Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way

Who killed Ruby

Harper Collins|30 May 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|3.5*

Ruby was murdered 32 years ago but her death still affects her family – Stella her mother, Vivienne her younger sister, and Cleo, Vivienne’s 13 year old daughter. Who Killed Ruby?  begins in a house in Peckham, London where the three of them are in shock, as a man lies dead on the kitchen floor. Whilst they wait for the police to arrive, Vivienne asks what they should tell them and Stella replies that they will tell them it is the man who murdered Ruby. This rather begs the question – is it?

The novel then rewinds two months describing the events that led up to that first scene and also reveals the events that led up to Ruby’s murder. It’s a complex tale told mainly from Vivienne’s point of view. She was just a child of eight when the murder happened and it was largely her testimony that convicted Jack Delaney, Ruby’s boyfriend. She had been alone in the house when she found her sister’s pregnant body splayed out on her bedroom floor. Jack has always protested his innocence and now he has been released from prison. But Vivienne is vague about the details of the murder, having blocked out her memories of what had happened and what she had seen. Plagued by nightmares ever since Ruby was killed, she is now terrified that Jack will come looking for her, wanting revenge.

The second viewpoint is Cleo’s. She is excited about the messages she’s exchanging online with Daniel, who she met on a gaming site. He tells her he is 14 and lives in Leeds. She lies to Vivienne about it and says that she is texting her friend Layla. Gradually Vivienne begins to remember what happened the day that Ruby died, but when Cleo disappears she becomes frantic, certain that Jack has taken her.

It is a tense and emotional mystery that kept me guessing to the very end. My suspicions about Cleo turned out to be partly correct, but as for who killed Ruby I was thrown off track by all the different characters who could be the culprit and I just couldn’t decide who I thought it could be. When the identity of the killer was revealed I was so surprised as it was someone I’d not even considered. I wasn’t convinced by some of the characters and thought they were too obviously there to confuse the reader. But overall I did enjoy the book. And I liked the emphasis on family relationships – particularly on the mother/daughter relationships.

Many thanks to the publishers, Harper Collins, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries

Quercus |1 November 2018|410 pages|Hardback|Library Book|3*

I knew very little about The Stranger Diaries before I opened the book beyond the fact that it is a standalone novel by Elly Griffiths, a murder mystery with a Victorian Gothic feel. It sounded different from her other books that I’ve read, so I was intrigued. 

It begins with the opening of the Victorian Gothic writer R M Holland’s short story, The Stranger, a ghost story set at midnight at Halloween. Clare Cassidy, an English teacher at Talgarth High, where Holland once lived, runs short courses for adults on his work. She is also writing his biography, hoping to discover the truth behind the stories that his wife fell to her death down the stairs, (there are rumours that her ghost haunts the building). Was his wife killed, or was her death suicide or an accident? And was the mysterious ‘Mariana’ his daughter? There is no record of either her birth or her death. 

But the main plotline is the modern mystery – that of the murder of Ella,her friend and fellow English teacher. A line, ‘Hell is empty!‘ from Holland’s story is found in a note beside her body. Ella, however, is only the first murder victim and gradually it becomes clear that the motivation for the killings centres around Clare. Is she a suspect or a potential victim? The story has three narrators, each one clearly distinguishable – Clare, her teenage daughter Georgia, and Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, giving different perspectives on events. Excerpts from The Stranger are interspersed between the chapters along with Clare’s diary, in which she records her suspicions and fears that could hold the clue to the killings, and those about the police investigation. 

Overall, I did enjoy The Stranger Diaries. I liked the literary references to Victorian literature and the details about R M Holland (a fictional character).  I thought the characters were interesting, especially Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur. But I didn’t find either the short story, The Stranger, or the atmospheric setting particularly spooky and I thought the murder mystery was rather unconvincing, especially the ending. Maybe my expectations were too high – or maybe it’s the wrong time of year to read it, and Halloween and November would be more appropriate!

Reading Challenges: Calendar of Crime (the main action takes place in November) and the Virtual Mount TBR challenge.

 

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

Codename Villanelle

John Murray|6 September 2018|224 pages|Review e-book copy|3*

Originally published as ebook singles: Codename VillanelleHollowpointShanghai and Odessa.

Synopsis from the publishers:

She is the perfect assassin. A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers. Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits. Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her and the one she answers to. She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything. Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

I loved the brilliant TV series Killing Eve and when I saw that Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings was the basis for the series I was really keen on reading it. However, this is one of those rare occasions when I preferred the adaptation to the book. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did – just not as much as the TV version. Now, that may be because I watched the TV series first – but I don’t think so. They begin at different points in the story. Codename Villanelle begins by introducing Villanelle, giving her background, real name and the details of her training as an assassin with the codename Villanelle, and her paymasters, known as The Twelve. Thus the suspense in that is built up in the TV series by not knowing anything about her other than her codename, just isn’t there in the book.

Both are fast paced, although the action sequences come over much better on TV, as you would expect.  Both portray Villanelle as a young woman who is psychologically invulnerable – a ruthless and successful killer, experiencing neither pain nor horror and totally unaffected by the pain she inflicts on others or the murders she carries out. But the dynamic between Villanelle and Eve Polastri that plays a large role in the TV series is missing in the book and there are several other changes too.

The book ends before the ending shown in the TV series and I’m assuming the next book Killing Eve: No Tomorrowwill continue the story, which I’m planning to read in the near future. There is a third book on the way too – Killing Eve: Endgame

About the Author

Luke Jennings is a London-based author and journalist who has written for The Observer, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Time. He is the author of Blood Knots, short-listed for the Samuel Johnson and William Hill prizes, and the Booker Prize-nominated Atlantic.

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

The Island by Ragnar Jónasson

Nordic Noir – dark, chilling and utterly gripping

The Island (Hidden Iceland #2)

Penguin UK Michael Joseph|4 April 2019|313 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Island by Ragnar Jónasson from the publishers.  

This is my first book by Ragnar Jónasson. I discovered after I’d read it that it’s the second in his Hidden Iceland series – but I had no difficulty reading it as a standalone novel. It begins with a Prologue that indicates that the main story has elements of horror as well as mystery. It’s unsettling and sinister.

Four friends visit the isolated island of Elliðaey off the coast of Iceland, ten years after the murder of a fifth friend, Katla, but only three of them return. One of them, Klara, fell to her death from a cliff – but did she jump or was she pushed? Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate. She realises that there are similarities with the death of Katla. A suspect had been charged, but had committed suicide before the verdict was announced and the case had been closed. But are the two murders connected, even though they are ten years apart?

Hulda is an interesting character, with a back story that is only partly revealed in this book. Her name means ‘hidden woman‘. The first book in the series dealt with her later life, with this second book going back in time to her earlier life. In The Island she lives alone, her mother having recently died and there is a mystery about her father. She only knows that he was an American soldier and part of the novel records her search for him. It’s a police procedural, so Hulda’s somewhat fractious relationships with her colleagues also form part of the story.

The narrative also switches between the deaths of the two young women ten years apart, told from the various characters’ perspectives. They present an intricate mystery that Hulda gradually unravels, sifting through the lies that the suspects tell her. It’s not a fast-paced novel, but it is full of suspense and foreboding, set against the beautiful and dramatic Icelandic landscape. One by one I suspected each character, unsure who to believe. I loved it!

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

A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody

A Snapshot of Murder (Kate Shackleton #10)

 

Crooked Lane Books |19 April 2019|Print length 339 pages|e-book review copy|3*

Blurb (Amazon):

Yorkshire, 1928. Indomitable sleuth Kate Shackleton is taking a well-deserved break from her detective work and indulging in her other passion: photography. When her local Photographic Society proposes an outing, Kate jumps at the chance to visit Haworth and Stanbury, in the heart of Brontë country, the setting for Wuthering Heights.

But when an obnoxious member of their party is murdered, the group is thrown into disarray. Is the murderer amongst them, or did the loud-mouthed Tobias have more enemies than they might have imagined?

Armed with her wit and wiles, and of course her trusty camera, it’s up to Kate to crack the case, and get that perfect shot too . . .

A Snapshot of Murder by  Francis Brody is the 10th in her Kate Shackleton series. I’ve read three of her earlier books and I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this one as much. I think, though, that the setting is excellent, particularly in Haworth when the Bronte Parsonage Museum was opened in 1928. But I was disappointed to find that the murder could have taken place anywhere – it no connection to the Brontes, or to the opening of the Museum, apart from the fact that the murderer took advantage of being in a crowd of people and managed to slip away unnoticed. 

I like Kate Shackleton – she’s a competent private investigator, but the murder mystery was too easy to solve. It began well but it was obvious who was going to end up dead and although there are several suspects, it soon became obvious who the culprit was and my interest waned. And any sympathy I had for the murderer had just disappeared by the end of the book.

My thanks to the publishers, Crooked Lane Books for my review copy via NetGalley.

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre: Blog Tour Review

A standalone psychological thriller full of twists, lies and betrayal

Fallen Angel

Little, Brown Book Group|25 April 2019 |Print length 384 pages|my copy an e-book/Review copy via NetGalley|4*

Blurb:

To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the smiles and hugs there lurks far darker emotions.

Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. Now, as Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible…

And suspicion is a dangerous thing.

My thoughts:

I was delighted when Caollin Douglas at Little, Brown Publishing asked me if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Chris Brookmyre’s book, Fallen Angel. I’ve enjoyed reading some of his earlier books, Quite Ugly One Morning and Not the End of the World as well as his last book, The Way of All Flesh a novel about medicine in the nineteenth century, which he co-wrote with consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman (his wife) under the pen name of Ambrose Parry. 

Fallen Angel is a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing about everything right from the first page – someone was murdered, but who was it and why, and just who was the killer? It was a quiet killing and it looked as though the victim had died of a heart attack. It is only at the end of the book that victim and the murderer are revealed.

In 2018 the Temple family are spending the summer at their seaside villa in Portugal for a reunion after the death of the head of the family, Max Temple, who was a psychologist, specialising in debunking conspiracy theories. The last time they were all there together was in 2002 when one of the children had disappeared from the villa, and was presumed drowned. It was ironic considering Max’s speciality, that there was a lot of speculation on the internet about how she actually died, with suggestions that the drowning story had been fabricated to conceal abuse or neglect.

I found the opening chapters a little confusing as the members of the family are introduced and their relationships are established. There are a lot of them, none of them are very likeable and there’s plenty of tension as they don’t get on well with each other! It is not made clear for a while who the parents of the baby were. What is clear is that this is a dysfunctional family with a multitude of problems!

Joining them are the family at the next door villa, lawyer Vince, his second wife, Kirsten, and baby Arron, with their nanny, Amanda. A Canadian student and aspiring journalist, she is a fan of Max and is thrilled to discover that she is staying next door to the Temple family. She had read the reports in the press and on the internet about the tragedy of their missing child. But although her attempts to find out more are not welcomed, she gradually she uncovers layers upon layers of secrets and lies.  

The narrative moves between events in 2002 and 2018, seen through the various characters’ perspectives. After a slow start, the pace increases, the tension rises and I became totally gripped by the mystery. I really didn’t want to stop reading. I liked the setting at a beautiful resort in the Algarve, providing an idyllic backdrop to the story of this truly dreadful family. It’s a novel about a family in crisis, about toxic relationships and about the psychology of conspiracy theories. 

My thanks to the publishers,  Little, Brown Book Group for my review copy via NetGalley.

Follow the tour today:

Fallen Angel Blog tour

About the Author (from his website)

Chris Brookmyre

Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime authors. His Jack Parlabane novels have sold more than one million copies in the UK alone, and Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.

The Seeker by S G MacLean

The Seeker (Damian Seeker, #1)

Quercus/ 9 May 2016/Paperback/ 432 pages/ Library Book/ 4*

The Seeker by S G MacLean is the first book in her Damian Seeker series, historical crime fiction set during the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. This one is set in 1654. I’ve read the second and third books in the series and whilst I  was happy to read them as standalones now I’ve read the first one I think it would have better if I had read them in order.

Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, works for John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Chief Secretary and spy master, in charge of the security of the regime, running a virtual secret service. He is an enigmatic character, and very little is revealed about his background until very near the end of the book. In the later books, particularly in the third, Destroying Angel, I learnt a lot more about him.

Like the later books The Seeker transported me to another time and place. It was as though I was back in England in the 17th century, a place of unrest, teeming with spies, exiles and assassins. Agents, sometimes clergymen or merchants, working for Cromwell, infiltrated the Royalists abroad supporting the future Charles II; the universities too were useful with dons expert at deciphering coded messages, and there was a highly effective postal service intercepting mail to suspect individuals before being resealed and delivered. And in London, bookshops, taverns and coffee houses were places where conversations were overheard and reported to the authorities.

England in 1654 is a Republic in name only, Parliament had been dissolved in 1653 and Cromwell was appointed as Lord Protector – King in all but name, he lived in the former Palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court and his generals imposed even greater restrictions on the freedoms of the public.

It’s a complex novel, as Seeker investigates the murder of Lieutenant John Winter, one of Cromwell’s favoured officers in his New Model Army. He had found Elias Ellingworth, a radical lawyer and journalist, and an outspoken critic of Cromwell’s regime, standing over the bleeding body clutching a knife. But Seeker is not convinced of his guilt and thus the search for the real culprit begins. It takes in royalist plots, the slave trade, dodgy merchants’ deals and an attempt on Cromwell’s life. There are many characters and I had little idea who had killed Winter until right at the end, so I read eagerly trying to work it all out.

Having read three of  the series I particularly like Damian Seeker. He is definitely a man to have on your side, a man both respected and feared, and a man to trust. The books are based on solid historical research (S G Maclean has an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Aberdeen) bringing the atmosphere and tenor of the 1650s to life before my eyes. I particularly liked all the detail about Kent’s Coffee House. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanting to know more about the period and Cromwell I’ve bought Antonia Fraser’s book, Cromwell: Our Chief of Men.

The Bear Pit, the fourth book in the Seeker series, is due out on 11 July this year.