Easter reviews

I know it seems to be a bit late writing Easter book reviews but I wanted to share with you the two books I read over the Easter holidays.

First was An Unfamiliar Murder by Jane Isaac. This was Jane’s debut novel and it’s just been re-released. Imagine coming home after a long day at work. You have an evening event on for your parents’ wedding anniversary but you have a bit of time to relax and get changed. You even have time to pop to the shops to get something your parents asked for. Everything is going fine until you get home and find that your flat has been broken in to. However, there’s more than just the mess, there’s a strange metallic smell and it’s coming from the lounge… but that’s just the beginning of the nightmare for Anna Cotrell.

We also get to meet DCI Helen Lavery, recently promoted. It’s her first homicide and she has her father’s police reputation to live up to. If that wasn’t enough pressure, Helen is also a young widow with two teenage sons. She can only do her job with the help of her mother. Although Anna starts off as prime suspect, it quickly becomes clear to Helen that the case isn’t that simple.

I really enjoyed this book and this is the closest I’ve seen to my own style of writing (except a lot better, especially the descriptions!). Although it’s set in a fictional county with fictional towns and villages, you quickly get a good sense of place as well as characters. I particularly liked Helen. Police officers are often portrayed with major flaws and problems but in this instance, it’s the battle between work and motherhood that causes Helen’s difficulties. And as she moves up the promotion ladder, the sacrifices become bigger.

At the heart of it is a mystery. Who is the dead man that is found by Anna, a complete stranger to her? And why is he in her flat? Isaac takes you on a magical mystery tour as she weaves in and out of storylines through Helen and Anna’s eyes mostly but also the killer’s.

If you like your crime on the slightly more gentle side but without being totally cosy, then An Unfamiliar Murder is a great book to read. Five stars!

 

If though, you like your crime to be fast packed with a kickass heroine, then you want The Girl Who Walked In The Shadows by Marnie Riches. This is the third in the series after The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and The Girl Who Broke The Rules and the finale suggests that there has to be another. The only problem with this series is that it’s in digital format and has not been made into paperbacks. I have no idea why as they are fantastic books and would make a wonderful TV drama. Anyway, I digress (but seriously, Avon Books, get it sorted!)

Georgina (George) McKenzie, criminologist extraordinaire, is back in Cambridge, interviewing convicts for her studies into human trafficking. It’s one of the coldest winters on record right across Europe and there seems to be no thaw in sight. Over in Amsterdam, Chief Inspector Paul van den Bergen is given a murder to solve although he’d much prefer to continue with his Missing Persons’ case – two young children abducted from their garden the previous autumn. It isn’t long though before the estranged lovers (George and Paul) have to reconcile both personally and professionally to find a serial killer, nicknamed Jack Frost, who has found the perfect winter weapon – icicles.

If you’ve read Marnie Riches before then you’ll know that reading one of her books is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the picture for reference. She jumps around the plot with different viewpoints at dazzling speed. Riches can never be accused of being boring. She’s not afraid to tackle difficult issues and human trafficking and child pornography are covered in this book. But despite all the apparent bravado of her characters, Marnie Riches also delves into their vulnerabilities and fears, and not just the main characters. It was lovely to find out more about van den Bergen’s team – Elvis and Marie – and the problems that they face. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Marnie Riches book without George’s horrendous mother, Letitia, and lovable Aunty Sharon who add hilarity wherever they go.

Although you could read The Girl Who Walked In The Shadows as a standalone, it would make much more sense to read the series in order. But I have to warn you now that The Girl Who books are seriously addictive! Five stars from me.

 

You can follow Jane Isaac & Marnie Riches on Twitter

@JaneIsaacAuthor

@Marnie_Riches

 

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First Monday Crime at City University- April

PE_20160405082955 (Our amazing goody bag from Orenda Books)

I first heard about this event on Twitter. Not surprising really. But I knew I had to go! Childcare had to be sorted – I managed to persuade a neighbour to have my youngest child and I left my older two to fend for themselves for a couple of hours before their father came home (I rather suspect that they ate crisp sandwiches for tea). So I hopped on the first of three trains (yes, I do live in London but it does take that many trains to go north of the river sometimes) and I was on my way. I arranged to meet the very lovely Jane Isaac (whose book I’ll be reviewing next) at Angel. We were fashionably early so checked out the pub before going to the event.

I knew that we were in for a treat with Amanda Jennings, Elly Griffiths, Leye Adenle and Mary Paulson Ellis on the panel, chaired by Barry Forshaw. Barry started off by finding out a bit about the authors and their books.

Elly Griffiths writes the Ruth Galloway series about a forensic archaeologist. She said that people are often surprised about how many bodies there are in Norfolk but as Elly pointed out, some of them have been buried for a long time. Barry asked the question if Ruth Galloway is her to which Elly responded with a resounding no! She also talked about how important research is for her books and she recently went on pilgrimage to Walsingham to do just that. Rather than being put off by this, the priest was incredibly willing to help and became her best research assistant.

Leye Adenle is a writer and actor from Nigeria. He’s been writing since a child and comes from a family of writers, the most famous being his grandfather, a former king of Oshogbo in South West Nigeria. His debut novel, Easy Motion Tourist, is set in Lagos. The narrator is a journalist who has come to Nigeria for the first time to cover a story but becomes embroiled in a murder. But the real star of the book is Amaka, a no nonsense Nigerian woman who isn’t afraid to take on anyone.

Amanda Jennings’ third book, In Her Wake, was published just last week in paperback (also available in hardback and Kindle). I’ve already read this book and reviewed it. I loved her first book, Sworn Secret. She received great reviews for it but she said it was hard to not believe the bad ones. She described her second book, Judas Scar, as Pesky Book 2! Trying to follow up on a successful debut novel isn’t very easy. In Her Wake is an outstanding novel and Barry Forshaw described it as the ‘perfect life torn apart’. As Amanda herself said, she likes to throw a bomb into her character’s life or past, to really test him or her and see how he or she deals with the damage.

Mary Paulson Ellis’ book, The Other Mrs Walker, sounds very intriguing. This is her debut published novel (although she’s written more) and tells the story of an old woman who dies alone without any next of kin. Someone has to find out who she is but the old woman has only left behind a random set of possessions as clues. As Mary said, we will all, hopefully, get old and we will all die. We don’t like talking about death in our society, which is why she wanted to explore the subject more. She weaves the theme of family throughout the book and she stated that the safest and most dangerous place to be is in the family.

The subject of editors came up and Barry asked the panel about their relationships with their editors. Leye said that he didn’t resist any changes from his editor as it he knew that they just wanted to make the book good. Elly has a fantastic editor in Jane Wood who tells her not to use adverbs and to stop anthropomorphising the cats in her story. Amanda spoke of Karen Sullivan (from Orenda Books who sponsored the evening and gave us all wonderful goody bags and cupcakes) as ‘an incredible person to have on your side’ – sensitive and insightful. Mary said that she wasn’t aware of the reputation of her editor before – which was probably just as well!

Another question asked was who are your favourite crime authors?

Amanda’s favourites are Tammy Cohen (Amanda particularly loves the dark humour), Sarah Hilary and she’s very much looking forward to Claire Mackintosh’s second novel (aren’t we all?!)

Mary loves Kate Atkinson and in particularly the Jackson Brodie books as they’re more detective novels and can fit in more than one genre – ‘slippery’ books. [I too love Kate Atkinson].

Leye mentioned Pacesetters that were published in the 1970s & 80s by African authors. There are many great African crime writers but they’re not translated into English – it’s not easy to get the translation right and pick up all the nuances from the original language.

For Elly, Wilkie Collins is the author that has influenced her the most, especially his book, The Moonstone. Lesley Thompson and Isabelle Grey are favourites too.

There are many more things I could tell you from my scrawled notes on the back of my ticket (I forgot my notepad) but I’ll leave you with the panel’s answer to one final question – what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Elly – don’t show it to friends and family until it’s finished

Mary – do your own thing

Amanda – get first draft finished and then edit

Leye – don’t write – buy my book!

 

We then adjourned to the pub.

 

 

First Monday Crime is a new monthly crime fiction/thriller event held in Central London and organised by City University and Goldsboro books. The next event will be May 9th (Christopher Fowler, William Shaw, Jack Grimwood and Sarah Hilary, with Jake Kerridge chairing) and more details can be found at https://www.goldsborobooks.com/events/ . April was a sell out so book your tickets fast – I already have!

To follow any of the authors on Twitter

@LeyeAdenle

@ellygriffiths

@MandaJJennings

@mspaulsonellis

@1stMondayCrime