Tag Archives: murder

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

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Werewolves, witches, and omens….are exactly what you won’t find in the newest series by supernatural queen Kelley Armstrong. She is best known for series’ such as Otherworld and Cainsville but with City of the Lost she takes a hard turn away from her signature style and ventures into murder mystery completely based in the human realm. This series is also referred to as the Rockton series or the Casey Duncan series in reference to the central locale and character.

Rockton is a town of last resorts and only accepts a select few. You won’t find it on any map or website and to become a resident you must apply to town council for approval, and even that comes with a limited term for your stay there. Imagine walking away from everything and everyone you know and disappearing into the Yukon to live without any luxuries or conveniences of modern urban life. It is supposed to be a safe haven for those with nowhere else to run – but recently the town has experienced its first murder. Enter Casey Duncan, a homicide detective with a secretive past and every reason to go off the grid. She arrives with her best friend who carries her own fair share of secrets and soon the action really gets going.

This should definitely be on your spring reading list – even if you haven’t been an Armstrong fan in the past but enjoy thrillers and murder mysteries.

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Someone You Know by Brian McGilloway

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someoneOn my first trip to Ireland, I found myself in a bookstore discovering a number of new authors to me, including couple of great mystery writers, Liz Nugent and Brian McGilloway.  While, Nugent has yet to break the North American market, McGilloway has been quietly building a fan base with his Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series.  Both writers are very distinctly Irish and the landscape, the language and the history of Ireland figure into the subplots giving a flavour to the books that adds to experience.

“Someone You Know” is the second in the Lucy Black series and begins about two weeks before Christmas, when the body of an at-risk sixteen-year-old girl is found lying on the train tracks. The body was placed there just before a scheduled train run but a railroad mechanical failure prevented the murder from looking like a suicide.  The girl was known to the police due to her tragic home life and had disappeared from a care home a few days before her death. It quickly becomes clear that as well as the victim a number of other girls are being groomed by a stalker and that the police are in a race against time to prevent more murders. The identity of the killer seems obvious at first until a series of twists take both the reader and the police into unexpected directions.

Lucy Black grounds the book with a deep back story that is woven into her persona and effects hurt2how she works through the mystery.  She is a damaged character, carrying the scars of a broken childhood with conflicted feelings about her father, who is suffering from dementia and her mother who abandoned the family but is now working as an administrator for the police force.  The secrets she carries have made it difficult to trust anyone but empathic to the victimized and abused women and children that make up her caseload.

When I saw the book on the shelves at Eason, (the Irish equivalent of Chapters), the novel was called Hurt, but whatever the title it’s a great read and the perfect choice to introduce you to a fabulous series.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

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What do New England and Dionysus (the Greek God of fertility and wine) have in common? A secret history of course! And possibly a fondness for chowder, though I have never had the opportunity to find out for sure. Before winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, Donna Tartt was known for being the mastermind behind The Secret History. This contemporary classic thriller starts out with a bang, literally. The story opens with a murder and dives right into the twisting chaos of a group of Ancient Greek scholars at an elite New England college who harbour a secret that reveals a passion for their studies…a passion for which they may be willing to kill.

Perhaps the best review of this book is one posted to Goodreads, which states The Secret History to be “like drinking the scotch the characters drink in the book: smooth, sweet, smoky and scalding. You keep drinking, having no idea how drunk you’re getting. Then you try to stand up and the world falls out from under your feet.” While not a scotch drinker, I can still relate to the sentiment after delaying the writing of several university assignments of my own (sorry Professor Robertson) in order to devote as much attention as possible to this book. It is addictive in all the best ways. Also, it is available in print, ebook and eaudiobook to satisfy every reader.

Jesse Roberts – http://www.tbpl.ca

Far North (66˚North), by Michael Ridpath

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Far North“Iceland was angry:” quite possibly my favourite opening line to date. With over 130 volcanoes, 30 to 40 of which are active, the resultant topography and climate have rendered Iceland somewhat mercurial, a tad tetchy. But that’s just the land.  With a pluckiness akin to the sisu of the Finns, Icelanders are a resilient and largely easy-going bunch, having forged out their own unique customs, history and lifestyle alongside of their simmering, treeless landscape. They generally stay sober during the week and then party it up long and hard for the weekend – nice. Their economy has mostly been stable, but when the kreppa (crisis) came in 2009, a lot of people’s lives were shot to pieces, causing some rather serious tension.

Far North opens with the Pots and Pans Revolution, with people gathered on the steps of Parliament, demanding that the government step down. Kreppanomics, as it is now known, involved the collapse of the three main privately owned commercial banks in Iceland. The few market wobbles that occurred prior to the crash were, unfortunately, inadequate warning signs for the fell swoop that crumpled the country’s credit rating and currency.

As the phrase suggests, the Pots and Pans Revolution was non-violent until a few black sheep protestors decided to throw stones at the police. In true Icelandic spirit, though, the other protestors formed a protective wall against them. This is symbolic of Iceland’s general attitude towards violence. Of course, murders occur and bad stuff happens, but imagine a police force that doesn’t carry guns. In fact, it wasn’t until earlier this year that the first person ever, in the history of Iceland, was shot and killed by a regular police officer. Guns are generally only used by the Reykjavik SWAT team, know (delightfully) as the Viking Squad.

At the time of the kreppa, though, guns and police did not go together, which is unfortunate for Magnus Jonson. Magnus is a man in need of a gun. Continuing on from the first book in the series, Where the Shadows Lie, Magnus is a Boston cop on secondment to the police in Reykjavik. With a family history in Iceland, he’s fluent in the language, but not entirely comfortable with their methods of law enforcement. In fact, he seems to spend a good deal of time irritating his Icelandic superiors whilst endeavouring to solve his cases: not always in an orthodox fashion.

The current case involves unemployed banker, Harpa Einarsdóttir, who, in the company of some fellow revolutionaries, accidently kills her former boss and boyfriend, Gabríel Örn. The group successfully covers up the crime, but Harpa is fraught with guilt. Eight months later, in London, Óskar Gunnarsson, another leading banker, is murdered. Working with London DS Sharon Piper, Magnus’s gut instinct is that the two deaths are somehow connected and that another may well be in the offing. The difficulty is in proving it. As the story unfolds and guilt manifests itself through threats of going to the police, Magnus and the team are running short of time to work out who is involved, and who may be the next victim.

Running parallel with this storyline is the intriguing sub-plot of Magnus’s family and the mystery of who killed his father. While his mother and father are dead, Magnus’s cantankerous grandfather, Hallgrímur, is well and truly alive. An intimidating and frightful figure, the grudges that shaped Hallgrímur‘s life in the 1930’s are expounded upon, with Ridpath drawing on the Icelandic sagas he is so obviously passionate about. There is undoubtedly more to come on this in Meltwater, the next installment in the Fire and Ice series.66DNorth

Rosemary

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith

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The Cuckoo's CallingCormoran Strike – an unusual name choice for Galbraith’s new crime fiction hero, but at least it avoids any character confusion that may ensue along the way. It’s also unlikely that Strike’s physical appearance could be mistaken for anybody else’s either. It’s like Galbraith went out of his way to make Cormoran as strikingly (pardon the pun) different as possible to make him stand out in spectacular fashion in an already saturated crowd of battered crime solvers. He reminds me of Jeremy Clarkson – not in the least bit attractive, but surprisingly proficient at pulling the birds. A massive man, with only one leg, a face like a boxing Beethoven, and tight, curly, cropped, black hair (it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what his nick name was in school), Cormoran is oddly appealing.

When I first started getting to know Cormoran, the parallels between him and Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently seemed a little too obvious and annoying. The personality quirks, the unkempt office and the continuous recycling of secretaries were all a bit too reminiscent. The more I read, though, the more Strike came into his own, and he turned out to be a character I would certainly enjoy reading more of in the future novels Galbraith will undoubtedly produce.

One confounding aspect of this book, though, is that J. K. Rowling went to the trouble of assuming a pseudonym to write it. One of the worst-kept secrets of the day, everyone I’ve talked to is referring to it as the latest J. K. Rowling book – we all know it’s her. So, maybe her last book wasn’t great, but what the heck?!? Admittedly, detaching yourself and moving forward from all that is Harry Potter must be a complete nightmare. No wonder Rowling has gone all out to purge herself of any stereotypes connected with her Potter days: The Cuckoo’s Calling is definitely not a book for the kiddies.

So, has Rowling been successful? Yes she has. Although she will forever be the author of Harry Potter, The Cuckoo’s Calling is the commencement of an entirely new series involving a new main character we will undoubtedly all become addicted to. Cormoran is a private investigator employed by John Bristow to investigate the death of his adopted sister, Lula Landry. Lula is a supermodel who supposedly commits suicide by jumping off her apartment balcony. John is not convinced it’s a suicide, though, and he begs Cormoran to work at getting to the bottom of things. Highly reluctant to do so, but in dire need of some serious cash, Cormoran gradually builds his case, and with the help of Robin, his temporary, but clever and endearing secretary, he gets it all worked out. It’s a case of anyone could have done it, which is good writing as far as I’m concerned, and Galbraith keeps us guessing pretty close right up to the end.

Rosemary

The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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The Keeper of Lost CausesBorrowing from a Chinese proverb, Frederick R. Barnard once said: “one look is worth a thousand words.” Similarly, one look at the author photo of Jussi Adler-Olsen tells us a multitude of things: the expression on his face says it all. Adler-Olsen is obviously a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; he doesn’t put up with any nonsense; he has a serious sarcastic edge balanced by an impeccable sense of fair play and capacity for kindness; and he has a playful, tongue-in-cheek side to his personality.

If this is all true, the inspiration for his main character, Carl Mørck, came simply by looking in the mirror. A self-confessed sarcastic b******d,  Mørck is a man after my own heart. Australians, I have always believed, are endowed, quite favourably, with the sarcasm gene, not unlike the Brits. I was well-pleased to discover that the Danish are as apt at sarcasm as we are.

So, I’m sure you’ll love Carl Mørck. As I’ve said before, there’s always room for one more gritty, flawed-but-brilliant police detective in the genre, and Mørck’s I-don’t-give-a-toss attitude towards his colleagues adds yet another entertaining dimension.

When the Danish parliament throws a bucket of money at the local constabulary to establish a new department for investigating cold cases, Mørck is the obvious choice to put in command. This is not just because of his exceptional skills as a homicide detective, but because nobody really wants to work with him. After nearly losing his life to a bullet then  watching one colleague die and another become paralysed, Mørck is naturally messed up. He returns to work and finds himself installed in the basement, running the new Department Q. Nobody expects anything to come of it all, but for the time being it’s a good way to keep Mørck out of everybody’s faces.

Starting off as a department of one, Mørck is eventually given an assistant, Assad, a Muslim refugee with a questionable background. Assigned, initially, to simple cleaning tasks, Assad turns out to be a dark horse with skills and an eagerness to work that finally gets Mørck off his back-side and interested in a case.

Alternating between the disappearance five years earlier of high-profile politician, Merete Lynggaard, and Mørck’s (and Assad’s) current-day investigation, we are aware from the start that Merete is still alive. What propels us along is, how much longer will she be allowed to live and will it be too late by the time Mørck eventually solves the case?

Described by The London Times as “the new ‘it boy of Nordic Noir”, Adler-Olsen is right up there with Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, Peter Høeg and Camilla Lackberg.

Rosemary

Cold Hands, by John J. Niven

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Cold HandsIt’s not very often that I physically react to what I’m reading in a novel, but Niven’s Cold Hands had me crying within the first ten pages and literally cringing a lot from there on. This is a gruesome thriller, reminiscent of Val McDermid, and I barely put it down from start to finish. There’s a nice twist in the middle, too, which I had to read twice. It totally blind-sided me, and had me sitting on the couch with my mouth wide open.

The blurb on the back of the book is very basic, but sums up the story in a nutshell: “You think you can leave the past behind. Think again.” This is a story about revenge and Niven has some thoughtful comments to make on this subject in his final chapter. When we do something bad in our life, the repercussions from even a single act extend further and wider, impacting on the lives of so many more people, than we could possibly imagine. “The responses to atrocity”, he says are “as varied as human belief itself.” Most people, when given the opportunity to exact revenge for some heinous act, will actually turn around and walk away. But not everybody: some will demand revenge and take it sevenfold, plotting and scheming, taking years if necessary, until they are finally sated.

Donnie Miller thought he could leave the past behind: start over in a new country with a new life. Living in Saskatchewan with his beautiful wife and son is a complete contrast to the underprivileged and troubled upbringing he had in Scotland. After several years in prison, he is released and given a new identity, with a chance at a different life. Everything is going perfectly, but when the family dog is found dead one morning, Donnie begins to feel like his new life may have been a dream after all.  As the story unfolds we learn more about what Donnie did and the demons that now chase him.

John J. Niven started out as a successful writer of comedies, and Cold Hands is his first thriller. If you take this on, be prepared for some serious nail-biting.

Rosemary