The Hanged Man by Simon Kernick

Expected publication date 16 November 2017

Review copy from the publishers, Random House, Century, via NetGalley

My rating: 2.5 stars

In December 2016 I read the first book in this series The Bone Field by Simon Kernick. It ended on a cliff-hanger in the last sentence (just when you thought it was all over). The Hanged Man is the second book in the series and refers back to events in The Bone Field, but in enough detail so it probably doesn’t matter much if you haven’t read the first book. It’s packed full of action right from the opening chapter as Hugh Manning and his wife are on the run from some very dangerous and violent people who are out to kill them. The police are also looking for Hugh as he is the only witness to what had happened at the farmhouse (dubbed ‘The Bone Field‘) where the bodies of seven women had been found.

Ray Mason, suspended from the police after the events told in The Bone Field, and now exonerated, is back on the case, working with Dan Watts in the National Crime Agency. The main suspects are the Kalamans,  brother and sister, Alastair and Lola Sheridan and a mysterious character called Mr Bone. It’s  told through different characters’ viewpoints, including Ray’s partner, ex-cop and now a PI, Tina Boyd. With so many characters acting as narrator it’s useful that Kernick uses the first person when telling what happens as seen through Ray’s eyes, whereas the rest are told in the third person.

It’s complicated, maybe over-complicated and I found myself racing through it. There are too many characters and sub-plots. Some characters are like cardboard cut-outs, the ‘baddies’ really bad and the ‘goodies’, particularly Ray Mason, who breaks all the rules, not much better. It’s a world full of corruption and secrets, where life is of little account and murder commonplace, and nobody is safe. But because I knew the identities of the criminals from the start there is no mystery – it’s just a matter of who will get to Manning first, the police or the villains and will the villains be caught? There’s climatic ending – but is this really the end …?

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

Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert Harris is a fast-paced story set in the world of high finance and computer technology but it didn’t appeal to me as much as the other books by him that I’ve read. It’s about scientist Dr Alex Hoffman, who together with his partner Hugo Quarry, an investment banker, runs a hedge fund based in Geneva, that makes billions. Alex has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets. It’s built around the standard measure of market volatility: the VIX or ‘Fear Index’.

Alex wakes up one morning in the early hours to find an intruder has managed to bypass the elaborate security of the house. He challenges him only to receive a blow to his head that knocks him out and the intruder escapes. That is just the start of his troubles. A brain scan indicates he may have MS or possibly dementia and he is advised to take further advice, which of course, he doesn’t want to do. It appears that someone is out to destroy him and his company and even worse it soon looks as though this will cause a major global economic crisis. He is at a complete loss as to who it can be. It’s someone who has infiltrated into all areas of his life, affecting his marriage as well as his business.  He even begins to doubt his sanity.

On the one hand it helped me understand a bit more about hedge funds and how they operate but I got lost in the computer technology details. The characters are all not particularly likeable, but it’s definitely a page turner with plenty of suspense as the story raced to a conclusion, and it kept me puzzling over what or who was really causing the paranoia and violence. I thought it began well but didn’t find the ending very illuminating or satisfying and was left wondering what it was really all about.

I liked the chapter headings with extracts from books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which made me wonder if the book was about the evolution of man into machine. Just an idea – if you’ve read the book what did you make of it all?

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition, First Printing edition (29 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091936969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936969
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 3*

Fair of Face by Christina James

Tina Brackenbury and her baby daughter Bluebell are dead …

Fair of Face

Fair of Face is the sixth novel in the DI Yates series and  I think it stands well on its own. It is not a book you can read quickly as there are plenty of characters and several plot threads that need to be kept in mind. It is an intricately plotted mystery, re-assessing a crime from the past whilst investigating a present day murder, set in Spalding in Lincolnshire. I  didn’t find it an easy book to review.

The book begins with Tristram Arkwright, a prisoner in HMP Wakefield. He works in the prison library and is secretly in correspondence with Jennifer Dove, a bookseller who regularly supplies the prison. Jennifer is bored and finds Tristram a welcome diversion. He, meanwhile, is planning an appeal against his sentence insisting he is innocent.

Tina’s 10 year old foster daughter, Grace Winter was staying with a friend, Chloe and arrives home as DI Tim Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are beginning their investigations into the deaths of Tina and Bluebelle. Grace acts strangely and doesn’t seem very upset by the murders and asks to see the bodies. But Grace has had a difficult life as this isn’t the first murder that she has encountered. Four years earlier her mother, sister and grandparents had been killed at their farmhouse and Grace had escaped by hiding in a cupboard. Grace was then adopted by Amy Winter, and only later sent to live with Tina. Her friend, Chloe, also has a troubled background, with brothers who are regularly in trouble with the police. She is noticeably intimated by them and by Grace. As both girls are only 10 years old the police work with Social Services in order to question them

I struggled for a while to sort out the relationships between all the characters and the relationship between the opening chapters and Tina and Bluebell’s murders. The narrative switches between the first person present tense (Juliet) and the third person past tense, which I found a bit awkward until I got used to it. And I was confused by characters with similar names – Tom and Tim for example – regularly having to check who was who. I also failed to see relevance of Jennifer Dove’s character in the opening chapters. But despite these drawbacks I enjoyed the book and was eager to solve the mysteries.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy of the book.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Salt Publishing (15 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784631086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784631086
  • My rating: 3*

Six Degrees from Less than Zero to The Book of Dust

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with a controversial bestseller by a member of the eighties ‘literary Brat Pack’ – Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero.

Lessthan01st1.png

I haven’t read this book and can’t say that it appeals to me at all. Filled with relentless drinking in seamy bars and glamorous nightclubs, wild, drug-fuelled parties, and dispassionate sexual encounters, Less Than Zero – narrated by Clay, an eighteen-year-old student returning home to Los Angeles for Christmas – is a fierce coming-of-age story, justifiably celebrated for its unflinching depiction of hedonistic youth, its brutal portrayal of the inexorable consequences of such moral depravity, and its author’s refusal to condone or chastise such behaviour. (Amazon UK)

Towards Zero

So, the first link in my chain is to an another book with the word ‘zero‘ in the title – Towards Zero by Agatha Christie.

It’s one of my favourite of Agatha Christie’s books, first published in 1944, with an intricately plotted murder mystery featuring Superintendent Battle. The hypothesis is that murder is not the beginning of a detective story, but the end. It is the culmination of causes and events bringing together certain people, converging towards a certain place and time – towards the Zero Hour. The idea presupposes that there is an inevitability – that once events have been set in motion then the outcome is determined. Agatha Christie dedicated this book to Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, who was her neighbour in Devon during the Second World War and the two had become friends.

I, Claudius & Claudius the God by Robert…

I read I, Claudius and Claudius the God  by Robert Graves many years ago after watching the TV adaptation with Derek Jacobi playing the role of Claudius. Set in the first century A.D. in Rome, this is the life story of the Roman Emperor Claudius. A lame man and a stammerer, he was despised and dismissed as an idiot. He recorded the antics of the imperial household as its members vied for power; a story of murders, greed and folly. He had a disastrous love affair with the depraved Messalina but his reign as Emperor was surprisingly successful.

22740513My next link is to another book I read after first watching the TV adaptation – it’s A Game of Thrones by G R R Martin, fantasy fiction. I loved both the book and the TV series. It’s complex and multifaceted, and it’s full of stories and legends, set in a grim and violent world full of tragedy, betrayals and battles; a tale of good versus evil in which family, duty, and honour are in conflict, the multiple viewpoints giving a rounded view of the conflicts the characters face. It’s a love story too.

The Sunne In Splendour

Just before I read The Game of Thrones I’d read The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses and had noticed the similarities between that and A Game of Thrones, the battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster paralleled by those between the Houses of Stark and Lancaster for example. This is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, bringing Richard III’s world to life. It’s a long book, nearly 900 pages and it took me a while to read it, but never once did I think it was too long, or needed editing. I loved it.

Another very long book is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It has 1,076 pages and is historical fiction set in 12th century England during the time of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda/Maud (she’s known by both names – in this book she’s called Maud, but at school we were taught her name was Matilda). It’s also the story of the building of a cathedral.  It is really a medieval soap opera – in essence a family saga. Parts of the novel came to life more than others and it is rather long-winded and repetitive, terrible things happen, the characters overcome them and recover only to be knocked down again by more terrible events.

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)Earth‘ made me think of ‘dust to dust’ which in turn made me think of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, volume one of The Book of Dust. This is his latest book – I haven’t read it yet – set ten years before His Dark Materials, telling the story of Lyra Belacqua’s early life. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. A baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

The next two books in the series, Pullman has said, will take place after the events of His Dark Materials – he describes this trilogy as neither a prequel nor a sequel but as an ‘equel’.

My chain began with a book I haven’t read and don’t want to read and ended, so far from where it began, with another book I haven’t read, but a book I’m looking forward to reading. It has travelled through time and space, taking in ancient Rome, medieval England and the fantasy worlds of G R R Martin and Philip Pullman.

Next month (December 2, 2017) the chain begins with Stephen King’s It – where that will end I have no idea yet.

A – Z of TBRs: J, K and L

I’m now up to J, K, and L in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them by the end of the year, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all. These TBRs are all physical books – I’ve not included e-books. Previously I’ve just chosen books for these posts by using the titles, but this time I’ve also chosen books by using the authors’ last names.

I’m enjoying searching my shelves – finding books I’d forgotten were there (the disadvantage of shelving books behind others).

TRBs jkl

– is for The Journeying Boy by Michael Innesa book I’ve had for three years. This is a green Vintage Penguin, first published in 1949, and in this edition in 1961. Humphrey Paxton, the son of one of Britain’s leading atomic boffins, has taken to carrying a shotgun to ‘shoot plotters and blackmailers and spies’. His new tutor, the plodding Mr Thewless, suggests that Humphrey might be overdoing it somewhat. But when a man is found shot dead at a cinema, Mr Thewless is plunged into a nightmare world of lies, kidnapping and murder – and grave matters of national security.

I’m not sure now that I do want to read this book. It looks quite daunting, with lots of description and  literary allusions as shown in this extract – the cinema goers had been watching a film, Plutonium Blonde:

Another squalid crime … Circumstances had made Inspector Cadover a philosopher, and because he was a philosopher he was now depressed. This was the celebrated atom film. This was the manner in which his species chose to take its new command of natural law. Fifty thousand people had died at Hiroshima , and at Bikini ironclads had been tossed in challenge to those other disintegrating nuclei of the sun. The blood-red tide was loosed. And here it was turned to hog wash at five shillings the trough, and entertainment tax five shillings extra. That some wretched Londoner had met a violent death while taking his fill seemed a very unimportant circumstance. To track down the murderer – if murderer there was – appeared a revoltingly useless task. Mere anarchy was loosed upon the world – so what the hell did it matter? (page 51)

K – is for Ghost Walk by Alanna Knight (on my TBR shelves for four years), the fourth in the Rose McQuinn series. This is historical crime fiction set in 1897 in Edinburgh three years after Rose McQuinn’s husband, Danny, disappeared in Arizona. Believing him to be dead, she returned to Scotland to start her life afresh. Now a ‘Lady Investigator, Discretion Guaranteed‘, she is about to marry her lover, Detective Inspector Jack Macmerry of the Edinburgh Police when a nun from the local convent claims to have received a letter from Danny, and after two suspicious deaths, it seems that a ghost is about to walk back into her life…

I’ve read and liked the first book in this series, The Inspector’s Daughter, and am hoping it won’t matter that I’ve not read the second and the third books.

I had no idea what were the views of Edinburgh City Police on the subject of female detectives or the milder term ‘lady investigators’, but I could guess that that they regarded criminal investigation as a ‘men only’ province.

I felt so impatient with authority. Would a day ever dawn when women ceased to be regarded as playthings or breeding machines, when they would be given equal rights with men. My hackles rose in anger at the suffragettes’ gallant struggles as portrayed in a recent pamphlet which I had been at pains to keep concealed from Jack.  (page 34)

L – is for The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, a book I’ve had for 10 years! I was so keen to read it when I first bought it after loving her first novel, Crow Lake. It’s about two brothers, Arthur and Jake.  Arthur is older, shy, dutiful, and set to inherit his father’s farm. Jake is younger and reckless, a dangerous man to know. When Laura arrives in their 1930s rural community, an already uneasy relationship is driven to breaking point…

Arthur’s earliest memory was of standing in the doorway of his parents’ room, looking at his mother as she lay in bed. It was the middle of the day but nonetheless she was in bed, and Arthur didn’t know what to make of it. The bed was very large and high and Arthur could only just see her. She had her face turned towards the window. Then Arthur’s father called from the bottom of the stairs that the doctor was coming, and she turned her head, and Arthur saw that she was crying. (page 25)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Dry

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from The Dry  by Jane Harper, her debut novel, which has received many accolades and is shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger award. The Gold Dagger is awarded to the best crime novel of the year.

The Dry

Prologue

It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blow flies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.

The drought had left the flies spoiled for choice that summer. They sought out unblinking eyes and sticky wounds as the farmers of Kierwarra levelled their rifles at skinny livestock. No rain meant no feed. And no feed made for difficult decisions as the tiny town shimmered under day after day of burning blue sky.

Chapter One

Even those who didn’t darken the door of the church from one Christmas to the next could tell there would be more mourners than there were seats. A bottleneck of black and grey was already forming at the entrance as Aaron Falk drove up, trailing a cloud of dust and cracked leaves.

Blurb:

WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?

I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

It’s not only shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger it has also received:

  • The Gold Australian Book Industry Award for Book of the Year
  • Australian Book Industry Award for Fiction Book of the Year
  • Waterstones Thriller of the Month
  • The Simon Mayo Radio 2 Book Club Choice
  • Sunday Times Crime Thriller of the Month

What do you think?  Would you continue reading? 

When a book receives so much praise I’m sometimes sceptical and avoid a book for a while at least. But with The Dry I think that I’d just sticking my head in the sand. I’ll be reading it very soon.

 

The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths

Publication date: 2 November, 2017, Quercus Books

Source: review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 3*

Blurb:

Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ investigation into the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred…

My thoughts:

This is the fourth book in the DI Stephens and Max Mephisto series. Known as the ‘Magic Men’ they had been part of a top-secret espionage unit during the War.

It is set in 1953 at Christmas just a few months after the previous book in the series, The Blood Card and magician Max Mephisto is still sceptical about performing magic on TV with his daughter Ruby in a show called Magician and Daughter. Meanwhile his old friend, DI Edgar Stephens and his team are faced with solving the murder of Lily Burtenshaw, who had been strangled and found in her room tied to a chair, leaning forward and pointing to an empty crate with ‘King Edward Potatoes’ written on the side.

Max and Ruby are performing at the Brighton Hippodrome using a human sized version of the Vanishing Box in their act. The variety show also includes an act called the Living Tableaux, showing scenes from famous paintings or classical statutory, posed by a troupe of showgirls, naked apart from skimpy flesh coloured pants. Two of the showgirls, Betty and Janette, have become friends with Lily and are lodging at the same boarding house, but Edgar wonders if there is another connection between Lily and the Living Tableau? There is something so theatrical about the way the body was posed. Edgar and his two sergeants, Emma Homes and Bob Willis, begin their search for the killer, looking for motives and suspects. Then more murders are discovered and it becomes a desperate hunt to find the killer before he/she strikes again.

I enjoyed this book but for me there is too much focus on the main characters and their relationships. Edgar is engaged to Ruby, although Max is still not too happy about it.  However, his work means he isn’t able to spend much time with her. Meanwhile Emma’s feelings for him are getting stronger and their relationship deepens as she is drawn into deadly danger. Max’s relationship with Mrs M, his landlady in Brighton, is winding down and he is attracted to Florence, another one of the showgirls.

I liked the insight into the 1950s, particularly the theatre life. Illusion and misdirection play a large part – from the acts in the variety show to the murders, and all is not what it seems. The misdirection in the form of several twists and turns threw me off course.The clues are there, if you can but see them, yet I still had little idea who the killer could be until very near the end.

My thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for an advance review copy of this book ahead of publication on 2nd November.