Killing for Keeps Mari Hannah

Killing for Keeps    Mari Hannah

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the first four books in The DCI Kate Daniels series written by Mari Hannah. I said then that she was the best British Crime Writer I had read; this latest book confirms her place at the top of my reading list.

Killing for Keeps starts with a violent assault quickly followed by a gruesome murder. I wrote about Deadly Deceit that there was an original story line with one of the murders. In the first murder of this book Mari Hannah takes it up another notch. The description of DCI Daniels and her Crusty Trusty Sergeants arrival at the incident, and the scene they encounter, was so realistic I could imagine it being told by some of my old colleagues around a pub table. Again this murder was original to me in a book of fiction, but so well detailed I cannot believe that it hasn’t happened somewhere and that maybe Hannah has researched it, if not what an imagination.

The story brings back all of the characters in Daniels Team, although in this book they take more of a back seat with Daniels and Gormley taking the majority of the story-line. Along with the established members of Kate’s team and Jo Soulsby, her will-she-won’t-she love interest, we are introduced to a list of criminal characters from some old style “Family” gangs.

The book takes the reader from Newcastle to Scotland and on to Spain. Each destination is described perfectly and is there for a reason, you don’t get unnecessary padding in any of Hannah’s books.

The story is excellent. I was hooked from page one and finished it within 2 days. I will not put any spoilers in this blog which would give the game away but with families involved the plot obviously revolves around revenge, but for what, and by whom exactly. At one point towards the end of the book I actually caught myself not breathing. The suspense gets built up in several places and you fear the worst but when it comes, it comes out of nowhere.

I like to think that I can usually predict the ending of most books but I must have had about half a dozen different guesses at this one before getting to the end and finding out for sure.

What I Like most about Mari Hannah’s writing is that I never have to suspend reality. The subjects she covers are real; the procedures, or sometimes lack of them, are real; the main characters are realistic, as are their strengths and weaknesses; the criminal characters are as realistic as I’ve ever read.

I could happily recommend this book to friends who are in the Police and know that they will enjoy it for its realism as much as me.

I recently found out that Pan MacMillan have Mari Hannah contracted for another two books following this one. Please let it be more, and soon.

It has also been announced that a company has acquired the TV rights. If they stick to the storylines in the books, those programs will be brilliant

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Crooked Heart Lissa Evans

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The Crooked Heart     Lissa Evans

I received this book Friday and I had finished by Sunday. Usually I would sit down and write a blog as soon as I finish, but I have taken 24 hours before I start this one. Why? Because I want to do it justice.

From the very first page I was smiling. Was I supposed to smile at the musings of a woman with some kind of dementia, and the efforts of her ten year old Godson to look after her? Yes I think I was. I don’t think that Lissa Evans intended me to be sad at all reading this book, even if there are quite a few moral dilemmas throughout.

The story starts at the beginning of World War 2 and is based around Noel, a young boy living with, and looking after, his Godmother, the dementia sufferer. I won’t put any spoilers in here but I will say that Noel soon becomes evacuated to St Albans and ends up living with a woman called Vee, her grown up son, and her mother. As is right for the book none of this little family are without a story and Evans manages to weave a plot which involves all of them.

Vee is obviously on hard times and has tried numerous petty crimes to help her and her family struggle along, none of them serious and most of them failures. The trouble is Vee is not very bright. When she volunteers to take on Noel, on a whim, she inadvertently finds the ten year old has the brains that she is missing. Another dilemma, should I really be enjoying a book where an adult takes advantage of the intelligence of a young boy to make her life of crime more successful. Sorry I could not help myself I was willing the pair to get away with their little schemes.

Their adventures take them to London and eventually into trouble. The problems they get in are exasperated by the trouble Vee’s son Donald gets into. With the bombs falling and Londoners hiding in the shelters the story rattles along.

Noel is always the central character he is very clever, well read, and when he wants to be very articulate. Evans has put this brain into a scrawny strange looking boy, not for comedy value, but to make him standout. I hope that in future books we find how he has developed.

I have read Lissa Evans’s Bio online. She has written adult and children’s fiction. In this book she has used a ten year old as her main character and has written it in such a way that, as an adult, I empathised with Noel but never once thought I was reading a children’s, or young adults book. She mentions things that remind me of a young me growing up in the early 60’s. The book transported me back to when a story could be told without violence, sex and swearing. It actually made me think when the last time I had read an adult book like this. I can’t remember one but I am going to try and find more.

I am not sure Lissa Evans will welcome this but I can make one comparison. The first J.K Rowling book saw Harry Potter as a young naïve boy growing up in a strange world. For me Evans’s Noel is at least as well written as Rowling’s Potter, if not better. Harry may have grown up in a fantasy world but Noel is growing up in the very real world of WWII. Lissa Evans has managed to catch that innocent naivety and blend it with the not so innocent naivety of a desperate woman.

I know people can look at dust covers of hardbacks, and back covers of paperbacks, read a quick synopsis of a story and think that it’s not for them. If you do that with this book you’re wrong. As a 52 year old man I loved it. I know my 23 year old daughter will love it.

Please read it and enjoy it as much as I have.

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.

The G File HÅKAN NESSER

The G File HÅKAN NESSER

I read this book knowing it was the last in a series and the big question is will I be reading the back catalogue?

The book is big, running to just over 600 pages; the first half is set in 1987, the second in 2002. I couldn’t help thinking that Nesser had two stories left to tell and put them both into the same book, although the same mystery runs throughout.

It begins with a young lady acquiring the services of Maarten Verlangen, a washed out ex-police investigator turned private detective, to keep watch on her husband. The inevitable murder soon occurs and forms the spine of the story that runs through the book.

The murder is officially investigated  by Police Officer Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. Van Veeteren has history with the main suspect, going back to when they were children. His investigation is marred by his feelings for the suspect and he proceeds on a personal campaign to prove him guilty. These feelings are based more on Van Veeterens guilt, with not having curtailed the suspect’s activities when they were in their youth, than any evidence for the current case.

The case remains unproved in 1987 but is revisited, by a now retired VanVeeteren, in 2002 when Verlangen disappears leaving a mysterious note.

I would be surprised if any crime fiction fan does not solve this murder pretty quickly, but you will have to plod your way through another 500 pages to confirm your thoughts.

The writing in this book reminds me of Colin Dexter, the backdrop and characters are beautifully described. All the way through I was reminded of the Morse series.

Some of the spoken word is a little old fashion and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was written in that way or was it as a result of a “direct translation”; or is it that actually Scandinavians use better English than the modern day British reader is used to.

I think I did suffer from not reading the other books first. This story feels like Nesser is retiring a much loved character, and many of his fans will probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

So will I read any of the back catalogue. Maybe, but it will not be top of my reading list.

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