No Sranger to Death Janet O’Kane

Well this book had me strangely gripped. It’s one of those where I found myself getting to the end of a chapter and having to carry on to the next, but why. There was no great cliff-hangers, no real oh-god –what-happens-next moments, it was almost nosiness.

The book is based in a Borders Town in Scotland, with the main character being the newly relocated, English, Doctor GP, Zoe Morland. The reader gradually gets to know of Zoe, and eventually her often hinted at past, all the way through the book, but her description is left to the readers imagination, I don’t think I even know her age.

The story begins when Doctor Zoe finds a body amongst the debris of a Bonfire close to the local pub. She is not treated as a suspect and at times helps the Police with issues surrounding the death. However Zoe has a good friend in the village, Kate a deaf single parent who seems to be the font of all knowledge, and general gossip, for the surrounding area. Kate convinces Zoe to look into the murder with her.

During this investigation the reader is introduced to various characters, and their problems. Janet O’Kane does a wonderful job of exploring village gossip and showing how small bits of information can lead to big misconceptions. All this adds to the plot and the mystery of the crime.

When a second person dies, and Zoe is involved in an accident, which appears anything but an accident the list of suspects grows. The more we hear about the villagers, and their intertwined relationships, the more people the reader will begin to suspect.

The ending to this book comes along quickly, not that it’s a short book at 350 pages on Kindle, more that it’s wound up quickly.

Unlike Agatha Christie who introduced characters in the last few pages so the reader found it hard to guest the murderer before the end ,Janet O’Kane gives us something we don’t know about a character until the end, and why should we.Nobody knows everything about everybody when they first meet

I want to say more about this book because it is written beautifully, but I don’t want to give away the plot. It doesn’t plod along, or sprint from scene to scene. It happily skips along at a nice pace occasionally throwing in a dead body and the odd moralistic conundrum. I challenge any reader to not make assumptions based on some of the dilemmas used in this story.

I have read a bit about Janet O’Kane, if you can believe the “About the Author” section on Amazon. It says she went straight from reading Enid Blyton to reading Crime novels. I think what she has produced here is a nice mixture of both. The grit and story of the crime novel, mixed with the innocence of two women trying to solve crimes by listening to village gossip.

And do you know what. IT WORKS!!

I will look forward to Janets next book, and may even read some of the suggested titles given by other readers of this very good book.

Mari Hannah The Kate Daniels series

Mari Hannah DCI Kate Daniels Series

The Murder Wall

Settled in Blood

Deadly Deceit

Monument to Murder

I am going to come out with it from the start, I love these books. Those of you who read my first blog will know that I rarely get into books based in England but I was hooked on these from the start.

When Deadly Deceit popped up on Amazon, as a recommended read, I read the review and liked what I saw. Several reviews later I had decided it was a book I wanted to read but, it was the latest in a series, and that meant I had to read the others in order first.

The Murder Wall introduced me to DCI Kate Daniels and her colleagues at the Northumbria Police Murder InvestigationTeam. The team is made up, as any such teams are, of a collection of individuals. Each individual has their own backstory which runs through the series of books. These sub plots add to the main story and help to keep the pages turning. The two young Detectives, who joined the team together, a woman with great computer skills and a man who is excellent at the tedious life of the observation specialist; the middle age detective with gambling problems who is trying to put his life back together; and another who loses the trust of the team; the crusty old hand Detective Sergeant who Kate relies on professionally and in her personal life; Kate’s mentor, and Boss, Detective Superintendent Bright, his own life in turmoil; and a myriad of bit part Police characters which drift in and out of the books always at the right time and in the right context.

Kate herself is struggling with the break-up of a relationship with Criminal Profiler Jo Soulsby, and throughout the series this relationship teeters on the brink of being totally destroyed whilst almost reforming. Kate suffers from what all high achieving Police Officers suffer, the “job comes first” and everything else just has to wait. We see Kate struggle with this, being torn between work and relationships with Jo, her father, and her friends. Needless to say the job usually wins.

The Murder Wall is set a year after Kate Discovered two bodies in a Church, an incident that is still playing on her mind, and a crime she did not solve. When the body of a man is found in a flat in Newcastle the crime is investigated by Jo’s team. It’s her first as Senior Investigating Officer, a chance she has been waiting for but is sullied by the fact that Jo appears to be tied into the crime. Her dedication to her friend conflicts with her professionalism and at times interferes with the relationship she has with her team and her mentor Bright. As the investigation unfolds it becomes clear that Jo, or the team, have an enemy close at hand who is hampering the investigation. The end of the book….. well it’s tense and it would be better if you read it. I hate spoilers in reviews.

Settled Blood. The team investigate the suspicious death of a young girl found dead in the middle of nowhere. The Police initially wrongly identify the girl as being the daughter of a local multi-millionaire who appears to own half the County. When he attends the hospital to identify the body he realises it’s not his daughter, but does identify the clothing she was wearing. This leads to a twisted story of kidnapping and murder. Kate retains the role of SIO and leads her team through the investigation uncovering an historic wrong doing by a senior officer which may have an effect on the case. In many other books writers look for extreme cases to convey this part of a story, but Mari Hannah has found a small indiscretion, which I am sure happened many times in the real world, which comes back to bite somebody on the bum, which I’m sure has also happened many times.  It fits the plot perfectly and aids in the mystery leading up to a suspenseful conclusion.

In this book Hannah introduces the Mountain Rescue Service, again completely in context with the story and the scene in which it is set. As with every other aspect of her books she has obviously spent time researching or working with the people she writes about. The use of the rescue team, and the interaction between them and the MIT, is just as it would be during a professional investigation. Again no spoilers so not much about the plot but believe me its good.

Deadly Deceit It’s not often I come across a completely original plot, I’ve been reading this genre of books for 40 years, but in this story Hannah nails a brilliant one. The book starts with a house fire and, in a separate incident, a multi-vehicle Road Traffic Collision. A man and child are killed in the house fire whilst several people die in the RTC. Kate is on route to the house, with her Crusty Trusty Sergeant, when they come across the RTC and have to stop to render assistance before carrying on to the house. The house fire is quickly diagnosed as being started deliberately and the MIT take over the crime, investigating the murder of a father and his son. It is soon discovered that one of the victims of the RTC was also murdered, after the crash. The investigation of the crash murder is also carried out by the team, although they are split over the two scenes stretching their resources. This one I’m definitely not going to spoil by going into the details of the story but I will say this. The characters are brilliantly portrayed well written and again perfect for the story.

Monument to Murder, so far the last in the series and every bit as good as its predecessors. This incident sees Kate’s team investigating when the skeletal remains of two girls are found in a beach dune. Again Mari Hannah intertwines a second case as the daughter of a friend goes missing in what appears to be a related incident. The friend is Emily McCann, a Prison Psychologist who is recently widowed. She and Kate share a mutual friend, Jo Soulsby who now works in the prison, and the relationship between the three forms a big part of this book.

The crime scene is close to the prison and a long way from Newcastle, forcing Kate to uproot her team and work from a remote Police Station, bringing her into close contact with Jo. A few will they-won’t they moments crop up but again they are all perfect for the story and not at all distracting.

Whilst investigating the murder Kate attempts to help Jo and Emma investigate the disappearance of Emma’s daughter. Neither the murder investigation, nor the investigation into the disappearance of Emma’s daughter can be called a subplot as they both command equal time in the book. At times it appears that the crimes are related, at others it seems obvious that they are not. It was not till the last few pages that I worked out whether they were or not. Again no spoilers you’ll have to read it for yourself.

I always have trouble with UK based Police procedural books, mainly because I have worked in that environment and always think things like; “that’s not right”, “that would never happen”, or “they would never act like that”. In none of the four books did any Mari Hannah  make any of those thoughts cross my mind, and as an ex Fire Investigation Officer in one of the biggest Fire Brigades in the country that takes some doing, especially in Deadly Deceit.

Every scene is realistic, sometimes in its simplicity; every character brings to mind people I have met; all the crimes are plausible, in short these books are the real deal.

For me, move over Colin Dexter, I have a new favourite British Crime Writer, and she’s brilliant.

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

Rarely do I pick up a book based on a true event that I have never heard of; this book sent me on a bit of a hike through the internet researching the facts of a series of crimes which took place in New Orleans just after the end of the First World War, The New Orleans Axe Killer Murders, for that alone the Axe Mans Jazz was worth reading, but that’s not the only reason, this book is brilliant.

Set in 1919 the story centres on the hunt an Axeman who is killing couples in the dead of the night, unsurprisingly with an axe.

Three separate inquiries are carried out by the central characters, all cleverly and logically woven together, bringing the book to an exciting end.

Detective  Michael Talbot leads the New Orleans Police investigation. Talbot is an outcast amongst his fellow officers and struggles with a personal secret.

Luca D’Andrea, an ex-detective who is released from prison at the start of the book and investigates the murders on behalf of the Mafia.

Ida Davis a young mixed race girl who works for a Detective agency, but takes on the investigation on her own, to prove to her boss she is capable. Ida has a friend who helps her, a young Jazz Musician called Lewis (Louis) Armstrong; and yes it is that one.

Ray Celestin has written an excellent book. He has taken known facts, including a letter purportedly written by the murderer and published in a local paper, and woven them into a story that held me captivated from the start. His description of New Orleans transported me to the city in the early 20th Century. At times he draws comparisons between 1919 New Orleans and Victorian London, and of course between these murders and those of Jack the Ripper.

His characters fit so well into the story, and are so right for the time it is set in; I wondered whether they were all based on real people. The Lewis Armstrong character is heavily based on the early life of the legendary Louis Armstrong and much of the book revolves around bars and boats where he played in his early career.

The book covers the uncomfortable issue of the racism of the time well. It is clever tool that Celestin uses by having white, black and mixed race characters as the spine of his story, allowing the reader to be taken to any quarter of the city.

Celestin uses a tropical storm to bring the story to an end, like the storm itself the last part of the book builds into an intense crescendo, and like a storm once it has gone a calm settles.

It’s clever, the real Axeman Murderer was never identified but the killings did stop following the storm. Celestin uses a bit of literary licence to let the storm tidy up some lose ends but nothing that distracts from the story.

This is Ray Celestin’s first novel. I’m looking forward to his next.

If you haven’t read The Axemans Jazz yet, I envy you. All I can say is pour yourself a bourbon, put Jazz FM on the radio and cancel any appointments you’ve got for a couple of days. You are going to love it

The Verdict

A story which starts with a first-hand account of a crime, or does it.

 

The Verdict Nick Stone

After the First chapter the novel is narrated by Terry Flint, a Law Clerk who is part of the defence team at the trial of a man accused of murder. The main storey centres on the defences investigation into the crime; but the real story is of the moral dilemmas faced by Terry when he realises his once best friend Vernon James is the accused. The friendship had ended badly years before the start of the book. Throughout Terry is doing his duty trying to find evidence which will clear Vernon, but why, and if he can establish Vernon’s innocence will he?

The characters in this book are well written, Terry is somebody everybody will like, and Vernon is instantly dislikeable. Ideal for the story.

There are some points in this book which might not sit well with people who understand Police and Legal procedures, but stay with it. The irregularities have been put early in the story to give the writer a licence to return to them later, and put them right. It might not happen like this in the real world, or we’d like to think it wouldn’t, but it does make for a good story

The book is typical English Crime Drama for the first three quarters of the story, but then goes a bit Robert Ludlum in the last quarter. I have to say I didn’t think it needed to go in that direction, and if anything it spoiled what was a good mystery.

At the close of the narrative the story is ended by a series of Newspaper Clippings which are supposed to tie up the loose ends. I have to confess I didn’t like this. It made me think that the writer was struggling to find an end.

Nick Stone has written a cracking story which, in my opinion, would have benefitted from leaving out the last 25% of the narrative.

Was this one of the best books I’ve read No.

Will I give Nick Stones next book a chance? Hell yes; because if it wasn’t for the last quarter of the story, it would have been one of the best books I’ve ever read.