Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: The Devil's Dice by Roz Watkins

I'm focussing my reading/reviewing this summer on debuts - including first crime novels from authors known for a different genre. Mostly British but I hope to throw in the occasional US or NZ author. I'm starting with Roz Watkins' very accomplished debut, The Devil's Dice:

The Devil's Dice by Roz Watkins, March 2018, 368 pages, HQ, ISBN: 0008214611

THE DEVIL'S DICE introduces DI Meg Dalton who has moved back to Derbyshire from Manchester after some personal issues.

Meg is called out to the discovery of a body in a small, reputedly haunted cave. The body is that of a local, male, patent lawyer and it looks like poison is the killer. Investigations into the deceased reveal that his personality had changed over the last few months and so suicide can't be ruled out.

Meg and her sergeant, Jai, proceed to investigate further, interviewing relatives and work colleagues. Meg has trauma in her past and the nature of this is slowly revealed over the book. Her mum is a carer for Meg's bed-ridden gran and this is an added pressure when Meg is busy on a murder case.

THE DEVIL'S DICE, a debut, is an absorbing book full of many layers - both the mystery side of it, bringing in local legends and the landscape, and Meg's personal life both as a child and current. It builds to not one but two dramatic set pieces

I very much enjoyed this book. I really liked Meg, she is humorous and likeable, with a diet of choccy biscuits and a cat called Hamlet. Her sidekick seems quite fond of her too... The plot is unusual and not one that could be easily guessed. It's a real page-turner with Meg getting into regular, serious scrapes though she is not one of those energiser bunny types and it takes its toll. And of course there is a well evoked Derbyshire setting which includes real places such as Matlock, alongside a fictional town.

The sequel, DEAD MAN'S DAUGHTER, is out next April and I'm really looking forward to it.

It's not overt but I checked with the author and I have been able to add Meg to my short list of vegetarian sleuths.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Heavenfield by L J Ross

Heavenfield by L J Ross, August 2016, 264 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN: 1530652685

Reviewed by Susan White.
(Read more of Susan's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

An isolated church in Northumberland and a man faces up to his death with a gun in his face. Later a group of pilgrims to the church, Heavenfield, are shocked to find a man kneeling over a body. The man is DCI Ryan, currently suspended from duty while investigations are undertaken into an operation that his superior, Detective Superintendent Gregson, thinks put other officers' lives in danger.

Ryan is acquainted with the dead man - Dr Mark Burrows - who was also a surrogate father to Ryan’s girlfriend, Anna. Gregson would be delighted if Ryan were found to be guilty of the murder and tasks Ryan’s friends and colleagues with the task of interviewing him as a suspect. McKenzie and Phillips are uncomfortable with the situation they have been forced into and soon find no cause to suspect Ryan. They increasingly suspect the mysterious group of influential people – The Circle – to be involved. The group has previously been implicated with dubious ritual practices but is very secretive and its membership are not known to those outside the group.

Gregson increasingly comes under suspicion for some of his dubious command decisions and then his wife goes missing.

The wide, beautiful countryside of Northumberland is really well portrayed. The writing capturing the lonely distances between towns and villages and the isolation that can develop in such a situation

This is the third book in the series featuring DCI Ryan and although the story in this book is a continuation of the previous two novels to a degree, it does work as a stand-alone. It requires a very competent writer to balance the narrative needs of a new reader to their work with that of those who have read the previous books and I feel that L J Ross carries it off. A good example of self publishing and it has encouraged me to look out for more of the author's work.

Susan White, July 2018

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis tr. Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife

Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife, June 2018, 292 pages, Bitter Lemon Press, ISBN: 190852491X

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

We always let down those we love most. And we always take the gamble that they’ll understand.

A spring night in Athens:
When a friend rings Stratos Gazis asking for his help, Stratos is surprised. After all it’s Stratos who usually calls him, not the other way round. Stratos immediately sets out into the Athenian traffic despite longing to see his current and childhood love Maria as they had arranged. At six foot three and 220 pounds Gazis draws attention and as he dislikes drawing anyone’s attention his route is carefully planned. Stratos is a “caretaker”; he takes care of people with a gun. But he doesn’t think of himself as a hit man. He does his research and if he considers the target doesn’t deserve to die then he won’t take the job. That’s his deal. He’s the best and he can afford rules.

Angelino is the old friend from the streets, an information dealer, who has asked for Stratos’ help and tonight Stratos finds himself a world away from the decrepit square Angelino used to live on with his ancient dog Hector. Stratos is buzzed into a graffiti-less neoclassical building past security guards and into a spacious sitting room filled with twenty guests at least. Angelino is hosting an investors evening. All of the guests are entranced by a young girl performing incredible feats of conjuring and magic. This is Emma; prodigiously talented, beautiful – and blind. Emma is the investment in question. To be precise, her bid to take part in the Magic Olympics. Winner takes Vegas and New York. And it is also Emma who is asking for help. She tells Stratos that when she was little she was rescued from an orphanage by a journalist. He brought her up and she regarded him as her father. They ended up living on the streets after he left his job. Three years ago he was murdered – tortured and shot. It was Emma who found his body. Now she wants Stratos to find her father’s murderer. She wants revenge.

It’s after midnight when Stratos hurries back to Maria. He spots a familiar car parked on his street. It belongs to another old friend, his closest, Kostas Dragas known as Drag, a famous homicide cop with the Athens police. Not the usual companion for a “caretaker” but again … it goes back to tough childhoods. Drag wants to discuss his latest case with Stratos: a series of killings. All of the victims had been spotlighted by a local TV station; named, shamed and identified as paedophiles. All were tortured and shot in the same distinctive manner and it looks professional. Drag agrees that it’s not Stratos. Still, he wants his view on the killings. In return Drag requests the coroner’s report on Emma’s father. But when the report comes back Stratos is struck by its details. The body of Emma’s so-called father bore all the same hallmarks as those of the dead paedophiles...

Pol Koutsakis is a Greek writer and playwrite and BABY BLUE is his second crime novel narrated by the character Stratos Gazis. (The first is ATHENIAN BLUES.) In this story Stratos takes on a convoluted, action-filled hunt for both the killer of Emma’s protector and the Avenger, a serial killer of paedophiles. He also juggles with his feelings for Maria; his knowledge of the danger that his chosen role brings her. The novel slices through modern day Athens from bottom to top; from the decay and corruption of modern Athenian poverty to the luxury and power of those who still “have”. According to writer Pol Koutsakis this is what fuelled him to create the ambiguous character of Stratos, a hard-bitten hero who straddles a grey area of morality. I do wonder if ambiguity of character is allowed to stretch to the women in Stratos’ world; they do seem to be either saints or sinners in his eyes. But I'm being rather tough. This is the world of Noir films that Stratos loves and frequently quotes. And in his noir world Stratos is much more Robert Mitchum than Bogart; tall, strong, menacing, he is effective, he does the job. I just miss a touch of Chandler wit to soften the bullet, if you pardon my phrase.

Modern Athens noir. Tough and unforgiving.

Lynn Harvey, July 2018

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, April 2018, 400 pages, Arrow, ISBN: 1784757233

Reviewed by Terry Halligan.
(Read more of Terry's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

I read this book for review purposes but now that I've finished it it is very difficult to describe it as it is unlike anything that I've read ever before. The author, Anthony Horowitz, is famous for writing the 'Alex Rider' books and also for the marvellous scripts and executive production of the highly recommended Foyle's War TV series, but writing a one-off murder mystery, that masquerades as a non-fiction, true story is a very different kettle of fish.

The plot is extremely unusual: an extremely wealthy woman arranges her own funeral and then some hours later, she is murdered! Did she know she was destined to die? Who killed her and why? An unemployed former detective decides to investigate her death and as he is short of money he decides to write a book about the investigation and asks the author Anthony Horowitz to do the actual writing as he has successfully written books before. The former detective, who is named Hawthorne, and Horowitz frequently argue over the investigation, but when they aren't talking about the enquiry into the woman's death and the possible perpetrators, Horowitz talks about his own writing career and his success with the Foyle's War and 'Alex Rider' books. As this book is told in the first person from the point of view of Anthony Horowitz I found this extensive discussion of the writing experience very interesting.

The actual details of the murder mystery were a bit light but what we got instead was the Anthony Horowitz writing experience which I found very entertaining but this may not be what other readers may want and I appreciate this. Perhaps a more usual plot structure with more details of the crime and investigation and then a satisfactory conclusion would be preferred, rather than these perhaps irrelevant descriptions of the author's previous books.

On the whole I was very impressed with the book because it was so unusual with this mixture of the fiction of the plot and Anthony Horowitz's real writing career. I enjoy writers talking about themselves and the problems they have, as well as reading good crime fiction and I therefore recommend this book.

Terry Halligan, July 2018.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Review: A Long Way Down by Ken McCoy

A Long Way Down by Ken McCoy, July 2017, 240 pages, Severn House Publishers Ltd, ISBN: 0727887300

Reviewed by Geoff Jones.

(Read more of Geoff's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Leeds, West Yorkshire, March 2014. Charlie Santiago, a successful businessman, plunges to his death from his high, office window. There has been signs of a struggle but the police investigating can find nothing, so the case is consigned to the Cold Case Unit.

The following March, journalist James Boswell is meeting a woman in a run-down hotel. Besides the woman there is a man who surprises James and kills him. His widow, angry that the police investigation suggests he was murdered by a prostitute, contacts Detective Inspector Septimus Black having been advised by Sep's girlfriend Winnie O'Toole that he is the best man to approach.

Sep is working for the Cold Case Unit and persuades his boss Detective Superintendent Jane Hawkins that he should investigate. Sep finds that Boswell was investigating Charlie Santiago's death. Sep visits the hotel where Boswell was murdered and interviews the receptionist, but then she too is murdered. Then there are several attempts on Sep's life, the last one nearly killing him and leaving him in a wheelchair. He believes that the attacks have been carried out on the orders of Carl Redman who was an associate of Santiago.

Sep and Winnie plan to disappear out of harm's way. Sep's colleague DS Fiona Burnside is a great help, but Sep is aware his old enemy DCI Robin Wood is up to something. Can Sep keep safe? Can he find out who killed Santiago and Boswell? Will he ever marry Winnie?

This is the second book in this series. The author also has four books in the Sam Carew series. I've read several and you can always rely on plenty of action and an enjoyable read. Recommended.

Geoff Jones, July 2018

Sunday, July 01, 2018

New Releases - July 2018

Here's a snapshot of what I think is published for the first time in July 2018 (and is usually a UK date but occasionally will be a US or Australian date). July and future months (and years) can be found on the Future Releases page. If I've missed anything or got the date wrong, do please leave a comment.
• Anthology - Bodies from the Library
• Amphlett, Rachel - Gone to Ground #6 Detective Kay Hunter
• Ani, Friedrich - The Nameless Day #1 Jakob Franck
• Ashley, Jennifer - Scandal Above Stairs #2 Kat Holloway, Victorian Era
• Atherton, Nancy - Aunt Dimity and the King's Ransom #23 Aunt Dimity
• Begbie, Hannah - Mother
• Brabazon, James - The Break Line #1 Max McLean
• Carpenter, Elisabeth - 11 Missed Calls
• Carter, Ali - A Brush with Death
• Chirovici, E O - Bad Blood
• Dahl, Alex - The Boy at the Door
• Daly, Paula - Open Your Eyes
• Delaney, J P - Believe Me
• Dunn, Carola - The Corpse at the Crystal Palace #23 Daisy Dalrymple, Journalist, 1920s
• Elliot, Laura - Guilty
• Elsberg, Marc - Zero
• French, Nicci - Day of the Dead #8 Frieda Klein, Psychotherapist
• Gibney, Patricia - The Missing Ones #1 Detective Lottie Parker
• Granger, Ann - An Unfinished Murder #6 Inspector Jess Campbell & Superintendent Ian Carter, Cotswolds
• Hall, Lisa - The Party
• Harper, Elodie - The Death Knock
• Hay, L V - Do No Harm
• Henaff, Sophie - Stick Together #2 Anne Capestan
• Henry, James - Yellowhammer #2 DI Nick Lowry, Essex, 1983
• Hill, Suzette A - The Cambridge Plot #4 Rosy Gilchrist
• Huang, Christopher - A Gentleman's Murder
• Hunter, Cara - In The Dark #2 DI Adam Fawley, Oxford
• Jakeman, Jo - Sticks and Stones (apa The Exes' Revenge)
• Janes, Diane - The Poisoned Chalice Murder #2 Frances Black and Tom Dod, 1929
• Jenkins, Michael - The Failsafe Query
• Jewell, Lisa - Watching You
• Karjel, Robert - After the Monsoon #2 Ernst Grip
• Kasasian, M R C - Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire #1 Inspector Betty Church, 1939, Sackwater, Suffolk
• Kernick, Simon - Dead Man's Gift #1 Short Stories
• Laws, Peter - Unleashed #2 Professor Matt Hunter
• Leather, Stephen - Tall Order #15 Dan Shepherd, SAS trooper turned undercover cop
• MacKay, Asia - Killing It
• MacLean, S G - Destroying Angel #3 Damian Seeker, agent of the Lord Protector, 1654
• Martin, Andrew - The Martian Girl
• Martin, Faith - A Fatal Obsession #1 Ryder & Loveday, Oxford, 1960s
• Mazzola, Anna - The Story Keeper
• Miloszewski, Zygmunt - Priceless
• Morton, Mandy - Magical Mystery Paws #6 The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency
• Nadel, Barbara - Displaced #6 PI Lee Arnold and his assistant, Mumtaz Hakim. East End London
• Obregon, Nicolas - Sins As Scarlet #2 Inspector Iwata
• Perks, Heidi - Now You See Her
• Rayne, Sarah - Song of the Damned #3 Phineas Fox
• Redmond, Heather - A Tale of Two Murders #1 Charles Dickens
• Reynolds, Amanda - Lying to You
• Reynolds, Rod - Cold Desert Sky #3 Charlie Yates, Reporter, USA
• Rhys, Rachel - Fatal Inheritance
• Robinson, Peter - Careless Love #25 Insp. Alan Banks, Yorkshire
• Rose, Jacqui - Toxic
• Stanley, Michael - Dead of Night
• Steadman, Catherine - Something in the Water
• Stein, Jesper - Unrest #1 Axel Steen
• Tangen, Geir - Requiem
• Tija, M J - A Necessary Murder #2 Heloise Chancey, Victorian London
• Tope, Rebecca - Crisis in the Cotswolds #16 Thea Osborne, House Sitter, Cotswolds
• Tremayne, Peter - Bloodmoon #27 Sister Fidelma
• Wood, Tom - Kill For Me #8 Victor, Assassin

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: The Memory of Evil by Roberto Costantini tr. N S Thompson

The Memory of Evil by Roberto Costantini translated by N S Thompson, March 2016, 480 pages, riverrun, ISBN: 0857389408

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

2011, Zawiya, Libya.
Men awaiting execution are noosed to a row of poplar trees leading to the village’s burnt-out, shot-out school. The Berbers, or Amazighs, have been amongst the first to rebel against Gaddafi earlier in the year and now this Amazigh village has been captured by his troops. An armoured SUV draws up and an Arab man in his 60s gets out: civilian dress, dark glasses, part of his ear missing. In the dust of the hot desert wind, this man calls the tune for both Gaddafi’s troops and their white mercenary leader as he dictates the ingredients for a vile and cruel massacre that spares not a man, woman or child in Zawiya.

1962, Tripoli, Libya.
As the desert wind blows sand into the villa courtyard four boys, two Arab and two Italian, solemnly cut their wrists and share an oath of blood brotherhood. Sand and blood. For ever.

2011, Rome, Italy.
Commissario Michele Balistreri walks through early morning Rome, exercising his painful knee before spending the rest of the day, as he prefers, indoors. First an espresso in his favourite bar. The radio spills out the latest on the war in Libya and in particular a brutal massacre at Zawiya. Balistreri leaves and heads for the office. He doesn’t want to hear any more about that war. He wants the darkness of his office.

2011, Tripoli, Libya.
Linda Nardi stretches out on her hotel bed in the quiet of sunset before the night brings the roar of NATO jets. She remembers her closeness with Michele Balistreri five years ago. They had talked, ate, spent time together, without so much as a kiss but it had ended badly. She knows that she should be getting on with the job of reporting this war, the massacre – but what she really wants is to return to her orphans and hospitals in Central Africa. In the morning she will be boarding a plane to Nairobi but for now …
In the hotel bar she bumps into a Lebanese acquaintance from Nairobi. What brings him here? “War is manna from heaven to businessmen”, he says. She asks about the hospital contract in Nairobi. Yes, he won the construction contract: Kenyan accounting, Italian rules. But the investors are Swiss? Nothing is ever really Swiss. He goes on to hint at profitable dealings for a certain bank, God’s Bank, in the Vatican state.
Just then Linda notices a beautiful Western woman surrounded by an obviously Libyan Secret Service group crossing the bar. They are followed by an Arab in his 60s, deeply lined face, part of an ear missing. The Lebanese businessman pales.
Is that a business competitor? No. Have you heard what happened in Zawiya, Miss Nardi? They say that man was behind the death of General Younis … Suddenly her acquaintance remembers something he must attend to. Sick of both Libya and the war, Linda returns to her thoughts of Nairobi.

THE MEMORY OF EVIL is Roberto Costantini's final part of his Commissario Balistreri trilogy. By 2011 (the primary setting of THE MEMORY OF EVIL) bad boy Michele Balistreri, sworn childhood blood-brother of Ahmed, Karim and Nico in 1960s Libya is reaching the end of his career as Head of Rome's Murder Squad. He is a man well-versed on both sides of the criminal fence, in his 60s, exhausted, in ill health and approaching retirement. Although the story begins with journalist Linda Nardi’s investigation of corruption in Nairobi and the death of a beautiful young woman and her two year-old daughter on board a cruise ship off Elba, these crimes are counter played by Balistreri’s increasing obsession with the past, in particular the riddle of his mother’s death in Tripoli of 1969. Supposedly a suicide, Michele is convinced she was murdered. But which of the people he knew and loved back then had killed her?

My sense of Roberto Costantini's trilogy is that it is a work in its own right. So I have to ask if it is a problem not to have read its previous novels. Costantini keeps events clear and apparent in the timeline so the problem is unlikely to be that of missing important elements in the narrative. But as THE MEMORY OF EVIL’s narrative heat rises, its chapters come short and fast, referring back and forth between 2011 and 1960s Libya as seen through the eyes of different characters. This focusses and builds tension but it’s possible that the staccato changes may confuse a reader new to the trilogy.

Above all THE MEMORY OF EVIL is crime fiction. It encompasses violence and unlikeable characters doing unspeakable things, investigative journalism and police procedural, plot twists and suspense, skilful writing and translation. But I do recommend this “saga” of an influential Italian family and its circle set against the backdrop of events in twentieth century North Africa and Italy during the rise and fall of Gaddafi. These are times, places and points of view not often caught in crime fiction and Costantini’s writing of this story is authoritative.

Lynn Harvey, June 2018.