How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister

I’ve read three books by Gillian McAllister and enjoyed each one so I was delighted when I saw that she has a new book, How To Disappear published today. But, I have mixed feelings about this book, because although it is so tense in parts and is compulsive reading – I really wanted to know what happens next – I did have difficulty in suspending my disbelief for a large part of it. I liked the originality of the story – a murder mystery that is not a police procedural or an amateur detective story, but the story of a family devastated by their experience of being in witness protection. Although I’ve seen TV dramas about witness protection I’ve never read a novel before about it.

Blurb:

What do you do when you can’t run, and you can’t hide?

Lauren’s daughter Zara witnessed a terrible crime. But speaking up comes with a price, and when Zara’s identity is revealed online, it puts a target on her back. The only choice is to disappear. To keep Zara safe Lauren will give up everything and everyone she loves, even her husband. There will be no goodbyes. Their pasts will be rewritten. New names, new home, new lives. The rules are strict for a reason. They are being hunted. One mistake – a text, an Instagram like – could bring their old lives crashing into the new. They can never assume someone isn’t watching, waiting.

As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy. Staying hidden is harder…

I thought it began well, although, it’s written in the present tense, often a stumbling block for me, setting the scene and establishing the characters. Zara is fourteen when she witnesses the murder of a homeless man by two teenagers. A year later she gives evidence as Girl A, to protect her identity, at the trial of two teenage footballers. But it all goes wrong, the boys are freed and after the trial a search is on to discover her identity and make her pay for what she did. As the situation escalates she is forced to go into witness protection.

This is a dark, intense story about what happened next, and going into more detail about what led up to the murder. It’s told from the four main characters’ viewpoints – Zara, Lauren her mother, Aidan her stepfather and his daughter Ruby. It moves along at quite a good pace, although sometimes I thought it was a bit repetitive about long hot baths or lack of a long hot bath, comfort eating cakes, and compulsive shopping.

The main themes of the book are about witness protection, parenting and family relationships. Gillian McAllister explains in her Author’s Note that there are many blanks she was unable to fill in, ‘due to the UK’s protection service not wishing to reveal their secrets’ to her. She hopes it is ‘believable despite basically having … made it up.’ I found it believable up to a point, but it was the characters’ behaviour that I found so far-fetched. However, it certainly made me wonder how I would cope in witness protection, faced with being unable to contact the family I’d left behind in anyway for fear of the consequences. But, most of all, I didn’t enjoy reading it, and for me that is important when I’m reading a novel. It left me drained – and the ending felt so contrived that it really spoiled the whole book for me.

This was not an easy book for me to review, especially as I was expecting to enjoy it as much as her earlier books!

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1560 KB
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (9 July 2020)
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 2

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin for my review copy via NetGalley.

Deadheads by Reginald Hill

5 Stars

Deadheads is the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel first published in 1983 and by then Reginald Hill was really getting into his stride and showing his versatility as this book is not a bit like his earlier books. There are deaths, of course, but are they murders? Each one could just as easily be from natural causes or accidents. You think you know from the first chapter who the culprit could be, but I wasn’t really sure – and even by the end I was still wondering if I was right. The police investigation is run mainly by Pascoe and to a certain extent by his wife, Ellie, whilst Dalziel is occupied with other matters, only involved as the mystery draws towards its end.

Blurb

Patrick Aldermann inherits the splendid Rosemount House and gardens on the death of his aunt, and there he is able to indulge his horticultural passions without restraint.

When his boss, Dick Elgood, suggests that Aldermann is a murderer, then retracts the accusation, Peter Pascoe’s detecting instincts are aroused. How did an underachieving accountant make his way to the top of the company so quickly? And why do so many of his colleagues keep dropping dead?

Meanwhile, when not fielding politically incorrect insults from Superintendent Dalziel, Police Cadet Singh—Mid-Yorkshire’s first Asian copper—has dug up some very interesting information about Aldermann’s beautiful wife, Daphne, who’s now firm friends with one Ellie Pascoe…

It’s important to read the first chapter of Deadheads by Reginald Hill very carefully. At first I didn’t, but as I read on I began to think I’d misread it, so I went back to it – and then I understood its significance. It’s a short chapter that sets the theme for the book. Each chapter is named after a particular rose followed by a description of that rose and the first one is called Mischief, a hybrid tea, in which old Mrs Florence Aldermann instructs her great nephew, eleven year old Patrick, how to deadhead roses and explains why it is necessary.

The blurb outlines the plot and to write much more would, I think, mean I’d be giving away too many spoilers. I found the whole book fascinating, written with humour and social commentary on the issues of racism, homosexualty, feminism and marital infidelity. The plot is well executed and Hill’s descriptive writing is, as usual superb, both in terms of the setting and the development of the characters. And I especially liked the ambiguity of the plot and the circularity of the book – ending as it began with Patrick in his rose garden, pruning roses.

Yesterday’s Papers by Martin Edwards

Yesterday’s Papers is the 4th book in Martin Edwards’ Harry Devlin book in his Liverpool series, first published in 1991 and it’s the first one I’ve read. There are eight books in the series. My copy is a paperback edition, published in 2013 and it is one of my TBRs.

About the book

On Leap Year Day in 1964, an attractive teenager called Carole Jeffries was strangled in a Liverpool park. The killing caused a sensation: Carole came from a prominent political family and her pop musician boyfriend was a leading exponent of the Mersey Sound. When a neighbour confessed to the crime, the case was closed. Now, more than thirty years later, Ernest Miller, an amateur criminologist, seeks to persuade lawyer Harry Devlin that the true culprit escaped scot free. Although he suspects Miller’s motives, Harry has a thirst for justice and begins to delve into the past. But when another death occurs, it becomes clear that someone wants old secrets to remain buried – at any price…

My thoughts

I’ve enjoyed Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries, so I was expecting to enjoy his Liverpool novels, featuring solicitor Harry Devlin, and I’m glad to say that I did enjoy this one. The titles of the books are all taken from songs – Yesterday’s Papers is a song by the Rolling Stones from their 1967 album, Breaking the Buttons. In this book Harry is investigating a crime dating back thirty years to the 1960s, the period of Beatlemania, with the focus on the sixties music scene. It has a great sense of place – Martin Edwards obviously knows Liverpool very well.

Although I wanted to know more about Harry Devlin, this does work well as a standalone as there is enough information to get some idea about his character and personal life – his wife, Liz, died – murdered – ten years earlier; he has no family and lives alone. (I must read the first book, All the Lonely People to find out what happened to Liz. ) He is in partnership with Jim Crusoe. Thirty years ago when Edwin Smith was charged with murdering Carole Jeffries Tweats had been his solicitor, so when Crusoe and Devlin had taken over Tweats’ practice the case files, including that of her murder, were handed over to them. Harry is intrigued when Ernest Miller is convinced that Smith was innocent and when Smith is found dead, possibly murdered too, he decides to look into the case.

I like Harry. He is thorough and is not easily deterred, even though it’s difficult to get to the truth after the passage of thirty years, especially when Carole’s father had died and her mother is extremely reluctant to talk to Harry. Needless to say, this proves to be a complicated case and I had little idea what the outcome would be. I had my suspicions, but was wrong and only worked it out just before the end of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed Yesterday’s Papers and am keen to read more about Harry Devlin!

The Liverpool series:

  • All the Lonely People (1991)
  • Suspicious Minds (1992)
  • I Remember You (1993)
  • Yesterday’s Papers (1994)
  • Eve of Destruction (1996)
  • The Devil in Disguise (1998)
  • First Cut is the Deepest (1999)
  • Waterloo Sunset (2008)

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson

Nordic noir, as bleak, cold, snowy and empty as Iceland.

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph/ 30 April 2020/ 320 pages/ review copy/ 4*

About the book

1987. An isolated farm house in the east of Iceland.

The snowstorm should have shut everybody out. But it didn’t.

The couple should never have let him in. But they did.

An unexpected guest, a liar, a killer. Not all will survive the night. And Detective Hulda will be haunted forever.

My thoughts

The Mist is the third novel in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland series, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. The trilogy began with The Darkness in which Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir was on the verge of retirement. The second book, The Island goes backwards in time with an investigation in 1997. The Mist featuring Hulda goes back yet again to 1987 as Hulda is worrying about her daughter, Dimma and her relationship with her husband, Jon. Alongside the story of what is happening in her personal life, she is also investigating the disappearance of a young woman and a suspected murder case, a particularly horrific one in an isolated farmhouse in the east.

I thought the first part of this book, about Erla and her husband, Einar, who live in the furthest reaches of eastern Iceland was completely gripping, especially with the arrival of a stranger lost in a snowstorm. Erla invites him in and the nightmare begins. This is one of those books where to know too much about the plot would really spoil it. All I’m going to say is that it starts slowly, and the tension and suspense gradually rise throughout, with an increasing sense of dread.

I loved the setting, Jonasson’s writing bringing the scenery and the weather to life – you can feel the isolation and experience what it is like to be lost in a howling snowstorm. The emotional tension is brilliantly done too, the sense of despair, confusion and dread is almost unbearable. My only criticism, a small one, is that when I reached a certain point in the novel, quite a bit before the end, it seemed obvious to me what the outcome would be. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, but I would have preferred not to have known and is the reason I’ve given this 4 stars instead of 5.

My thanks to the publishers for my copy via Netgalley.

An Air that Kills by Andrew Taylor

An Air That Kills is the first book in Andrew Taylor’s in his Lydmouth crime series. I’ve read several of his other books and thoroughly enjoyed them, but none in this series.  It has a slow beginning but once it had established the characters and set the scene the pace picks up. The setting is Lydmouth, a small market town on the Welsh/English border just after the end of the Second World War.

It begins as journalist, Jill Francis arrives to stay with her friends, Philip and Charlotte in Lydmouth, to recover from a bad experience – the details are are only revealed later in the book.  Also new to the town is Inspector Richard Thornhill, who is finding it difficult to adjust to working in the local police force. There’s been a spate of burglaries and there are whispers that a black marketeer is heading to their area. So there is plenty going on and then workmen digging out a drain discover a wooden box containing baby’s bones, an old brooch and some scraps of yellowed newspaper. When Major Harcutt, the local historian was consulted he found that there could be a connection to an old murder trial. 

Harcutt is elderly, living on his own and estranged from his daughter, Antonia. But when he is involved in a road accident and is then burgled Charlotte contacts Antonia and she reluctantly returns home to help him. Meanwhile, Jill is persuaded to help Inspector Thornhill in his investigation into the mystery of the baby’s bones.

It’s a good mix of police investigation, and personal stories, including those of Richard and Jill, of Jill and Philip and Charlotte, of Harcutt and his daughter, and the burglar and the black marketeer.  There is a strong sense of time and place – I thought the 1950s setting was well done. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and and will definitely read on in the series to see how the relationship between Jill and Richard develops.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1382 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; New Ed edition (13 Sept. 2012)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 4*

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

A terrible secret lies buried at the heart of this house

Animals at Lockwood Manor

Mantle| 5 March 2020| 352 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 3*

I enjoyed The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey although I think is too long with some repetitions and so in places I felt it dragged a bit. It is historical fiction, part a love story and part a mystery, beginning in 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two. A taxidermy collection of mainly mammals is being evacuated from a natural history museum in London to Lockwood Manor in the countryside to save them from the threat of bombs. Owned by Major Lord Lockwood, the Lockwood estate is ancient, although most of the house had been built in the Jacobean style in the nineteenth century, with two round turrets and a pierce parapet with pinnacles. Most of its many rooms are empty as the only residents are the Major and his daughter, Lucy along with the servants, whose numbers are down as they enlist.

In charge of the collection is Hetty Cartwright, a young woman, who soon realises she had taken on more than she expected. And it’s not long before, one after another, some of the animals go missing or are mysteriously moved from their positions in the long gallery. The book begins well as the scene is set, and I could feel the tension and mystery surrounding the house and in particular surrounding Lucy and her mother, Heloise. Heloise died in a car crash not long before the book begins, but we see her in Lucy’s journal in which she writes down her nightmares, thoughts and memories.

The narration alternates between Lucy’s journal and the events as experienced by Hetty. The characters of Hetty and Lucy are well drawn as their relationship develops, and the house and the museum animals too are vividly described. I loved the details of the museum collection, and how the conditions at Lockwood affected their condition as insects invaded the stuffed creatures. 

After a good start the pace then slows down and not a lot really happens until the final dramatic ending. Some of the characters are caricatured – for example the Major who is portrayed as an overbearing lecherous man, a pantomime villain. There is a more than a touch of the supernatural in the book, and a lot in it that reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, as Hetty fears she is descending into madness. It’s the type of story that would make an excellent film or TV drama and, this is not something I usually think, would probably be better than the book.

Many thanks to Mantle for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

Stone Cold Heart

2*

Stone Cold Heart is Caz Frear’s second novel and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get on with it very well. However, I’m in the minority as there are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. My copy is a NetGalley copy that I’ve had far too long – I did start reading it when I first downloaded it but soon realised that it would be better if I read her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies first. These are police procedurals written in the first person present tense narrated by DC Cat Kinsella who is part of the Murder Investigation Team 4, and her personal life is a major part of both books.

Naomi Lockhart, a young Australian woman was murdered and at first it looked as though her flatmate had killed her. The night before she was murdered Naomi had been at a party held by her employer, Kirstie Connor and her husband, Marcus. Also at the party were Joseph Madden and his meek wife, Rachel, Marcus’ sister. Joseph is an emotionally abusive narcissist, who manages the local coffee shop and when suspicion then falls on him and he is arrested he claims that Rachel is setting him up. And so begins a most convoluted and tangled tale about Joseph and the rest of his family, filled with secrets and lies, most of which are complete red herrings.  

Alongside the murder mystery, the book follows the story of DC Cat Kinsella’s family and the mystery surrounding Maryanne Doyle that was told in Sweet Little Lies – you really do need to read that book first to understand what is going on in her family life in this book. Cat is a conflicted character to say the least and although other readers have found her a warm and likeable character I found her one of the most irritating fictional detectives in crime fiction. She is full of guilt and angst about her family, in particular about her father and her brother. She is keeping the identity of her boyfriend a secret from everybody – if you’ve read Sweet Little Lies you’ll know why, otherwise you’ll be as mystified as her family and police colleagues are.

I found the secrets surrounding Cat’s family the most interesting part of the book, more so than the investigation into Naomi’s murder. The Murder Investigation Team all get on well together, but their continuing team meetings in which they endlessly consider all the possible theories about the murder and what happened, although interesting at first soon became tedious – far too much hypothesising. The book just dragged on and on. And then there is the ending – except it’s just the murder mystery that ends as it looks as though there is still more to come about Cat Kinsella. If you like long detective stories, full of twists and turns, lots of red herrings and dubious and unreliable characters who withhold evidence you may like it more than I did.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in November.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

 

Sweet Little Lies

3*

Sweet Little Lies is one of my TBRs. When it was first published nearly three years ago I kept seeing rave reviews of Caz Frear’s debut novel and wondered whether I would like it. It begins very slowly and I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to bother finishing it. It was only at about the halfway mark that it picked up pace. What I didn’t like about it is that it’s written in the first person present tense and apart from that I didn’t like the style of writing – very wordy, with much that adds very little to the plot. Once it finally got going this is mainly a police procedural set in the present day in London with flashbacks to Ireland in 1998. Whilst I found the plot a  touch over complicated and relying too much on coincidence I think the characters are well defined, and the dialogue is convincing.

When DC Cat Kinsella was a child of eight, visiting family in Ireland, teenager Maryanne Doyle went missing and Cat suspected her father had something to do with Maryanne’s disappearance because of something she had seen. But she kept it to herself and that had affected her relationship with her father ever since. So she is a complex and conflicted character who has changed her name, from McBride, distancing herself from her family and in particular from her father, whom she both loves and hates.  Her secret means that when the body of a woman, who turns out to be Maryanne Doyle, has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat’s father runs in Islington she is in a quandary – should she tell her boss that she had known Maryanne in the past?  But she is desperate to know the truth – and that is what kept me turning the pages to the end of the book.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in December.

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox

The Sleepwalker Knox

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox is the third Detective Aidan Waits novel. It has to be the most complicated book that I’ve read in a very long time. Two years ago I read the second book, The Smiling Man, even though I hadn’t read the first one, Sirens, and loved it, so I was keen to read the third one. It certainly didn’t disappoint me and although I think the books read well as stand-alones, it would probably be best to read them in order. To say that Waits has troubled background is an understatement. He is a disturbed and complex character, other police officers don’t trust him or want to work with him.  He plays very close to the edge and has little regard for his own safety. 

The Sleepwalker is dark, violent and absolutely brilliant. I just didn’t want it to end and at the same time I just had to know what happened next. There are so many strands that you have to keep in mind, so many characters to sort out where they fit into the story and it’s all so cleverly linked together. You think you have it sorted and then you realise there’s more to come. It’s perfectly paced throughout, culminating in an astounding and shocking conclusion that had me reeling.

Quite simply, I loved it.

My thanks to Transworld Publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

 

A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill

A killing kindness

HarperCollins | 2013 | 372 pages | Paperback | my own copy | 5*

A Killing Kindness is Reginald Hill’s sixth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in November 1980 and was televised in 1997 with the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles.

I wrote about the opening and quoted a short extract from page 56 in a My Friday post in January. I enjoyed it very much. For completeness I’m including the opening paragraph and the extract from page 56 in this post too:

The opening paragraph

… it was green, all green, all over me, choking, the water, then boiling at first, and roaring, and seething, till all settled down, cooling, clearing, and my sight up drifting with the last few bubbles, till through the glassy water I see the sky clearly, and the sun bright as a lemon, and birds with wings wide as a windmill’s sails slowly drifting round it, and over the bank’s rim small dark faces peering, timid as beasts at their watering, nostrils sniffing danger and shy eyes bright and wary, till a current turns me over, and I drift, and am still drifting …

What the hell’s going on here! Stop it! This is sick …

Page 56:

… all over me, choking, the water all boiling at first, and roaring, and seething …. Pascoe shook the medium’s taped words out of his mind and went on with his reading.

There was a degree of lividity down the left side which was unusual for a corpse taken from the water, but could be explained by the fact that the body seemed to have been wedged in the debris by the canal bank rather than rolling free in the current.

With each book getting better and better, I think this is the best of the early Dalziel and Pascoe novels. The main characters are now clearly established and moving on with their lives. Dalziel continues to be a boorish, angry man, not afraid to speak his mind and most definitely politically incorrect in all aspects. Pascoe and Ellie are expecting their first child, and D S Wield’s personal life is not going well.

The plot is nicely convoluted and tricky to solve, as it looks as though the police are faced with a serial killer. Three women have been found dead, strangled and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet. As more murders follow,  the killer is soon known as the Choker and it seems as if his motive for the murders is  compassion:

… ‘this man’s motivation does not seem to be based so much on hate as on compassion.’

‘Compassion? You mean he kills women because he’s sorry for them?’ asked Pascoe with interest.

‘In a way, yes. There’s good case-law here. The impulse to euthanasia is a strong one in all advanced civilisations.’ (p, 145)

Dalziel is angry when he finds out that Wield had involved a clairvoyant to help and Pascoe was talking to linguistic specialists and psychiatrists to help identify the killer. There are a lot of characters for the police to consider – Ellie’s feminist friends in the Women’s Rights Action Group, the members of the Aero Club, the fairground people and the local gypsies. By the time I got near the end of the book I had little idea of the identity of the murderer, but then with one sentence all was made clear. I just needed Pascoe, helped by Wield to work it out for me.

The 7th book in the series is Deadheads and I shall be reading that very soon, I hope.

These are the Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read so far:

1. A Clubbable Woman (1970) 
2. An Advancement of Learning (1971)
3. Ruling Passion (1973)
4. An April Shroud (1975)
5. A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
8. Exit Lines (1984)
11. Bones and Silence (1990) 
14. Pictures of Perfection (1993) – read, no post
17.On Beulah Height (1998) 
20. Death’s Jest Book(2002) 
21. The Death of Dalziel (2007)