Catching up on my reading so far in 2017

Based on last year I am not doing very well on reading but I think I have the bug back now.

  • I’ve read Nutshell by McEwan;
  • re-read The Honourable Schoolboy by JLC;
  • The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson and also
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Since I first drafted this piece I’ve now added

  • A Very British Ending again by Edward Wilson.
  • I then changed direction and read Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson.

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I enjoyed the Nutshell because of it’s unusual narration from the perspective of an unborn child in the lead-female’s womb – commenting the to be committed crime along with her new partner – the brother of her ex-husband. The descriptive passages from the unborn child’s sentience although unborn and unworldly – describing being at the other end of the sexual act to being able to hear his mother listening to audio books. I loved the whole thing and it does have a predictable ending I suppose but still exciting as it builds-up to the final pages.

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The Whitehall Mandarin was a typical, factually based framework, good old-fashioned cold-war espionage novel following the main protagonist Catesby on the tail of double-agent; a US special forces agent who turned to fight against his comrades and the  daughter of the titular Whitehall Mandarin – the first female minister of defence. The detail which Wilson goes into of the circumstances in North Vietnam doing that conflict obvious belies his past as a special forces agent himself. The story centres around the reason the Chinese were able to get to the H-bomb in a much reduced time compared to the other major global powers and where did the secrets come from. A great read.

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I re-read The Honourable Schoolboy because of a repeated JLC interview about the Smiley trilogy and also because of the impending release this autumn of the latest novel from Mr Cornwell about Smiley and crew.  A long but enjoyable read about how George and the circus old-hands use the cover-ups perpetrated by Haydon to re-open what he was burying to protect Karla’s network.

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The Big Sleep was my first Chandler and as I read it the narrator sounded like Bogart all the way through – the book started very much – chapter and verse to the film but despite the closeness to the ploy throughout, the ending of the film was much more Hollywood than the book. Still a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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A Very British Ending is a long and detailed overlap of many of the stories of Catesby’s journey through the cold-war. Its main theme is the belief by MI5 that Harold Wilson was a soviet spy and the threat by some radical military to stage a coup d’etat! A great but scary read.

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Latterly, Beloved Poison is a gothic crime story about an apothecary, Jem Flockhart, in the 19th century who is trying to find out who is responsible for some miniature coffins that she and a character called Will have uncovered. The uncovering of the coffins starts a trail of deaths which put Jem in a cell before she is released by someone else’s confession but the story unfolds and leads back to Edinburgh and then establishes the link to London. A very enjoyable read. My current read is a first edition of the next Jem Flockhart – Dark Asylum

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I still have lots to read………

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“Blood and Honey” DI Joe No.6 by Graham Hurley

Another exciting page in the continuing Portsmouth Procedurals with Faraday and Winter and more Jimmy Suttle.

I read this one, not a mean feat at 500+ pages, in a few days. Whilst this time last year I was struggling to find time and brain space to read I am now still travelling and working away but this now gives me the time to consume books at an increasing rate. In fact I am on no. 24 of 25 of my annual Goodreads challenge. I thought I’d set the bar quite high after only managing 20 at a push in 2015. I think I am reading faster into the bargain.

I read on Graham’s web page that his wife keeps ‘the charts’. I can only imagine these are extensive because the plot in each book always refers backwards to previous episodes.

The book of the blog.

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In this one we get a glimpse of how Winter is coping with his life changing event from a previous book but he will never really change his ways. Eadie, Joe’s most recent squeeze is out of the picture in this book, and J.J. doesn’t figure much either, but Joe does almost get involved with another woman with a thread from Angels Passing coming across his bows.

This one isn’t about Bazza Mackenzie, either, for a change. After the previous attempt to bring down his empire, we’ve moved on to a headless body at a bird watching site on the Isle of Wight, where in fact most of the action takes place with Joe as SIO and Willard putting on the pressure.

Meanwhile, working for Cathy Lamb on the crime squad, Paul and Jimmy are after a local business man called Wishart, after nicking a well known defence solicitor for possession and another guy for living on immoral earnings. Paul gets more than he bargained for out of the deal in the book and ends up with a nasty headache but a great new piece of skirt on his hands; she can be a headache too!

Joe is after a former squaddie for the headless dead body but they dont know who it is which makes pinning it down even harder. Helping Joe with this one is Tracey Barber, down on placement from London, she has a background in Special Branch which ties in nicely with the main plot. There are big references in this book to Bosnia which is where the main target has his allegiances and it appears also got a young and vulnerable ‘wife’.

What makes the story spin is the target runs lodgings and a care home on the island where a missing man had an argument with the owner. The missing man, not seen for months, seems to tie in with the body that is bloated and apparently chewed by sea creatures so not easily identifiable especially without a head. He had been visiting his ‘nan’ in the home but she’s unreliable because she has dementia.

My thoughts.

It’s a big book as I said but very enjoyable, very easy to read and I am on to the next one already called One Under.

As you know if you read my blogs I dont like to give anything away about the outcomes of books. I love all the local references which make these books very special to me.

I give it 5 stars because it flows, keeps you gripped whilst it leads you all over the place. The climax is good and whilst again a study of some political history with the backstory of UN peacekeeper forces in Bosnia.

Sins of the Father – Jimmy Suttle #3 by Graham Hurley – 5 stars

I’d recently read, and written a few words about, 1. Western Approaches and 2. Touching Distance the first two Jimmy Suttle books, as an alternative to reading the DI Joe novels by Graham Hurley. It seemed natural after I read DI Joe #5 to swap back and find out what was happening with Jimmy and Lizzie; after two books I have really started to care about them and towards the end of this one I had tears in my eyes.

I stress I don’t counsel this approach to these books although you can read them as stand-alone novels because the back-story is explained enough I would always read in order.

I might have also mentioned that my erstwhile colleague, crime fiction expert,  a narrator, and Q&A lead at various book launches and Nordicana events, where I met him, Barry Forshaw had touched only lightly on the work of Graham Hurley in his Brit Noir encyclopedia. I was quite disappointed that he’d only included a reference to two of the Suttle series and no DI Joe, but I guess it’s difficult to get in everything about every author. I was also alarmed by this entry when I read an apparent spoiler about book 3 Sins of the Father that I would rather not have known, but in the event now reading this one I understand it not to be a spoiler as the devastation that Jimmy and his wife Lizzie have experienced isn’t one of the actual whodunnit threads in this great novel that actually happens in between books 2 and 3 and we know the outcome early in the book.

As I think I mentioned in my previous blog on Graham’s first four books about DI Joe, I got spoilers in Western Approaches about the fate of DI Joe and Paul Winter that I’d rather not have known but I am still enjoying that series of books set in Portsmouth. There are in fact other spoilers in this one but I won’t elaborate.

Touching Distance deals with the killing of several apparently unconnected people by what can only have been done by a sniper. (see my Graham Hurley catch-up blog for more on these two books.

Before I move on to the actual review of this book, I would hasten to add that there is a stark and sometimes cruel side to the story lines in these books. The good guys don’t get off easily in life and I do believe that the author has an almost cruel mindset when he plunges our heroes and heroines into horrible and sometimes, in contrast, some pleasurable situations in their private lives that add to the sense of tension and it serves to enhance the thrilling nature of these books.

The book of the blog

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As I write am I’ve literally finished the book but it explains that their 4-year-old daughter Grace is no longer alive, having disappeared at the Southsea kite festival the previous August. The book, in parallel, also deals with the savage murder of a local rich old man with a military history in Africa.

The dead-man is rolling in money but confined to his home after a stroke. Two of his adult children, Neil and Hilary, live with him and they are the obvious first suspects, but their alibis for the evening of the murder are apparently very strong. So Jimmy and Luke Golding his partner on the case along with Det. Supt. Nandy as SIO and DI Houghton are engaging lots of CID resources in tracking down a mysterious African who was visiting the dead-man but was gone after the murder was committed.

Lizzie meanwhile has failed to write the novel about the events and her close experiences in the last book, primarily as a result of the loss of her daughter. Whilst we saw that she and Jimmy were patching things up at the end of Touching Distance, the loss of Grace has damaged them and their relationship. Chantry Cottage is now history, Jimmy has moved  into a flat in his area and Lizzie is back in Portsmouth with her mother. There are more flashbacks to the DI Joe series in this book, because of what Lizzie is doing with her new project, where she encounters one of Bazza’s acquaintances and business associates.

My thoughts..

The way Graham Hurley writes is great for me. The narrative flows, the exchange from one thread to another doesn’t always wait for a new chapter to start. Each new chapter is  marked by a date and sometimes the hour giving the passage of time. I don’t want to put these books down and regularly I’ve been reading the same paragraph over and over and realize I should stop and go to sleep.

As I said earlier, in this one we do get a lot of, sometimes, previously unwritten back-story about Jimmy and Lizzie when they’re examining or explaining to someone else the situation and aftermath surrounding the loss of Grace. Even Jimmy’s learned passion for opera gained in an earlier story causes someone from his past to haunt him momentarily.  I just love the continuity of these stories, the individual baggage the characters have and if you are reading them in order I would strongly recommend you do, in fact, I think you should read all the DI Joe ones first!

This is another wonderful novel from Mr. Hurley. 5 stars once again.

I have to wait for no 4. to be published so watch this space. I need to know what happens to Jimmy and Lizzie, Luke Golding and all the other characters big and small!

It isn’t about the crimes, is it? It’s about the people. I was the same with the Wallander (Mankell) and Harry Hole (Jo Nesbo) novels – for me, they become part of my life for the time I am reading.

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The Order of Things is now available for pre-order and due for release in November. I can’t wait. I have my email confirmation from Amazon.

In the meantime, I will be starting Blood and Honey by, guess who, Graham Hurley in the next installment of the Faraday and Winter series, when I lift my fingers off the keyboard. I am sure I will get more on the Jimmy back-story too! Until next time…….. happy reading!

As a complete aside as I finish this blog I’ve just learned that Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson should arrive next week.

 

 

 

Cut to Black …. DI Joe #5 Graham Hurley

In my last blog I was in catch-up on Graham Hurley’s Portsmouth Police Procedurals featuring DI Joe Faraday and also dipping into the continuation of these in the Jimmy Suttle series set in the West Country. I have now read no. 5 called “Cut to Black”I raved in my blog about the procedural narrative,  the lives of the coppers and their personal battles, and the use of the back-drop of Portsmouth as an added bonus for me living in the area where most of the crimes are perpetrated, the police and perpetrators live.

The nastiness of the crimes in some of these cases has me now looking over my shoulder for Bazza’s mates, wondering if the lad with the hoodie loitering by the bike-rack at the station is up to no-good! The site of an unmarked Ford Fiesta parked at the side of the road with two dodgy looking blokes sitting there could be a couple of Kingston Crescent DCs watching an address or someone in particular. The sound of a siren, usually a head-turner anyway, now has my imagination fired-up even more.

The book of the blog

Cut to Black follows the continuing exploits of Faraday and Winter.

Faraday is still in Major Crimes and gets appointed to take over a covert operation to bring down the aforementioned crime-boss in Pompey  “Bazza”  who has almost completely separated himself from being  ‘a mush from Copnor’ ; from his away football fan roots in the notorious and violent ‘6:57;’ his evolution into drug-dealing, the foundation of his fortune, and then his move to appear legitimate by setting-up businesses and buying property to help him wash his dirty money. Joe’s appointment is a result of one his colleagues being seriously injured in a hit and run accident. J.J., Joe’s son is now making serious documentary video’s with Joe’s now girlfriend Eadie Sykes and this leads to some trouble for both father and son and a conflict of interest!

Meanwhile Winter is now part of a crime-squad aimed at proactive policing – their task is to try run out of town some drug dealing ‘scousers’ who are treading on Bazza’s toes. Paul is partnered with Jimmy Suttle in this story and he learns some valuable lessons from Winter with hindsight.

This novel also has a lot of political ooomph as it’s set in March 2003 during the invasion by the US and UK of Iraq and the toppling of Sadam Hussein. I found this weird timing – I started reading this book just after the Chilcott report was published. The novel for me wasn’t so much about crime but about the people involved in it and how far their web can be spun. It’s about drug culture and the potential the money coming from that has for changing the economic fortune of an area.

Another highly recommended novel from Hurley’s library! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

PS Blood and Honey, no 6 is already dispatched from Amazon 

‘Faraday’s Law’ books by Graham Hurley

At the launch of a book in Belgravia in April, I was in conversation with a friend of a writer and the writer (whose book was being launched) and we got into a conversation about where I live – Portsmouth. The friend of the writer said “you’ll know Graham Hurley’s police procedurals set in and  around ‘Pompey'” and I replied simply “No, tell me more!”.

I am also inspired to write about Graham’s excellent procedurals because the entry in Brit Noir by Barry Forshaw is very small considering Graham’s extensive catalogue of books.

On my return from London, I was on Amazon and had ordered “Turnstone” the first in the Faraday and Winter series.

To date, I have read four of them in rapid succession – Turnstone, The Take, Angels Passing, and Deadlight this among reading preview copies of newly or to be published books for my blog and of course for writers and publishers who are kind enough to ask.

I hasten to add I am now reading Cut to Black.

All four of these I read with great affection as the police stations, locations, pubs, local marinas, shopping malls, and landmarks are all very familiar to me. This doesn’t detract from how excellent these books are as police procedurals. I suppose I should remind my readers that I was a special constable in Hampshire for 5 years, based at Fareham, Cosham, and Kingston Crescent so the buildings and the force I also hold in great affection.

The initial main attraction for me was the well-constructed police procedural; the use of actual police terminology. Hurley uses jargon and abbreviations, but he does explain so you’re not left wondering. He even refers to Tango-One the old name for the police control centre.

Most of all I am now following the two main protagonists in these books; Joe Faraday and Paul Winter. I’ve called this “Faraday’s Law” because it sums up for me that Joe (follows the letter of it) keeping the investigation ‘policy book’ up to date on decisions made.

Joe’s personal battles also loom large in these books – his relationship with his son JJ; his love-life and his times out walking, watching birds. Joe’s love of bird watching is also a treat and the title of the first one is, in fact, one of the birds he sees on Farlington Marshes and Langstone Harbour – the Turnstone.

Graham describes Joe’s conflicts with Winter and the political battles he fights with the upper echelons of the police management both local and regional.

However, in contrast, Paul is a law unto himself.

Paul is an old-fashioned copper; he hates procedure and process unless he has to jump through a hoop to ensure something is admissible in court. He is also a bit of a geezer in truth with some if not all of one foot in the camp of the bad guys but in the interest of getting a collar. He has his sources and he has a way to get information about crimes and outcomes that others on the team in the stories don’t. I like him in a contradictory way.

So to the books, just teasers no spoilers I hope.

Turnstone

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A girl goes to the police station to report her father missing on her birthday.

“How do you know he is missing?”

“He would never miss my birthday”.

The plot develops into a search for  a missing person for Joe. The local crime network is heavily involved in this story and it also involves a nautical theme and what happens when the weather takes a turn for the worst during the Fastnet yacht race with fatal consequences.  The story is complicated when one of the local criminals is shot by a police officer during one of the raids which has long-term consequences for the officer and his wife who is one of Joe’s colleagues.

The Take

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This deals with a gynaecology consultant who seems to be using his position to abuse the patients to satisfy his own proclivities but it backfires and he is now not practising. He then disappears from a hotel in Portsmouth and is seen leaving with an unknown figure. Who is  this man? Winter unofficially gets to the bottom of this but the main investigation they are struggling. The setting and timeline of this, for those who know Portsmouth is when Gunwharf Quays was only just being built.

Angels Passing

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I felt quite unnerved by this one, principally because a body is found on Hilsea Lines which is very close to where I live. It also deals with the death, by falling, of a teenage girl from a tower block in Somerstown. The search for a young kid who has the possible clue to what happened to the girl and the links to the other death of the local ‘geezer.’

There is a lot of reference in this one about the lack of future for kids in the area and how they turn to crime as a way of life, without recognising the consequences.

Deadlight

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This was a great book; I read it literally in 4 days.  It starts with a warship being hit by Exocet missiles during the Falklands war and then jumps to present day – 20 years after – where a prisoner office is found dead in his flat.

The unraveling of this apparent murder alongside the death of a drug dealer, the circumstances around Ellis, Winter’s colleague, who is getting phone calls in the middle of the night, Joe’s promotion to major crimes where he is acting as DSIO in the absence of Willard, his boss, all keeps Cathy Lamb, Paul Winter and Joe very stretched.

The ‘Jimmy Suttle’ series

We start to hear about Jimmy in book 5 of the Joe stories Cut to Black although I think he was mentioned once in the previous.

So time has moved on ….

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In between Joe 2 and Joe 3, I made the fatal reading mistake and broke one of my own rules by reading the first of a follow-on series called Western Approaches by Graham Hurley.

It deals with the exploits of a protégé of Faraday and Winter, Jimmy Suttle, and his move from Hampshire to the west coast of England in and around Exeter with his wife Lizzie a former journalist and their young child, Grace.  The flaw in my judgement came when in the first few pages I learned about the fate of Joe Faraday and Paul Winter – in fact – Winter features greatly in the plot of this first in the Suttle series of which I now have read number 2. It contains some spoilers and back story that as I serial reader didn’t want to know.

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So before I read number 4 in the Faraday series I again read about Jimmy and Lizzie in Touching Distance. Another great book dealing with the deaths of a number of people who have been ‘offed’ by what look like snipers. It hooks back to squaddies involved in Afghanistan and Helmand province and once again Lizzie get’s hooked by one of the characters in the interests, this time, of a good feature for her paper.

I now have Sins of the Father on the to-be-read pile.

I will continue to read these excellent books until they or I am exhausted.

I will keep you all posted on my progress through these excellent novels.

Connor Montrose in The London Cage

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As quite often happens a publisher – in this case Fledgling Press drops me a line and asks me to read and review a book before it’s release.  In this case it is The London Cage by Mark Leggatt. As with all the books I receive my first move is to check if there is one before. I was correct and in this case The Names of the Dead was published previously so being cheeky I asked the publisher for a copy of that book and it duly arrived in the post.

So who is Connor Montrose? Described in some reviews as Bond meets Bourne meets Indiana Jones – there is some truth in this in comparison as the pace of the plots is similar. The real Connor Montrose is a CIA IT Technician who has gone rogue because he was digging where he shouldn’t and found out about aircraft flights that no one should know about when he is trying to find out what has happened to his sister. The irony of this is to keep him out of trouble he is posted to Interpol in Europe, where he gets into more trouble.

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Names of the Dead

The CIA want Connor dead! “Shoot on sight with extreme prejudice” are  words expressed to ensure he cant speak. He gets tangled up in a plot to extract gold and millions of dollars hidden since the second world war. This involves him being permanently on the run.

The London Cage

Connor survives, as one would expect, but only by being one step ahead of the CIA with the help of a new ’employer’ and a side-kick called Kirsty.

We find him in a bar in London with an ear-piece watching proceedings between some Russian guys and some one selling photographs. The ear-piece is allowing him to communicate with Kirsty who is a hacker of the Lisbeth Salander standard.

Kirsty is an interesting character in her own right as you’ll find out she knows the rat-runs and back ways in London. She knows how to spot a Victorian lamppost that isn’t a lamppost at all but carries a bank of CCTV.

Connor and Kirsty are in the middle of a cat and mouse game; the CIA and MI5 are after them and narrowly escaping capture or being shot as in this story MI5 and the metropolitan police are US poodles doing what and when they told.

They are helped by a mysterious character called Pilgrim the brother of a character introduced and who dies in the prologue set 30 years in the past. The circumstances of his demise slowly unravel as the plot unveils a threat of nuclear war and Armageddon in the middle east unfolds with the Russians and Kirsty with her back-office genius Zac in the background competing to decipher codes taken from a photograph of the dead man when his body is recovered at the bottom of an glacier.

The plot comes to the explosive ending when the clues lead them to Whitechapel and the arches, a house with a supposed and disgraced double agent just before he gets killed. They do solve the problem, but Kirsty and Connor have to be chameleons in the watched-world that is 21st century London, with containment zones closing around them they change appearance, clothes and use devious means of transport to get where they need to go.

The London Cage is an excellent follow-up to Names of the Dead from Mark Leggatt and I can highly recommend it if you like a page-turning thriller non-stop tension, jumping from one close-call to another only escaping from each one in sometimes the most unlikely and fluky situations. in the Connor Montrose you never know who is on your side or who you can trust and how much they have to hide.

 The Names of the Dead is on Amazon in ebook format.

The London Cage is publish on June 29th, 2016 on Amazon in paperback.

thanks to:

Mark Leggatt

Linda MacFadyen at Fledgling Press for my review copies.

 

 

Willow Walk by SJI Holliday

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The Book of the Blog

Following on from ‘Black Wood’ – ‘Willow Walk’ sees us back in the fictional Banktoun following Davie Gray investigating drug-related deaths amongst teenagers in the region for his colleague in CID – Malkie. Does Davie want to join CID at his age?

His private life overlaps this story in a big way when a woman is found badly wounded and Malkie thinks it’s someone Davie knows! When he goes to the hospital it turns out not to be the girl – Marie – that he’s been dating on and off, but they have a lot of similarities but one key identifier isn’t on the injured victim.

In parallel with this Marie is receiving letters from someone called Graeme. As the story unfolds we find out who the mystery letter writer is and when he turns up in Banktoun things get messy for Marie and for the rest of community especially in the location of the book’s title.

Davie is hot on the trail and has discovered a link between Marie and a missing mental hospital patient as well as being hot on the trail of the ‘drug’ pushers.

Overlapping all this is Laura from the first story – one of Davie’s karate students and her escapades with a boy – a rite of passage for her, leading to her playing a part in the conclusion of the mystery letter-writer – when it all goes to mayhem.

I wont say anymore about the plot as I will spoil it.

My Thoughts

I was, I must admit, initially, a little dissapointed that not all of the main characters from Black Wood were featured but as Davie is the copper in the mix he is central to Willow Walk even more than he was in Black Wood. This makes Willow Walk a standalone if you haven’t read Black Wood, but my followers will know I like to read in order.

This is another excellently written page-turner from Susi. A true nail-biter.

I’d read the first in a matter of days despite having a day job and read this one in a similar time frame, consuming hundreds of pages sometimes in one sitting. That speaks volumes for me about the fluid way in which the narrative flows, alternating between Davie and Marie and ‘the letters’ she receives. The letters that keep appearing in the novel add to the ultimate creepiness of this story.

I highly recommend this chilling novel – it has suspense, thrills and it gave me the creeps. A thoroughly good read. 5 Stars for Willow Walk

Credits

SJI Holliday 

Black & White

Laura at B&W for my review copy of Willow Walk which started me on the Banktoun trail and introduced me to Susie’s work

 

Willow Walk – as I said in a recent post on social media “if it’s half as good as Black Wood we’re in for a treat”.

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watch out for the Blog Tour in June for the paperback release. In the meantime this is now out on ebook at the following page (if you’re not already there of course.)

Willow Walk eBook 

Black Wood is also on eBook, Print and Audio Download too!