Alphabet in crime fiction: Quigley

Q The crime fiction alphabet has rolled round to "Q", and as I am working through authors' surnames, I have to confess I am stuck. The only author whose name begins with Q and whom I can recall reading is Sheila Quigley. I have read one of her books, Run for Home, in the days when I was in a book club and this debut was the recommendation one month. I can't remember all that much about it, except that it is a bit like a Martina Cole/Lynda La Plante cross, set in the north of England, written in dialect, and involving abducted children, not my favourite topic. Here's the blurb from the author's website:

In 1985: a man runs for his life – exhausted, wounded, hunted remorselessly by a woman assassin known only as The Head Hunter. At the end, he has just enough energy to spit in her face.
In 2001:sixteen-year-old Kerry Lumsdon runs across the same terrain. She runs to win and she runs to forget.
Run When a headless body is found in the wastelands of the Seahills Estate, Detective Inspector Lorraine Hunt is called in to investigate. Kerry and Lorraine, different ages and from different worlds, come together when Claire Lumsdon, Kerry's sister, is violently kidnapped – the fourth in a series of abductions of young girls.
Headstrong, wilful and convinced the police can't help, Kerry sets out on a frantic search of her own. But her hunt takes her to a world she never knew existed: a violent underworld; a sixteen year old murder; and, finally, to secrets about her own past which her mother hoped she'd never have to face.
And all the time, the clock is ticking for Claire.

Sheila Quigley has written four novels since then, Bad Moon Rising (review by Sharon Wheeler at Reviewing the Evidence); Living on a Prayer (review at Euro Crime by Pat Austen); Every Breath You Take (review at Euro Crime by Michelle Peckham); and most recently, The Road To Hell (book description at the author's website, including a link to a trailer on YouTube). All five novels are set in the Seahills Estate, a fictitious estate in Houghton-le-Spring, north-east England and feature DI Lorraine Hunt. There's a map of the estate at the author's website.

Sheila Quigley was a grandmother of eight, living in a council house in the north east of England, when she signed a £300,000 two-book deal with Random House. Now published by Tonto Books, I will leave the last word with author Tess Gerritsen: "Sheila Quigley is queen of the rough and tumble thriller. With her strong heroines and gritty plots, she draws us into a shadowy world where only the strong survive..".

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.


Alphabet in crime fiction: Palmer

P My contribution to the letter “P” is a review of Michael Palmer’s latest medical thriller, The Last Surgeon. This book is published in the USA on 16 February; via Margot Kinberg’s blog, I discovered that the author is making available advance copies to book bloggers. Even though I live in a different continent, Michael Palmer has very generously sent me a signed advance copy of the novel. If you follow Michael at Twitter or Facebook, he will be releasing some exclusive material. You can also visit his website for Q&As, podcast and a ringtone (which I assume is different from Wallender’s). Here's my review:

The Last Surgeon is a very exciting thriller which I read in a day (Sunday, as it happens). Dr Nick Gerrity, nicknamed Nick Fury after a comic-book character, is serving in Afghanistan when a terrible act of terrorism devastates his life. After recovering physically from his dreadful injuries he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so is unable to return to his army post. He finds satisfaction in working for (and driving) the Helping Hands Mobile Medical Unit, in which, in partnership with Julie, a middle-aged nurse, he helps the people of the streets of Washington DC and Baltimore, also (based on his own experience) helping veterans to navigate the bureaucratic maze of the Veteran’s Administration in order to successfully claim their benefits. Nick is also searching for his best friend, an army colleague whom he last saw some years ago, living as a down-and-out, possibly alcoholic.
TheLastSurgeon175w At the beginning of the novel, a hired assassin kills a beautiful young nurse, Belle Coates, making the death look like a suicide – the reader has no idea why. Belle’s much older sister Jillian is alone in refusing to believe that sister took her own life, spending her time since that event desperately trying to get the media or anyone interested in helping her find out what really happened. She believes that she must be right when her home is incinerated in a firebomb, destroying all the boxes of Belle’s possessions. One box contained a bizarre collection of comics, about a character called Dr Nick Fury – together with a note in Belle’s handwriting with some odd phrases including Nick’s name. Jillian mentioned this oddity on a late-night radio programme in which she appealed for information about her sister’s death, and to her excitement, a caller says that he knows “Dr Nick Fury” as Dr Nick Garrity, from his days in the army. Jillian determines to find Nick and see how he might be connected to her sister.
The novel continues at breakneck speed as Nick and Jillian, helped by various friends and people who owe Nick favours, try to find out what happened to Belle. Unknown to them, they are racing against time as the killer is continuing his evil work – and, via a clever disguise that keeps the tension pitched high, is keeping track of Jillian’s movements. One of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed the most was the description of Nick and his partner Julie’s medical work, and the details of how they help the victims and poor people on the streets in an uncaring society.  The author has a true talent for making the work of Nick and his friends come alive, and makes us really care about Nick’s search for his lost colleague and Jillian’s attempts to find out what really happened to her sister, which via some neat detective work at a nearby private hospital and a bit of computer hacking lead to an exciting but violent climax. As a thriller this book is excellent and I highly recommend it, though I found the eventual solution not as interesting or compelling as the rest of the novel.

Michael Palmer's website: read a "sneak preview", get the ringtone, widgets and view the trailer of The Last Surgeon, and read about the author's other books – most of them excellent medical-oriented thrillers.

The Last Surgeon reviews page, where the author has collected excerpts from and links to bloggers' reviews.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Orford

O My contribution this week is a review of a book I have just finished reading, Like Clockwork by Margie Orford (Atlantic books).

Set in Cape Town, Like Clockwork follows the life and thoughts of Dr Clare Hart, a multi-talented author, profiler, and TV programme maker (who never cooks her own meals) – as she becomes involved in the murders of young teenagers. The basic plot of this debut novel is pretty standard: someone is abducting very young women and teenagers, killing them in sadistic ways, leaving their bodies ritually arranged among discarded rubbish. Clare lives in the same neighbourhood, but behind security gates in the affluent part of it. She’s a consultant to the police in the person of her on-off lover Inspector Riedwaan, so has both an insider’s view of the murders as well as an outsider’s, in that she often stumbles across relevant facts and suspects as she goes about her daily life.

We are gradually introduced to Clare’s world – her two sisters Julie, a wife and mother; and Constance, Clare’s twin, who has been institutionalised since she was viciously attacked many years ago. Clare and Constance share an uneasy yet passionate bond, as Clare bears the burden of guilt for what happened to her sister.

We are also introduced to several unsavoury characters: rich local businessmen who are cashing in on the sex trade and property boom. One of the most threatening of these is Kelvin Landsmann, who Clare wants to interview for a TV programme she is making about international trafficking of women. Clare’s life is filled with preparing her TV documentary, helping the police in the murder investigation, and supporting the various abused girls and their distraught families – as well as spending time with her sisters and an old neighbour. Increasingly, she becomes aware of the way in which girls are being abused as “hostesses” in the local tourism and erotic movie business, as well as forced prostitution from other parts of the continent and beyond, and how this abuse has spread into threats and crimes against the girls’ families.

Like Clockwork is a debut novel, and although I quite enjoyed it, I found it rather formulaic. I cannot empathise with the fascination of some authors with ritualistic, serial killers, and here the perpetrators are so obvious that there is little suspense to offset the many grim circumstances. I never feel comfortable reading books describing young women’s (or anyone’s) suffering, and this one is no exception, though it is not too explicit, thankfully – although it paints an extremely depressing picture of the typical 16-year-old’s family life and what happens to her if she is foolhardy enough to go into bars or take a part-time job doing voice-overs.

Although the novel has promise, I feel it tries to cover too many themes, so is a bit of a hodge-podge. For example, the police investigation is somewhat sketchily described; the relationship between Clare and Constance is not fully developed; and the varied professional activities of Clare mostly happen off-page, making her into a slightly implausible superwoman who has the right phone number to hand for any victim of any circumstance, so she can immediately head off to the next crisis. Although there are too many fragmentary elements, particularly to her back-story, she’s an attractive and capable protagonist. I think that in future, if the author focuses more and creates a better central story, Clare Hart could definitely make her mark.

There are two subsequent novels about her so far, Blood Rose and Daddy’s Girl – though I have not yet decided if I am going to read them because of the subject matter of sexual abuse and death of young women and (in later books) children. At the end of the day, I just did not find that this novel was sufficiently original, insightful or well-written to justify the voyeuristic, sickening subject matter – a conclusion I reached about the rather similar first two novels by Lee Weeks. I was also distracted by the poor editing and proofreading of the edition of Like Clockwork I read, even to the extent that the sentences in some paragraphs seemed to be out of order.

Read another review of this book at International Noir Fiction.

Author's website, which includes positive excerpts of reviews of Like Clockwork.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Noll

N Some years ago, I read three excellent novels via my local library. The author is Ingrid Noll and the books are dark, yet full of black humour. Most amusing of these is the first, in which the main character is in her 50s, so nobody takes any notice of her. She therefore, "gets away with murder". As I can't remember many of the details apart from having enjoyed the novels, I reprint here the publisher blurbs (unfortunately not revealing the name of the translator), which come with a recommendation from Val McDermid:

Hell Hath No Fury: When 52-year-old Rosemarie Hirte falls for Rainer Engstern, she knows that this could be her last chance for happiness. Finding herself in the grip of terrifying obsession, Rosemarie spins a deadly web in which she lures and then destroys all those who come too close to the object of her love.

Head Count: Maya's only memory is being at odds with her mother and brother. Her father seemed to love her but he disappeared. Maya's life is embattled until she meets Cora. The two form a friendship founded on a conviction that they are somehow separate from society and do not have to abide by its rules.

The Pharmacist: A gripping psychological mystery from one of Europe's best-selling crime novelists. Would you confide your most intimate secrets to a stranger? Hella Moormann, a pharmacist, finds herself doing just this when she meets the unprepossessing Rosemarie Hirte in hospital. Hella has always suffered from a need to nurture lost souls, but she believes her latest lover will be different. Levin, a beautiful young dental student, is heir to his grandfather's fortune and looks like a good thing. All too soon, though, her faith is shaken: not only does he take an unhealthy interest in some antique poison bottles, but he also plans to misuse his dental skills in a macabre way. Hella's life takes an increasingly bizarre course, from involvement with drug runners to murder, via adultery and much else. But is she the helpless victim of fate or a cunning manipulator of events? Whatever the truth, in choosing to tell her story to the anonymous Rosemarie Hirte, she may have made a lethal mistake, for Hirte has a sinister secret of her own…

From Wikipedia: Ingrid Noll has written several novels, including Head Count, Hell hath no Fury and The Pharmacist, as well as one television drama, Bommels Billigflüge. Several of her novels have been subsequently adapted as films, including Die Apothekerin, which was released in the United States as The Pharmacist and was nominated for the German Film Award in Gold for outstanding feature film. She wrote her debut novel at the age of 55 and is (says Wikipedia) one of the most appreciated authors in Germany.

DW-World interview with Ingrid Noll, who describes herself as: "good-natured, usually easy-going and easy to be around, loyal, I have a good appetite, and I'm sometimes a bit venomous." It's a very funny (and short) interview, and I strongly identify with the final answer.

Ingrid Noll at the Internet Movie database, from which it appears that she may have written some more novels and adapted them for film and TV.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Marklund

M It is no secret that I am an admirer of the novels by Liza Marklund,a Swedish journalist, publisher, UNICEF ambassador and, last but by no means least, crime writer. The books by her that I have read have as their main character newspaper journalist Annika Bengtzon, but the author has also written another two books (not translated into English) about Maria ("Mia") Eriksson, a Swedish woman who was abused by her immigrant boyfriend and forced into hiding. These books became subject of some controversy over whether or not they are fiction, as can be seen from this Wikipedia entry about the author. Marklund has also written two other novels that are not part of a series (not yet translated into English). More information, and synopses of the books, can be found at the author's website. Euro Crime blog has recently reported the welcome news that not only is Marklund's collaboration with James Patterson due to be published in the UK in September, but also that more of her books are due to be translated into English, published by Transworld, starting with Red Wolf in October.

The Annika Bengtzon series (the character is named for the author's daughter) currently runs to eight books, of which only the first four have so far been translated into English. Annika is a young woman under considerable stress, both because of an abusive boyfriend and because she is struggling to become a reporter at the offices of a national newspaper, where she has a temporary post as a subeditor. Later, she achieves her career goal, has a stormy romance resulting in marriage and two children, and even more stress as she and her husband juggle work demands with their attempts to bring up their children as well as Annika constantly feeling that she is not "good enough" at all the wonderful crafty, home-making activities that seem to be second nature to the distaff Swedish population (if the country's crime literature is anything to go on). The "crime" in the stories usually consists of cases that Annika investigates as a journalist, but in many ways the author is more interested in issues of feminism (Annika's work situation, which is unerringly accurate in fact and emotion) and of social injustice, particularly concerning women, so the crime cases often peter out, being left to others (eg the police) to solve – quite a refreshing change from the standard explosive conclusion to many such novels.

Apart from strongly identifying with Annika (whom many readers don't like because she is quite spiky and difficult, particularly when under pressure, but then so am I!), I am fascinated by the chronological order of the books. The author wrote the Annika series in the following chronological order: The Bomber, Studio 69, Paradise (which is the best of the four in my opinion, containing more than an echo of the "Mia" story), and Prime Time. Yet in terms of the events in the novels, the chronological order of the books is: Studio 69, Paradise, Prime Time, and The Bomber (which has apparently sold more than half a million copies in Sweden). Not only is this an unusual way of writing a series, but the events of the novels dovetail, even at the level of minor details, in an unfaltering way. It is clear from reading the books that the author had everything all mapped out at the outset, as events are referred to in The Bomber which had not at that time been written, and the complex relationship dynamics between Annika and her husband, which result from events and actions in the past (again, in not yet written books).

Paradise reviewed at Petrona.

Paradise reviewed at Crime Scraps.

The Bomber and Prime Time reviewed at Euro Crime. 

Liza Marklund's books reviewed at Scandinavian Books


Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Liza Marklund has already appeared in Crime Fiction alphabet this week, in this four-author post by Dorte of DJ's Krimiblog.

Mysteries in Paradise
, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Larsson

L Asa Larsson is one of my very favourite authors. She's written most of a six-book series about a troubled Stockholm financial lawyer called Rebecka Martinsson. Three of the books have been translated into English, superbly, by Marlaine Delargy. As I understand it, the translation fate of some or all of the rest hangs in the balance. I truly hope that these excellent novels will be translated and will receive the wider audience they so well deserve.

In the first novel of the series, Sun Storm (UK title The Savage Altar), Rebecka returns to Kiruna, the small town she left in disgrace many years before, because her old schoolfriend Sanna is suspected of murder. Sanna's brother was killed in the revivalist church that he led. To help Sanna, Rebecka has to face the dark past of her childhood. Not only does the novel have an excellent plot, it also provides a rich background of the ways of life in this remote village, especially that of Rebecka's grandfather, and an unusual police detective, Anna-Maria Mella. Sun Storm won Sweden's best first crime novel award (2003) and was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger (2007), very deservedly so. It has also been filmed (in Sweden), with the title Solstorm.

The second novel, The Blood Spilt, is set in midsummer, and opens with another murder in a church, again in the Kiruna region. Despite these superficial similarities, the two books are very different, as The Blood Spilt explores the shadows within the local community that fell over Mildred, the dead woman, and tells the story of Yellow Legs, a lone wolf living in the forests. This book won Sweden's best crime novel award in 2004.

The Black Path, the third in the series, opens with the discovery of a dead woman in a fisherman's ark on a frozen lake. Anna-Maria needs a lawyer to explain part of the case – so she calls on Rebecka, who is desperate to get back to work. The preface:
"Do you remember what happened?
Rebecka Martinsson saw her dead friend lying there on the gravel in Poikkijarvi. And the world shattered. And they had to hold on to her to stop her walking into the river.
This is the third book."

Links in the book titles above take you to my reviews of the novels at Euro Crime.

Asa Larsson at Wikipedia.

Asa Larsson at Scandinavian Books.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Kerrigan

K Gene Kerrigan is an award-winning political journalist who has turned his hand to writing crime fiction. According to Wikipedia, "Mr. Kerrigan's journalism is hard-boiled and revealing, and he observes the goings-on and pretensions of those who wield political and financial power with a caustic eye, often with a weary and mordant humour." I think the same description can be applied to his three published novels, all of which I have enjoyed tremendously and reviewed for Euro Crime. From my reviews:

Little Criminals. "I was not sure I'd want to read a book about an Irish gang who kidnap a businessman's wife and demand a huge ransom. But, persuaded by great reviews by the authors of some of the blogs I regularly read, I decided to try it. And I am glad I did: it is excellent. The book opens in a small southern Irish village called Harte's Cross, where Frankie Crowe and his sidekick Martin Paxton unsuccessfully try to steal the takings of the local pub. The actions of that day don't feature again until the very end of the book, when their reverberations contribute to a climax that is like a Greek tragedy in its elements of history, fate and hubris."

The Midnight Choir. "I loved everything about this book. THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR is truly bleak, at times violent and disturbing, but always brilliant. The way in which the plots overlap and sometimes merge in a horridly inevitable cause and effect is masterly. Although I applaud the lack of sentimentality, I was glad that the reader is left with a spark of optimism in the shape of at least two police officers who know how to do the right thing."

Dark Times in the City. "Right from the first page, the reader is grabbed by the author's distinguishing mix of bleak noir, perfect attention to detail, atmosphere and lyricism – no hint of wordiness or sentimentality, but engaging one's emotions and attention right from the first page of poetic description, to the shattered illusions of the last."

Dark Times in the City was arguably the first book to describe the collapse of the "Irish tiger" economy (because of the delay between writing a novel and its publication, the author must have been remarkably prescient, as one might expect from an award-winning political journalist!). This book was also deservedly nominated for the CWA Golden Dagger in 2009, though personally I think it not quite as good as the first two novels. Still pretty spectacular, though.

Reviews of Little Criminals, Midnight Choir and  Dark Times in the City at the excellent blog of Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction.

Gene Kerrigan's columns in the Irish Independent


Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Jungstedt

J  Mari_Jungstedt
Mari Jungstedt
 is a Swedish journalist and popular crime fiction author. Her first three novels have so far been translated into English by the superb Tiina Nunnally, and I hope the next three will follow soon. The books are set on the island of Gotland, which is near the Oland of Johan Theorin's novels, and feature Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and journalist Johan Berg. I enjoy Mari Jungstedt's books for three reasons: they are well-plotted crime stories with the accent on police procedural; they provide insight into life on Gotland and the characters of people who live there; and the main characters have domestic lives and problems that develop throughout the series. Knutas is fairly unusual among many current policemen in that he has a good, longstanding marriage, whereas the cosmopolitan Stockholmite Berg is fatally attracted to a local married teacher, Emma, who has two small children, leading to many complications.

I have reviewed for Euro Crime all three of the novels that have been translated into English. Here's a taste of each.

Unseen opens with a description of a dinner party at the house of a young professional couple, Helena and Per, where things get a bit out of hand. The next morning, Helena goes for a walk on the misty beach and is later found murdered, together with her faithful dog. The subsequent police investigation is headed by Inspector Anders Knutas, a sensitive, middle-aged man who is irritated by the intrusion of the media into the case, who have discovered and want to reveal salacious details. Reminiscent of the Kurt Wallander series by Henning Mankell, Knutas and his close-knit team solidly look into all leads, investigating the dead woman's friends and family, in the process revealing much about the lifestyles and history of Gotlanders.

Unspoken is a great read, particularly strong in conveying the frailties of human emotion and in the juxtapositions of the police investigation with the media's reporting as well as the domestic lives of the characters.

Unknown (a.k.a. The Inner Circle). The author has a knack for conveying the apparently trivial yet all-important domestic problems of her characters, as well as a touching sympathy with the victims of the crimes she describes.

Even though I felt Unknown was not quite as good as the previous two novels in terms of the plot, I shall definitely return to these books when more are translated, partly because the police-procedural aspects, with the interplay between the detectives, is pretty much on a par (and similar to) Mankell's Wallendar books; and partly because of the excellent way in which TV media politics and the family upheavals of Emma and Johan are portrayed.

Publisher website.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Isaacs

IBefore there was Janet Evanovich or Desperate Housewives there was Susan Isaacs, an author I discovered quite by chance when I noticed a then-just-published bright yellow Penguin paperback with the intriguing title of Compromising Positions. Published in 1985, almost 10 years before the first Stephanie Plum book, the novel was like a breath of fresh air, unlike anything I had read before. The plot concerns a suburban housewife, Judith, who is bored and stifled by the domestic grind. When a local dentist and "stud" is found murdered, Judith's life takes on a new purpose as she determines to solve the crime – not least when she discovers that several of her women friends (supposedly happily married mothers) have been captured photographically by the dead man – in the compromising positions of the title.

This was a very funny book, and I'd be interested to know if it was the first of the genre of "wisecracking, domestic, comic mystery" as one blurb has it. Maybe it would not seem that original now, but I loved it at the time. I read most of Susan Isaacs' subsequent books, most of which I enjoyed a great deal. Although the protagonist is invariably a strong female, she varies her themes, from crime to romantic to historical, usually with a refreshing, funny touch. One exception to the humour element was Shining Through, a World War two romantic spy story, a good book which was made into a (reputedly) awful film with Michael Douglas. Other books by Susan Isaacs that I've enjoyed were Lily White, a crime thriller about a lawyer amid the privileged Long Island set; After all these Years, about a woman whose husband leaves her after their silver wedding party and is subsequently found murdered; and Magic Hour, murder and romance in The Hamptons.

I lost touch with Susan Isaacs' novels a few years ago until this crime-fiction alphabet series caused me to check out the author's website, where I see that there are three I haven't yet read. Maybe I will, or maybe I would no longer enjoy this lightly amusing, satirical lifestyle type of book. Either way, I think Susan Isaacs is a funny and talented exponent. 

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Howell

My contribution this week of H is a review of H The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell, her second novel, which  tells two connected, interweaving stories with a cracking pace and confidence. I enjoyed it tremendously, despite not being sure about it at first.
The book opens with Lauren Yates, a Sydney paramedic, almost running over an injured young man running across the road late at night. Jumping out of her ambulance to help, the young man and his friend hastily drive away. Lauren investigates the alley where the men had run from, and encounters a horrific crime in progress. What’s more, she knows the perpetrator, who is able to threaten her sufficiently to make her stay silent about what she’s seen.
Six months later, Lauren and her partner Joe are called to the scene of another crime, this time a street where a man, James Kennedy, has been stabbed. While the ambulance is racing to the hospital, Kennedy is able to say the name of the man who attacked him: the same man who previously threatened Lauren. Lauren therefore has a dilemma – she has previously lied in court at the inquest of the man murdered in the alley in denying that she saw the attack, yet she can’t withhold the name of Kennedy’s assailant from the police because Joe, her colleague, also heard it.
Lauren is one of the two main protagonists in this novel; the other is Ella Marconi, a police detective who is being investigated after events in the previous book by this author (Frantic). Ella is determined to prove herself so that she gets to stay in homicide, hence when she pulls the James Kennedy investigation she is determined to solve it. She’s stymied, however, when Lauren withdraws her evidence about the perpetrator.
I was in two minds about this book up to this point. I wasn’t impressed by the coincidence of Lauren being involved in two cases involving the same perpetrator, or with her dilemma of silence. Lauren is a competent and committed paramedic who has evidently shown plenty of resilience at earlier stages of her life. I didn’t find her vacillation very interesting to read about.
But luckily it doesn’t last long, as Lauren realises that she and her family can’t live with a threat hanging over them. After she comes clean with Ella and the police force, the book shifts a gear into overdrive, and continues at a breathtaking pace until the end. Katherine Howell has a great way of keeping up the action and tension, while also providing plenty of authentic details about the police investigation and the paramedics’ life of constant call-outs, tension and bravery as they repeatedly help the victims of accidents, attacks, and self-destruction.
The police investigation is compelling, with several different divisions coordinating various lines of enquiry as it becomes clearer that certain events must be connected. The question is, how? I really enjoyed the way in which witnesses were interviewed, phone records checked, and evidence gradually put together to build up a complete picture. The author is particularly good at interspersing chapters from the point of view of some of the less savoury characters without giving away to the reader how everything is related. And she presents really authentic characters in Lauren and Ella by showing the reader glimpses of their home lives, their families and how they deal with everyday and not-so-everyday domestic tensions.
Although this is the second novel by Katherine Howell, you don’t have to have read the first to enjoy it (I haven’t). It seems that the character of Lauren is new to The Darkest Hour, and one learns enough of Ella’s back-story not to feel one is missing out by not knowing all the events described in Frantic.
Above all, The Darkest Hour is written with confident and authoritative prose. The author is clearly very talented and I’m eagerly awaiting her next novel, Cold Justice.

I thank Crimefiction reader of It's a Crime! blog, and the publisher PanMacmillan, for my copy of this book.

Read a review of Frantic at It's a Crime!

Read another review of The Darkest Hour at The Guardian (review by Joanna Hines, but it is brief.)

The author interviewed at It's a Crime! after winning the Davitt award.

Author website.

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

The crime-fiction alphabet series at Petrona.