October 2014

Review: SHROUD OF EVIL, Pauline Rowson

  • source: review copy from Net Galley per Severn House
  • published 2014
  • available from Amazon
  • File Size: 1029 KB
  • Print Length: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Severn House Digital (August 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00L37DKS8
  • #11 in the Andy Horton series
Synopsis (Net Galley)

Rugged Detective Inspector Horton investigates a missing person in a case that has personal ramifications which could end his career...
When a private investigator goes missing, Detective Inspector Horton of Portsmouth CID believes he's probably run off with a woman. But when the man's car turns up, and a shocking discovery is made, things turn serious, and Horton himself embroiled in an investigation that has major personal ramifications, and could potentially end his career.

from Amazon (extra detail)
Detective Inspector Horton of Portsmouth CID is assigned the case of a missing person: Jasper Kenton, a private investigator. Eunice Swallows, Kenton’s partner, seems reluctant to help them, and Horton concludes that she is probably relieved to be rid of him. He instructs Sergeant Cantelli and DC Walters to put out the usual alerts, believing Kenton has probably run off with another woman.

But when Kenton’s car turns up, and a shocking discovery is made, things turn serious. Immediately, Horton finds himself embroiled in an investigation that has major personal ramifications and one in which he has no choice but to withhold vital information. As he struggles to crack the case, he knows it is only a question of time before someone discovers he’s kept silent and when that’s revealed, his part in hindering a major investigation will end his career . . .

My Take

I have been a fan of Pauline Rowson's Andy Horton series for some time now and this one did not disappoint. The book will really work best if you have read earlier titles in the series, but even so, there are plenty of hints about details from earlier novels.

The story follows the pattern of earlier ones: a police investigation into a local case, in this case a missing person involving Portsmouth CID and progress in Andy Horton's personal investigation into what happened to his mother nearly three decades earlier.

Once again it is meticulously plotted and the central characters are well drawn. Horton is a maverick, and the tensions between himself and his superiors puts his actions on a knife edge. By the end of the book, you can't help feeling that knowledge of what happened to Andy's mother is just around the corner.

My rating 4.6

I have also reviewed
DEADLY WATERS
THE SUFFOCATING SEA
4.4, DEAD MAN'S WHARF
4.3, A KILLING COAST
4.6, DEATH LIES BENEATH
4.5, DEATH SURGE

15 October 2014

Review: MOTHERS WHO MURDER, Xanthe Mallett

  • source: Net Galley review copy
  • File Size: 3100 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (July 30, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00IY5QK8O
Synopsis (Net Galley)

Child murder: A social taboo and one of the most abhorrent acts most of us can imagine. Meet the women found guilty of murdering their own children. They represent some of the most hated women in Australia. The infamous list includes psychologically damaged, sometimes deranged, women on the edge.

But, as we will see, accused doesn't always mean guilty. Among the cases covered is that of Kathleen Folbigg, accused and found guilty of killing four of her children, even with a lack of any forensic evidence proving her guilt; Rachel Pfitzner, who strangled her 2-year-old son and dumped his body in a duck pond; as well as Keli Lane, found guilty of child murder though no body has ever been found.

Dr Mallett goes back to the beginning of each case; death's ground zero. That might be the accused's childhood, were they abused? Or was their motivation greed, or fear of losing a partner? Were they just simply evil? Or did the media paint them as such, against the evidence and leading to a travesty of justice. Each case will be re-opened, the alternative suspects assessed, the possible motives reviewed.

Informed by her background as a forensic scientist, Xanthe will offer insight into aspects of the cases that may not have been explored previously. Taking you on her journey through the facts, and reaching her own conclusion as to whether she believes the evidence points to the women's guilt.

Hear their stories.

My Take

Those who follow my blog will know that true crime is not really my cup of tea, but each year I set myself a target to read a little outside the genre of crime fiction.

MOTHERS WHO MURDER looks at a number of Australian cases where the author feels there has been the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. She begins with the case of Lindy Chamberlain, where Lindy claimed a dingo had taken her baby when the family were camping at Uluru. The Northern Territory police decided that Lindy's story could not possibly be true and she was eventually convicted of the murder and disposal of baby Azaria although no body has ever been found. Then the conviction was quashed and an apology issued. But nothing can compensate for the thirty years of anguish suffered by Lindy and her family. For me this chapter acted as a sort of benchmark as I was familiar with the trial.

Seven individual cases are given individual chapters: mainly of mothers who appear to have been responsible for the deaths of multiple children over a number of years. In most cases there were two or even three children who were thought originally to have died of SIDS. The death of the fourth child raised a flag and sparked an investigation because authorities felt that the fourth death raised questions about the earlier three. 

While the author began with these multiple death cases she also investigated the deaths of individual children, mainly interested in why they happened. These cases are dealt with in less detail, and include cases where a father has taken the life of his children, and sometimes his spouse.

The chapter on Lindy Chamberlain sets the pattern for those to follow: the background to the case, a description of the main events, why an investigation was conducted and how it panned out, the alternative who (who else might have committed the crime), the how (how the prosecutors behaved and why- their agenda), the role and influence of the expert witnesses, the inquests, the media influence, comparative cases, and the closure of the case. Each time the author identifies how expert witnesses had an influence outside their own area of expertise, often in response to the agenda of the prosecutors who were trying to make the facts fit the case they wanted to prove.

The author tried hard to be objective and detached in her descriptions and conclusions but she says she recognizes that she became emotionally involved, so horrified was she by what she saw that some children had suffered. She says too that "beyond the children who have been killed, there are many more victims": the police who have to investigate the cases, the social workers, neighbours and community. She does point out times where the responsible authorities, whether because of work overload, inexperience, or lack of follow up, did not take action that might have prevented the death of a child. 
She also considers the role of the media in raising community awareness, helping to identify perpetrators, or searching for missing children. She believes that in most cases, while some of the media has been sensational and wrong in their opinions, the media has acted responsibly.

The author sees herself as a "seasoned forensic scientist", with experience first of all in the UK and then in Australia, and draws on cases from both countries, believing there is much to be learnt by comparisons. She points out how some cases and their outcomes in the UK have actually led to precedents being set in legal procedures.

I found this book well presented, engrossing reading, guaranteed to make the reader think.

My rating: 4.5

14 October 2014

Review: MURDER ON THE SECOND TEE, Ian Simpson

  • source: review copy from Net Galley
  • File Size: 403 KB
  • Print Length: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (June 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00L84Z2GO
Synopsis (Net Galley)

The first blow took Hugh Parsley by surprise. It fractured his right temporal bone and tore the middle meningeal artery. He stumbled and fell face down on the grass. A blow to the back of his neck cracked the occipital bone at the base of his skull. He was struck several times about the left temporal area. His brain ceased to function. Hugh Parsley was dead.

Murder on the Second Tee is the follow-up to the popular crime fiction novel Murder on Page One.

The directors of the niche Bucephalus Bank are meeting in a St Andrews hotel. One of them is found dead on the golf course. It is Flick Fortune’s first case as a detective inspector. As she struggles to uncover the murderer behind the bank’s respectable façade, she receives unexpected help from Detective Sergeant Bagawath Chandavarkar (Baggo), who is investigating a multi-million pound money laundering scam.

Another murder follows and Flick’s old boss and tormentor, ex-Inspector No, makes an unwelcome intrusion before the truth is revealed...

My Take

I think this novel suffered by being the second in a "series" where the author decided to change the central detective after the first novel. Flick Fortune appears to have been a detective sergeant in the first novel, and has been recently promoted into the position vacated when her old boss retired. Unfortunately for her the author has decided to give him a role as a private investigator on Flick's first case as a detective inspector.

The plot has a lot of potential:  the first murder takes place in Scotland on the second tee of the most famous golf course in the world; but the bank is that employs the victim is an English one that has already come to the attention of the English police for its money laundering activities. The board of the bank is having a weekend away at St. Andrew's to attempt to resolve a board vacancy and some irregularities. The murder victim is one of the directors.

But for me the writing didn't quite hit the mark. The business of money laundering becomes quite complex and involves a shady American bank and some gangster like figures. While Flick Fortune is in charge of the murder investigation, an under cover cop does what he likes with the money laundering investigation. There are some unlikely scenarios towards the end of the story.

My rating: 3.6

About the author (Net Galley)

Ian Simpson is inspired by a number of authors, including PG Wodehouse, John Mortimer and William Boyd. His writing style is comparable to Christopher Brookmyre. Murder on the Second Tee is a pacey whodunit, laced with the humour that drew glowing reviews for Ian’s first novel, Murder on Page One. website

11 October 2014

2014 Global Reading Challenge completed at Expert Level



I committed myself to reading 21 titles, all crime fiction, 3 titles each from 7 "continents".
My 7th continent - historical crime fiction.

Blog site: 2014 Global Reading Challenge

Africa
  1. 4.8, THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU, Michael Stanley Botswana
  2. 4.5, DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES, Michael Stanley: a collection of short stories
  3. 4.6, THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON, Alexander McCall Smith - Botswana 
Asia
  1. 4.5, INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES: THE SINGAPORE SCHOOL OF VILLAINY, Shamini Flint- Singapore
  2. 4.3, HOTEL BOSPHORUS, Esmahan Aykol - Turkey
  3. 4.5, ARMS FOR ADONIS, Charlotte Jay - Lebanon
Australasia/Oceania (my modification) - An extra hurdle for Australasia - at least one from New Zealand.
I can count separate Australian states
  1.  4.3, THE NURSING HOME MURDER, Ngaio Marsh- New Zealand
  2. 3.9, HANK OF HAIR, Charlotte Jay- Australia
  3. 4.7, GETTING WARMER, Alan Carter - Australian author
Europe
  1. 4.6, BLOOD FROM STONE, Frances Fyfield (UK) 
  2. 4.3, THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET, Georges Simenon - France
  3. 4.4, THE GOLDEN CALF, Helene Tursten - Sweden 
North America -
  1. 4.0, THE RIVER, Cheryl Kaye Tardif - Canada
  2. 4.5, IRREPARABLE HARM, Melissa F. Miller
  3. 3.8, LIQUID FEAR, Scott Nicholson
South America -
  1. 3.7, HOTEL BRASIL, Frei Betto - Brazil
  2. 4.5, HAPPINESS IS EASY, Edney Silvestre - Brazil
  3. 4.7, THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING, Juan Gabriel Vasquez - Colombia 
7th Continent: Historical -
  1. 4.8, LIFE AFTER LIFE, Kate Atkinson - Britain
  2. 4.4, DEATH OF A SWAGMAN, Arthur Upfield - Australia 
  3. 4.4, THE SILVERSMITH'S WIFE, Sophia Tobin   - London 1792

10 October 2014

Review: THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING, Juan Gabriel VÃsquez (Author)

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1338 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594487480
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition (November 16, 2012)- originally published 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Translated by Anne McLean
  • ASIN: B0093K1ILS
Synopsis (Amazon)

No sooner does he get to know Ricardo Laverde in a seedy billiard hall in Bogota than Antonio Yammara realises that the ex-pilot has a secret.

Antonio's fascination with his new friend's life grows until the day Ricardo receives a mysterious, unmarked cassette. Shortly afterwards, he is shot dead on a street corner.

Yammara's investigation into what happened leads back to the early 1960s, marijuana smuggling and a time before the cocaine trade trapped Colombia in a living nightmare.

My take

The publisher's synopsis really gives the potential reader no indication of the nature of this novel.

When Ricardo Laverde is shot dead on a street corner of Bogota, Antonio Yammara is shot too. He survives the injury and eventually surfaces with a need to know why the murder took place.  He is eventually contacted by Laverde's daughter who has collected documents that fill in the gaps.

This is an engrossing read with some memorable episodes such as the time in 1938 when an aerial display goes horribly wrong. A military review involving a spectacular fly past results in the fiery deaths of over fifty spectators. Both this event and the crash of American Airlines 965 are significant in the story and are based on real events.

The story also provides an arresting commentary on the part played by members of the American Peace Corps in the establishment of the Colombian drug trade.

The novel goes beyond the bounds of crime fiction, into more literary and philosophical areas, into the history of Colombia, and into effects on the current generation of the events of the last 40 years.

I have read this for my final South American title for the 2014 Global Reading Challenge.
It is also my final title for the challenge.

My rating: 4.7

November 16, 2012
Winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2014
Winner of the Alfaguara Prize 2011

Winner of the Gregor von Rezzori Prize 2013
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2013

About the author: see Wikipedia

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