UK crime week in June next year

The Crime Writers Association (CWA) is to hold a National Crime Week in the UK in 2010 to celebrate crime writing. During the week, which runs from 14 June, members of the CWA will take part in readings, discussions, readers' group events and workshops all over the country. (via The Bookseller.)

Free Agent or Lost Symbol?

In last week's (13 November) Bookseller, Robert Chilver, a buyer at Waterstone's in Colchester, took his turn to reveal his current reading likes and dislikes.

He's loving Free Agent by Jeremy Duns (Simon & Schuster £12.99). "After a jaw-dropping first chapter, I was quickly drawn into Jeremy Duns' excellent thriller……It reveals insights into a relatively unknown era without ever infringing on the twisting plot. With a protagonist you can never quite trust, this is a real page-turner."

Free Agent was reviewed recently at Euro Crime by Michelle Peckham, who writes: "on the cover of the copy I was sent to review it says 'Top Secret, Uncorrected proof'. On the fly leaf, the official looking stamp urges me not to leave the book on a train, plane, in a car or on the bus." She finds the book well plotted and enjoyable 'boy's own' stuff.

Returning to Robert Chilver, he is not loving The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown: …"the hype was far more entertaining than the book…..Thrillers essentially need to be thrilling and whereas Duns creates a fast-paced, exciting ride, Brown's idea of creating tension is a page break."

Brief Guardian review of Free Agent. "Be warned: Duns loves shocking reversals".

Permission to Kill: interview with Jeremy Duns who, echoing Michelle's words, says: "I want people who don’t usually read thrillers to read my work, and hope that pretty much anyone over the age of fourteen or so could enjoy Free Agent."

Four articles and an email concerning Stieg Larsson

I picked up a copy of the latest Books Quarterly, the Waterstones magazine, at the weekend (issue 34, 2009) and discovered that it contains an article by Val McDermid on Stieg Larsson. I thought I'd mention the article here, especially as Books Quarterly is now available online, but before I could do so, the author burst into the news again in three articles.

The most significant of these is at Crime Scraps, where blogger Norman Price (a.k.a. Uriah Robinson) has finished the third in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and reviews the novel in particular, the Stieg Larsson phenomenon in general, and provides a useful set of links to previous reviews and discussion of these books. Significantly, one conclusion of Norman's about the trilogy is that "when any state regards some citizens as less important than others, we are on that slippery slope to totalitarianism".

In the second article, last Thursday, The Times jumped onto the "Stieg Larsson legacy" bandwagon, concerning the dispute between his putative legatees, and which I won't rehash here. ("Losing the plot over the cash" was the insensitive headline.)

And in a third article, Vanity Fair published a two-page article by Christopher Hitchens, a typically acerbic article laced with innuendo and speculation, which combines the themes of the previous two pieces: a review/retrospective of the books and a rehash of the family dispute. Hitchens is quite critical of everyone concerned including the books themselves and the characters therein, concluding that the books' success are down to "emotionless efficiency of Swedish technology, paradoxically combined with the wicked allure of the pitiless elfin avenger, plus a dash of paranoia surrounding the author’s demise."

What I actually set out to write in this post was a short piece about the Books Quarterly article by Val McDermid, which like the previous three articles is partly a review of the Hornet's Nest (publisher: MacLehose Press) and partly an analysis of the Stieg Larsson phenomenon. In response to a question about the characters' reading habits by Martin Edwards, Val McDermid has paid more attention than I did, revealing that Blomkvist (the hero) reads Sue Grafton through Sara Paretsky to "my own work" as Val McDermid puts it, in her view books that become more threatening in keeping with the increasing darkness of the novels. Salander herself, of course, reads Nature. (Val McDermid picks up one or two more of Larsson's word games with names.) It is a very good piece, and I recommend it as a sincere tribute to this author who died so tragically young — or "The Man Who Died Too Soon" as the article's title would have it.

But what is even better than this is an extract from an email by Larsson, written to his publisher Eva Gedin, on 30 April 2004. (Larsson died on 9 November of that year.) He writes:

I’ve tried to create main characters who are drastically different from the types who generally appear in crime novels. Mikael Blomkvist, for instance, doesn’t have ulcers, or booze problems or an anxiety complex. He doesn’t listen to operas, nor does he have an oddball hobby such as making model aeroplanes. He doesn’t have any real problems, and his main characteristic is that he acts like a stereotype ‘slut’, as he admits himself. I’ve also changed the sex roles on purpose: in many ways Blomkvist acts like a typical “bimbo”, while Lisbeth Salander has stereotype ‘male’ characteristics and values…..
….I abhor crime novels in which the main character can behave however he or she pleases, or do things that normal people don’t do without those actions having social consequences. If Mikael Blomkvist shoots somebody with a pistol, even in self-defence, he will end up in dock.
Lisbeth Salander is the exception to this quite simply because she is a sociopath with psychopathic traits, and doesn’t function like ordinary people. She doesn’t have the same concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as normal people, but she also has to face up to the consequences of that.

The email contains more of Stieg Larsson's thoughts on his characters of Salander and Blomqvist, and his opinions on crime fiction as a genre. It is very sad experience to read possibly the last words ever by this very talented author, at a time when he was so full of hope and involvement in his wonderful creations.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Glauser

GThumbprint is the first novel in a series written in the 1930s by Friedrich Glauser; a series so influential that Germany’s main crime-fiction award is the Glauser prize. The novel is a highly readable affair, opening with the imprisonment of Erwin Schlumph, a young man arrested for shooting Wendelin Witschi, a travelling salesman and father of Schlumph’s sweetheart, Sonja, in the woods late at night. Schlumph is visited in prison by the man who arrested him, Sergeant Studer, who discovers that the young man has attempted suicide. After rescuing him, Studer decides to look into the case in more detail, as he’s fairly convinced that Schlumph didn’t commit the crime.

First, Studer has to convince the investigating magistrate to authorize him to take this course, which Studer realises isn’t going to be easy as the man is a stickler for procedure and wants the case tidied away with no fuss.

“Sergeant Studer, I would like to ask you, in all politeness, what you think you are doing? Could you explain how you cam to involve yourself without authorization – I repeat, without authorization — in a case which…”

The examining magistrate broke off, though he couldn’t have said why himself. The man on the chair before him was a detective, a simple policeman. He was middle-aged and there was nothing special about him: a shirt with a soft collar, a grey suit that had gone slightly baggy in places because the body inside it was fat. He had a thin, pale face with a moustache covering his mouth so that you didn’t know whether he was smiling or not. And this simple policeman was sitting there in the chair, legs apart, forearms resting on his thighs, hands clasped…

The Magistrate himself couldn’t have said why he suddenly adopted a slightly warmer tone.

Sure enough, Studer is allowed to investigate the case, and so travels to Gerzenstein, a microcosm of Swiss village life, where everyone listens to the radio all day and sounds like the announcer, and where every other building is a shop or small business. Studer is somewhat stifled by the atmosphere:

God, people were the same everywhere. People in Switzerland tended to keep their little indiscretions very much to themselves, but as long as they didn’t impinge upon other people’s lives, nothing was said…….Unless something unexpected happened. Such as a murder. And a murder needed a murderer, like bread needed butter. Otherwise people would complain. And if the presumed guilty party tries to hang himself, and a detective comes along who is stubborn as a mule, then it can happen that al the little irregularities there are in everyone’s life suddenly become important. You work with them, like a bricklayer with bricks, to erect a building. A building? Let’s say a wall just for the moment.

And later:

“Perhaps you remember the case of that dental technician in Austria? Put his leg on a chopping block and hacked away at it until it was left hanging by a scrap of flesh, just to pocket a huge sum from the insurance. There was a big trial.”

“Well yes,” the examining magistrate said, “in Austria. But we’re in Switzerland here.”

“People are the same everywhere”, Studer sighed.

For the rest of the novel, Studer, helped by the local police chief,  works on the shooting, with a mixture of forensics, witness interviews, psychological insight and dogged persistence. Dreams and hallucinations begin to come into play – Studer’s wife and Sonja both have a tendency to stay up all night reading novels – which renders them into a dream-like state by day. Studer himself drinks too much and later becomes ill with an infection, causing him to vividly imagine various scenarios that may have led to the murder, and providing some flashes of inspiration.

At its heart, though, the book is a classic story of a murder, some suspects, some social observations, and a neat solution. What makes it special, and fresh more than 70 years later, is its straightforward truthfulness, lack of pretension and yet, despite these pragmatic aspects, its hints of other worlds through which Studer’s perceptions are filtered.

What had people done with their own voices? Had they been infected by the radio? Had the wireless sets in Gerzenstein triggered off a new epidemic: voice-swapping?

My final words of the review part of this post are in praise of the translator, Mike Martin, through whose interpretation the novel reads as if it were written yesterday. I also put in a note of thanks to the publisher, Bitter Lemon Press, which since 2004 have published all five of Glauser’s Studer novels in English translations (all, I believe, by Mike Martin).


Friedrich Glauser was born in Vienna in 1896, and died aged 42, a few days before he was due to be married. He was a schizophrenic, addicted to morphine and opium, and spent much of his life in psychiatric wards, insane asylums and in prison for forging prescriptions. He spent two years in the Foreign Legion in North Africa, and worked as a coal miner, gardener, labourer and hospital orderly.


Der Bund: Glauser has elevated his material to an exquisite artistic level, a master of psychological analysis, a warm, sensitive and wonderfully observant writer.

Nationalzeitung Basel: Perfect characterization, brilliant portrayal of humour and irony against the dark, brooding background of small-town life.
Bayerische Rundfunk: Friedrich Glauser is a remarkable discovery. An ability to translate an erratic, obsessive life into language that seduces by its intimacy. A reflection of his suffering and compassion.

Glauser at the Bitter Lemon website.

Glauser's books reviewed at Euro Crimeand Reviewing the Evidence.

Glauser at Wikipedia.

Mysteries in Paradise, the home of the crime-fiction alphabet.

The crime-fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Book review: Wicked Prey by John Sandford

Wicked prey Wicked Prey is nineteenth in the Lucas Davenport series (there is a twentieth, Storm Prey, due out early next year). I haven’t read all of the previous books, but have read enough of them (about six) not to be lost at this late stage.
Davenport is a tough but dandyish ex-cop who has previously had to leave the force because of killing someone (I surmise), and is now an agent of some kind for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in Minnesota. He’s married to a surgeon called Weather, who barely features in Wicked Prey as she’s always at work, but she’s been significant in earlier books. The couple have a little boy called Sam, and have recently fostered a 14-year-old girl called Letty, who has had plenty of violently traumatic experiences in her past (doubtless told in a previous book).
Don’t let this preamble put you off – the author is very skilful at slipping in sufficient back story to orient the new or forgetful reader without affecting the pace of his plot. And it is some plot! A small gang plan a series of robberies at the Republican convention in St Paul, which is to endorse John McCain as official candidate for the US presidency. Davenport is called in to investigate, partly because all the cops are busy defending against a possible terrorist threat, but also because discretion is needed about the tarnished set-up in the political machine.
At the same time, Letty is working as an intern for a local TV station (for a woman who, it turns out, is the mother of another of Davenport’s children, but this relationship does not feature in this particular book). Letty becomes aware that she’s being watched by a strange trio – a man in a wheelchair, a teenage girl who appears to be a hooker, and a dope-addled hanger-on. It turns out that the disabled man, Randy Whitcomb, blames Davenport for his condition, and is plotting revenge in some way that involves Letty.
Both these plots are handled with wit, flair and pace. When I first realised I was going to be reading a book about a heist and a teenage girl being stalked and kidnapped, my heart sank. But it soon turned out that I was totally unfair to prejudge this double-whammy – the book is clever, fast, subtle and very witty indeed. It’s particularly strong on the interplay between Davenport and colleagues; and between the putative robbers.
I was engrossed in the strategy taken by the strong-willed Letty, and in the war of minds between the four members of the thieves’ gang and the various local and national law-enforcement agencies. An additional plus is that Davenport and co use plenty of traditional detective skills to work out who they are chasing and, more difficult, what the villains are planning to do and when. The scenes at the Republican hospitality centre are particularly good.
I found the resolution of both main plot themes a bit of a let-down, rather hastily treated. Letty is a cold piece of work, and will no doubt have this side of her character dissected in future instalments. The ending of the heist story was disappointing after all the situational and character build-up, so I’d rate this novel a high beta rather than an alpha. Very well worth reading, though – and one can forgive a lot when a book is so full of laconic humour and cynically mature observations of modern mores.

Wicked Prey by John Sandford.
Simon and Schuster, 2009. £12.99.

Author website, including bibliography.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.

Reading suggestions for January

If you are in the UK and are anticipating the need to decide on some books to buy in January (perhaps after receiving book vouchers for Christmas?) to see you through the last of the holiday season, here are a few of the paperbacks that will be published that month, via the Bookseller (25 September issue).

Long Lost by Harlan Coben (Orion, £7.99). A return to the author's original character, sports agent Myron Bolitar. The least-good book I've read by Coben, but still better than many thrillers out there.

Just Take My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark (Pocket, £6.99). If you read this author you will know exactly what to expect and won't be disappointed.

From among the predicted "major sellers", some I haven't read myself: Don't Tell by Karen Rose (Headline, £6.99); The Shakespeare Curse by J L Carell (Sphere, £6.99); The Price of Love (short stories) by Peter Robinson (Hodder, £7.99); Daemon by Daniel Surarez (Quercus, £7.99); Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride (Harper, £6.99) and one I'm looking forward to – Far Cry by John Harvey (Arrow, £6.99).

And from the "crime and thriller" category: Occupied City by David Peace (Faber, £7.99); No Lovelier Death by Graham Hurley (Orion, £6.99); Whispers of the Dead by Simon Beckett (Bantam, £6.99); Awakening by S. J. Bolton (Corgi, £6.99); Gutted by Tony Black (Preface, £7.99); Runner by Thomas Perry (Quercus, £7.99); Sure and Certain Death by Barbara Nadel (Headline, £7.99); Dark Waters by Jack Ross (Arrow, £7.99); Unknown by Mari Jungstedt (Corgi, £7.99); and one that is definitely on my "must read" list, The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt (HarperPress, £7.99). One that sounds quite intriguing is "the fourth in the Mobile Library series", The Bad Book Affair by Ian Samson (4th Estate, £7.99).

There are a couple that sound a bit gruesome: Cut Out by Patrick Lennon (Hodder, £6.99) and Stop Me by Richard Jay Parker (Allison & Busby, £7.99) in which "a chain email might save a kidnapped girl's life in a tale that explores internet celebrity and obsession". And finally, a couple of old names: The Goliath Bone by Mickey Spillane with Allan Collins (Quercus, £7.99), and Salt River by James Sallis (No Exit Press, £7.99).

Links go to reviews of the books at Petrona, Euro Crime, It's a Crime! and Reviewing the Evidence.

The future of real-world bookselling

"How Waterstones killed bookselling" and "How Waterstones crushed the publishing industry" are two articles in today's Guardian (website and G2 – the second possibly not available online) that have been aired and rehashed all over the Internet, unsurprisingly. The has a good, measured analysis of the Guardian pieces, including pertinent examples of dissenting comments made by readers at the Guardian website.

The Guardian article, by Stuart Jeffries, attacks Waterstones for centralisation of its stock (little autonomy of staff in branches), complex pricing, and lack of specialist choice of books for readers. About half way through, he gets around to the reasoning behind these moves: the first of two huge changes for the UK book publishing and selling industry was the court-induced abolition of the national net book agreement (NNBA, already under pressure in any event) which opened the floodgates for book megastores. These massive shops did pretty well for readers as well as booksellers and publishers, until the second huge change – the Internet, and specifically Amazon, an unstoppable force from which "conventional" booksellers are still reeling, possibly never to recover, even as they create their own bookselling websites (not a patch on Amazon for pricing or stock).

To me, it seems ludicrous to "blame" Waterstones for this state of affairs. True, Waterstones has expanded, centralised, and sells a lot of bland fare that does not differ much from what you can get in a supermarket. But it does also offer a huge range of books for the interested browser or specialist enthusiast, and I know at least two people who like the Costa coffee shop in the basement of the Piccadilly store (as well as the lovely restaurant at the top of the shop). For his article, Stuart Jeffries interviews a few standard book industry people (for example, Tim Coates, ex-MD of Waterstones now well-known for his library campaigns; and Nicholas Clee of Bookbrunch, ex-editor of the Bookseller), but they come up with no realistic alternative for Waterstones – probably because there isn't one.

Factors to consider are that many people who like reading and who buy a lot of books will continue to use real bookstores as well as online retailers in combination. These people like browsing in bookshops but will often go online for either price or stock reasons, or both. I think Waterstones' stock in my own local branch is not bad, but I have to buy almost all the crime fiction I like to read online, because translated or backlist fiction is not cost-effective to store on the shelves – this was true even before the Internet was thought of and while the NNBA was in full force, when I worked in vacations in a bookshop and learnt some basic economics of the cost of keeping unsold, low-priced stock (an individual book) for considerable time. A lot of other people either don't buy many books over a year, and/or use the library.

A much better article than the Guardian's blaming broadside, in my opinion, is this one at the Idea Logical blog (8 November): "Can the chains provide us with better small bookstores?"  In this piece, Mike Shatzkin analyses the rise and fall of the huge bookstore in the USA, concluding that, in the post-Internet retreat of the giant megabookseller, a great stock is no longer the answer for profitability. He suggests that a solution that might work for the future is a mini-B&N or Borders sited within another large retailer. "This will require a different kind of inventory management than the chains exercise now; more of a rack-jobbing approach. But their capabilities: to source books, select books, organize books for presentation, and to deliver books all over the United States, will have more consumer demand than they’ll be able to satisfy with only their own very large stores." Waterstones might take note of this idea – instead of the Costa or Starbucks within the bookshop, the bookshop becomes within the Costa or Starbucks!

Already the bookselling industry in the real (not online) world has separated out into the "top 1000" books, sold at heavily discounted rates often in supermarkets (which only stock "top" titles); and "the rest". The question is, will it be profitable enough for booksellers to continue to sell "the rest"? And will it be profitable enough for publishers to continue to publish "the rest" of authors? People who love reading and buy a lot of books will read a higher proportion of "the rest" than of the "top 1000". But whether collectively we read and buy enough to support these industries is a question to which I don't know the answer. I do know, though, that the suggestions in the Guardian article (comfy chairs, etc) aren't going to stimulate or sustain the traditional bookselling business to the extent necessary for survival – especially with technologies such as e-readers and print-on-demand machines on the scene.

Thanks to Bernadette for sharing the link to the Guardian article at Friend Feed.

See also: The Third Player, an excellent post at The Digitalist blog, looking at the future of the e-reader and e-book market, and the possibility of Google's dominance of the whole supply chain.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Fossum

11971187771524222842Chrisdesign_Effect_Letters_alphabet_silver_6_svg_med Karin Fossum is one of my favourite authors. I read her first translated novel, Don't Look Back (winner of the Glass Key award), when it was first translated into English about seven years ago, and have enjoyed all her novels since then. I've reviewed Calling out for You (also called The Indian Bride, and shortlisted for the Gold Dagger in 2005), Black Seconds, The Water's Edge (all 'Inspector Sejer' novels) and Broken for Euro Crime. The first two or three of Fossum's novels were translated by Felicity David (Tiina Nunnally) and the rest by Charlotte Barslund, in both cases very sympathetically, I am sure preserving that delicate yet cold sense from the original Norwegian.

The Times made Karin Fossum number 27 in their list of 50 "greatest" crime writers, saying: "The Sejer novels typically feature dark secrets in small, often isolated, communities with the detective's own melancholy personality augmenting Fossum's sound grip on criminal psychology and willingness to question perceptions of normality."

Earlier this year, The Independent ran a very good interview of Karin Fossum by Christian House, from which I quote: "Bizarrely for one of Europe's most celebrated crime writers, Fossum doesn't consider herself a great purveyor of her genre. "I'm not a good crime writer. I'm not good with plots… so I have to do something else." Her alternative is to concentrate on the yearnings of life's also-rans, and how fragile minds fracture when seclusion or routine is disturbed. This is when anomalies occur. Fossum describes it as a fascination with "the tragedy, the drama, the sadness" of such events. She is interested in "the good guy who does something evil" rather than the bogeyman. The former, she believes, is "much more frightening". There remains an underlying optimism to Fossum's stories, I suggest. "I hope so," she says, "but I suppose I'm a melancholic person." "

Those of us lucky enough to be at CrimeFest in 2008 were able to attend a fascinating interview of this author by Ann Cleeves, which was a highlight of the festival for me, particularly Fossum's chilling story of a roadside death which she told an entranced audience.

In her last-but-one book, Broken, Karin Fossum moved away from her pragmatic, spare Sejer series and wrote an existential, magical novel, in which one of an author's future characters jumps the queue and forces his way into a novel. The interactions between this character and the shadowy author form an unearthly context for the more down-to-earth events of the novel. This move into the inexplicable is what made me find some similarities in mood and message between Fossum and Ninni Holmqvist, author of The Unit, a novel which I highly recommend. Another author who shares some similarities with Fossum is Fred Vargas, not in terms of passion or impulse or plot, but in terms of the novel-as-fable.

Previous posts in the crime-fiction alphabet series.

Mysteries in Paradise: home of the crime-fiction alphabet.

Exclusive insider secrets of a baguette

A bird dropping a piece of bread onto outdoor machinery has been blamed for a technical fault at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) earlier this week, as reported in The Register. If the LHC had been operational, the machine would have automatically shut down for a couple of days. However, the LHC is still being worked on after the electrical failure and subsequent leak of liquid helium that caused such damage in September, so was not active when the baguette (as it turned out to be) fell into it.

Even so, intrepid Nature reporter Geoff Brumfiel obtained an exclusive interview, under strict conditions of anonymity, with a member of staff at CERN about the errant baguette. From the Q/A:

Can we say anything about the contents of the baguette? Did it contain any tasty filling? If so what type?
Looks to have been a plain baguette – no filling observed. It was very soggy when found.

Is there any indication whether this is a French or a Swiss baguette?
It was a French site – But a frontier crossing bird is not ruled out.

Has anyone considered the possibility that the baguette came from the future to sabotage the LHC? Is there any indication that this is a futuristic baguette?
The possibility has been examined by theoretical physicists – considered unlikely as they feel baguettes will not play a part in future cultures.

Read on at The Great Beyond (the Nature news blog).

Book review: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Castillo I very much enjoyed this book. I shouldn’t have done if I am logical, as it is not only about a serial killer, but it concerns the murders of young women and girls in very gruesome, slow ways – topics on which I have more than once gone on record as saying “enough, already!”. So why did I like the novel?

Kate Burkholder is chief of police in the small town of Painters Mill, Ohio. She’s ex-Amish, under the bann from her teenage days, when she left her family and the local community (which makes up roughly half the town) for the ‘English’ (the other half). Kate is a  professional, competent police officer in her 30s who has built a good strong team and “back office”. As the book opens, she’s called out one freezing night because of some cows that have broken through a fence onto the road. Kate’s irritation quickly turns to shock when she discovers the mutilated body of….yes, you guessed it, a young woman.

What follows are the details of Kate’s investigation of the murder: a very readable and engaging account of the procedures and events that follow a crime, showing the effects on the individuals concerned and on this small community as a whole. Plot-wise, reader interest is maintained by the unusual twist that everyone on the team jumps to the conclusion that, because of a particular “signature” on the victims that was never made public, the murder was committed by a serial killer who struck several times around 16 years ago, but has never been heard of since. Why has he (presumed ‘he’) been silent for so long?

Kate, however, knows that the killer cannot be that person – and she has a certain, secret reason for this knowledge. Hence, she does not call in outside help to follow up that lead, but instead focuses her small team on other avenues of investigation. This is all very well until (inevitably) the killer strikes again – and then again, this time in the Amish community, and Kate is blamed for running an inadequate show. She becomes the victim of inter-jurisdictional and small-town politics as she struggles to keep her investigation on track, while having to follow up in secret her own dark past and that of her estranged family. The only good thing that seems to happen to her is the arrival of a profiler from Cincinnati (the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation) – but even he soon seems suspicious of Kate after the council receives an anonymous note via an Amish churchman.

This book is a great read, written in an assured style and with a fast pace, striking that difficult balance between providing enough details of the investigation and people involved in it, as well as a sense of place, without over-doing things. The story is a very good one, with several interesting angles to do with family, belief, loyalty, morality and so on. The suspense is high, especially when Kate is sidelined so tries to carry on her own investigation even after a (wrongly accused, in her view) suspect has been identified. Although the reader never doubts Kate’s integrity, there is enough of a question over what she did all those years ago to provide more impetus to the story and uncertainty about her current motives.

On the down side, the detailed descriptions of the murders are pointless. The novel would have been just as tense and exciting without the gory information about how these women and girls were tortured and killed. I feel it is simply unnecessary to provide these details – they aren’t necessary to make the villain seem even more bad. I hope they weren’t included for commercial purposes. Whatever the reason, I hope that the next book by Linda Castillo will cut down on these ghastly, explicit aspects. (There are other murders in the book which are just as or even more horrific than those in the main investigation, yet these are sketched rather than dwelled upon – and have just as much emotional impact.)

The closing part of the novel is slightly weak. There aren’t that many potential suspects and the identity of the killer is clear once one of the two obvious suspects suffers a tragedy and is therefore out of the running. And the traditional “woman in peril” climax went on for too long, though at least its initial circumstances were believable.

My main take on this novel is that it’s jolly good, and I’d recommend it to anyone. I don’t mean to moan on too much about the torture but to me this book is a perfect example of one in which some judicious cutting of a few paragraphs here and there would have made it really stunning and of much more broad appeal.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book, a proof from the publisher, Macmillan.

Other (overwhelmingly positive) reviews of this book can be read at:

Lesa's Book Critiques.

Random Jottings (with a review of The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg).

Bibliophile by the Sea.

Book Addiction.

The Bookbag.

Madhouse Family Reviews.
Author website.