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This memoir from a forensic scientist and cold case reviewer makes for absolutely fascinating, and rather chilling reading. Jim Fraser has had a 40 year career which has included the cases of Rachel Nickell and Damilola Taylor. Here he looks at the murder investigations which have been difficult to solve, and cases that remain controversial or unsolved. Bringing his knowledge and personal experience into play helps build a framework of awareness of the challenges faced by investigators. I could tell in the author’s note before I started reading that it is really important to the author that this memoir is not seen as gratuitous (though it is graphic). He is clear that the book “melds recollection with reflection… supplemented with research”. As someone who worked as a member of police staff for twenty years, I found parts made for uncomfortable reading. Jim Fraser is at times damning, highlighting the downfalls of the system. It is quite obvious that with financial restraints, different systems, and human foibles, mistakes will be made, and when a life is at stake it is hard to swallow. Murder Under the Microscope offers a compelling window into a world that most know little about.
Set in Iceland, this novel introduces a new policing team in a tense and unsettling crime novel. Winner of Iceland’s Blackbird Award and translated by prizewinning Victoria Cribb The Creak on the Stairs marks the beginning of a new series. The prologue provokes a sense of unease, which lies in wait through the rest of the tale. Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir gradually introduces more characters, adding more layers of information and increasing the intrigue. We are allowed to see into the past, childhoods torn apart, still affecting the present. The policing team are an interesting bunch, with their outside lives altering their investigating ability. The setting in Iceland is fascinating, the descriptions creating a vivid picture of the reality of living in a small town. The Creak on the Stairs is a captivating tale with plenty of tension and a plot to really get your teeth into.
With short fast-moving chapters this is a piercing and riveting political thriller. Sitting within a time period of just over two weeks, former aid worker Ursula finds herself in deep water when she becomes Minister for the Interior in Iceland. Author Lilja Sigurdardottir and translator Quentin Bates team up again after the successful and fiercely intense Reykjavik Noir trilogy which I absolutely adored. The writing here is just as smart and powerful with dirty politics and corruption leading the charge and an otherwordly feel slinking around in the background. A number of characters are introduced, from Ursula who takes a high-profile role in government, to driver and bodyguard Gunnar, and cleaner Stella. A picture slows builds with a teetering edge of tension remaining in place throughout. I hovered on the edge of knowing and understanding, my focus sharp and waiting for what was to come. In summary, Betrayal is an edge-of-your-seat political thriller just brimming over with attitude.
A new Sherlock Holmes mystery and it's something to celebrate. Robert J Harris takes a fascinating step to the side and we experience London of 1942 where Crimson Jack is murdering women on the same dates as Jack the Ripper. This is very much a “tribute to the Universal Pictures Sherlock Holmes film series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which brought Holmes and Watson to wartime London” and interestingly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself stated that placing the film in the modern setting “was a daring experiment which has succeeded admirably. Truly genius has no age”. A Study in Crimson (the title a lovely tribute to the original series) slides very nicely into the different time frame, feeling at once familiar and yet different enough to set it on its own path. Holmes and Watson are living together at Baker Street and the explanations as to the differences in time slot together. The mystery motivates Holmes, energises Watson, and leaves Lestrade hanging on their coattails. I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating start to a new series, felt completely at home and look forward to the next!
Detailed, interesting, and offering a personal insight into The Five Eyes intelligence community from the only man to have worked for both US and UK intelligence organisations while a citizen of each country. The Five Eyes alliance, comprising of the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, formed after the Second World War. Anthony R Wells believes that the intelligence institutions covered in this book have saved the free world. He says: “This book does not profess at all to be all-seeing and all-knowing”, he hopes that readers can: “make their own observations, draw their own conclusions, and come away with informed, educated, and non-biased and most certainly non-politicised views on intelligence in the modern era”. We read about the author’s experiences in chronological order over 50 years, covering a variety of threats, new opportunities, and technological advancements. It is quite clear that there is still much that we, the public, don’t know and shouldn’t know. Having said that, Between Five Eyes is an absolutely fascinating read for anyone interested in the intelligence community and wider world.
A really lovely, definitely quirky and uplifting tale that makes for a perfect pick-me-up read. While this could be read as a standalone it is actually a sequel, and I really do recommend first introducing yourself to the town of Coraloo and its inhabitants via The Death of Mungo Blackwell. Here, the focus moves to Roy and Margarette who have just become engaged. Their families are sworn enemies and either try to disrupt proceedings or lord it over their rivals. A mystery also flits between the pages, with Roy on the case. I really have fallen in love with Coraloo, it calls to me and is somewhere I’d love to visit if I could, even though as I’m not a citizen of the town and I’d be known as an ‘other’. The bizarre walks hand in hand with good old-fashioned hospitality. Lauren H Brandenburg balances sweet humour, crafty shenanigans, and glorious characters with an artful pen. There is something joyous about the The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson, it’s a little bit different, and a lot of fun.
A wonderfully atmospheric and engaging murder mystery set in the 1920’s, featuring a charismatic amateur sleuth. ‘The Art Fiasco’ is the latest in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series, which we included in our Book Series collection. Do start with The Jazz Files, it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award, and this is a series that deserves to be savoured in order. Sitting three years after The Cairo Brief in 1924, Poppy visits Northumberland to celebrate her father’s birthday and finds herself embroiled in an investigation. Fiona Veitch Smith does a wonderful job of balancing cosy and charming with murder and mayhem. Behind the glitter and glitz the author examines class and child exploitation with care and consideration. The differing age groups work wonderfully together, and I just adore Aunt Dot. Poppy shines with vivacity, a romance hovers, while darkness threatens to overwhelm. The Art Fiasco really is a gloriously readable slice of historical crime fiction.
A well-crafted and dramatic murder mystery set in Scotland and South Carolina. Bestselling novelist Julianna has to be reminded when she wakes every morning that her husband was murdered, even as her memories fade she is desperate to find out what happened to him. As the story began Deb Richardson-Moore cleverly placed me in Julianna’s thoughts and I felt her confusion as she realises that she has lost chunks of her memory. I negotiated my way through the story as the characters increased and plot expanded. The author is skilled at building a picture of family and small town life, and this tale is as much about the relationships between parents and children as it is a mystery. I can also recommend the Deb Richardson-Moore’s Branigan Powers Mystery Series (which begins with The Cantaloupe Thief), particularly if you like the idea of strolling across to the USA, sipping iced tea, celebrating the 4th of July, and attempting to solve a murder of course. Murder, Forgotten with its sneaky twists and turns is more than capable of delivering a surprise or two which most definitely ensures a captivating read.
Foreboding and chilling, this dramatic family tale creeps into your awareness and causes doubt and questions to multiply. When a tenant of a house in Bergan, Norway goes missing, owner and landlord Nina starts her own investigation. This is a novel to read slowly, to allow the words to sink in, so you can appreciate the pattern and movement. Agnes Ravatn (and translator Rose Hedger) have teamed up again after their award winning The Bird Tribunal. They have the ability to create one heck of an unsettling atmosphere, and this isn’t a comfortable read. The characters are flawed, feel so very real, and at times made me wince. Short abrupt sentences, the lack of quotation marks, and a marked jagged boundary between chapters creates a decided edge. Layers of unease built as I questioned everyone and everything, and the ending when it comes feels inevitable and perfect. Blanketed in an ominous sheet of tension, The Seven Doors is an intriguing, compelling and penetrating read.
A thoughtful, compelling, and provocative novel that may well challenge your understanding of the meaning of victim. When Amelie’s boyfriend is arrested on child sex abuse charges, lives are thrown into chaos and confusion. This story concentrates on celebrity, secrets, and greed and covers several different time periods between 2010 and 2019. Michael J Malone’s previous books range across genres, yet he has the ability as a writer to tackle difficult subjects with sensitivity while still ensuring an intense delivery. There were moments here where I truly flinched, yet he doesn’t exploit, rather explores and exposes thoughts and feelings with care and consideration. He focuses on the impact allegations can have on everyone involved, not just the main parties. The title has made a real impression on me, and it sits as a perfect accompaniment to the story. The three main characters stand in vivid isolation, even when surrounded by other people and the writing reflects the difficulties faced. A Song of Isolation is a cracking read, that could encourage your thoughts to travel in unexpected directions.
Written by former Labour MP and leading Anti-Apartheid and Anti-Nazi League campaigner Peter Hain, The Rhino Conspiracy is a true page-turner. A thriller that resonates with conscience, timeliness and deep knowledge of South African politics and wildlife. The book’s backdrop is a political landscape in which a corrupt South African government has chosen to overlook lucrative rhino poaching. In the words of Mkhize, a young ranger, “It’s war out there. Those bastards have AK-47 assault rifles. They don’t mess about. To get those rhino horns they will murder anybody, destroy anything.” But he recognizes deep complexities too: “Wildlife is seen as something for rich whites, so poachers can be seen as sort of Robin Hoods. Kill a poacher and you can turn these communities against wildlife protection.” This corruption has led a veteran freedom fighter to break his lifelong ties with the ANC. He wants to bring about change: “The Veteran had a responsibility – no, a duty – to act.” But he needs “help from a younger protégé. Someone to do the legwork, to be out there reporting back to him.” Enter Thandi, a young woman who was “Born Free but not a Born Forget’”. Unlike most of her peers, she knows history, and is inspired by Mandela and his ANC comrades, stirred by their “courage, determination and passionate commitment to democracy, to human rights, to social justice.” Having recently been on safari with Mkhize and struck up a bond with him, they both attend the Veteran’s political event and sign-up to his cause. The work is highly risky, and becomes riskier still as they uncover corruption on an international scale, with multiple individuals embroiled. The narratives move smoothly between different characters and perspectives, making for a tensely enthralling ride. Passionate and pacey throughout, The Rhino Conspiracy is also underpinned by a vital commentary on the nature of bringing about change. In the words of the Veteran, “Big change never came solely from within the system, but from external force as well.”
In The Museum Makers Rachel Morris, director of museum company Metaphor, plots an enthralling personal and professional journey from finding a box of family belongings beneath her bed, to the beating heart of Bloomsbury’s bohemian circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This journey is underpinned by the very essence of what museums are and do: “Museum-making is about sorting often quite ordinary objects to make meaningful patterns out of the muddle and confusion of the universe; thoughtful, beautiful patterns that have something to say. Museums are where we go to make sense of the world and the pasts that have gone. And what we do in museums we also do with our own histories.” Which is exactly what Morris does when she digs into the contents of the box and is led to discover secrets about her father, Gran, and great-grandmother Nona, which she curates into her Museum of Me. Illuminated by the power of objects to stir memories, and to make sense of oneself, the journey also delves into women’s involvement with, and relationship to, museums: “Museums have a special appeal for women whether as places to work in or as places to visit.” While men may have curated early museums (as an extension of their curation of the world), women were key collectors, donors and fundraisers from those nascent days. At once an absorbing history of museums, and a profoundly personal memoir of detection and discovery, this has all the delightful universal appeal of a cabinet of curiosity.
August 25, 2010. Mazhar Majeed – an agent representing a number of players in the Pakistan squad due to play a Test Match against England – sends a text to an Indian businessman he knows as Mohsin Khan. Majeed wants to convince Khan to join him in a match-fixing plot he claims will make them both very wealthy. The text confirms their plan is going ahead. What Majeed doesn’t know is that Khan’s real name is Mazher Mahmood and that he is an undercover investigative reporter for the News of the World. Mahmood – famous for his exposes on such personalities as Sarah Ferguson, Jerry Springer and Sven Goran Eriksson – is known to the world as the Fake Sheikh. On the back of Majeed’s greed and lack of caution, he is about to run a story that promises to be the greatest sporting scoop the UK press has ever seen. The beginning of The Thin White Line is so enthralling, so complex and so fast-moving, it read like an extract from Mission Impossible or The Sting. The difference – something that made this read all the more exciting – was this was real. This happened. I was gripped. Mazher Mahmood was responsible for exposing criminal and corrupt activity among a lot of people. His methods were fraught with risk and extremely expensive. He got results, though, and he was lauded by the industry for doing so. His was a style of journalism that, with hindsight, was doomed to fail one day and probably in a big way. It did, and as a result Mahmood found himself in the dock and facing a prison sentence. Nick Greenslade’s research is incredibly thorough and the quoted sources in the book read like a who’s who of well-known sporting personalities. The Thin White Line isn’t just a book for cricket fans, though – although they will relish it, I’m sure. Anyone with even minimal interest in corruption within sport or in the goings-on of the newspaper world of the time will find it a fascinating insight. I loved it. But I’d be prepared to wager you’d already worked that out for yourself.
A stimulating, provocative brew containing drama, intrigue, dark humour, and thoughtful contemplation. It shouldn’t work, yet it does! The Skelf women return for a second outing running their funeral home and private investigation business side by side. Still affected by the turmoil from the first book in the series A Dark Matter (do read this first), investigations begin after a car crashes into the grave at a funeral. The first sentence is a corker, and sets the tone. Each chapter is headed by one of the three Skelf women, with the individual voices of grandmother Dorothy, her daughter Jenny, and granddaughter Hannah independently vibrant. I particularly like the multi-generational aspect to this series with the storyline bustling from one woman to the next. There is a fair bit of death to be found here, but where there’s death there is life too. All the small things that make up our existence, plus some huge pummelling emotions such as grief and anger are on offer. Doug Johnstone paints a multi-dimensional 360 degree vibrant view, and sparked a heady mix of thoughts and feelings as I read. The Big Chill is an energetic, colourful, and dare I say entertaining read that encourages both smirks and reflection.
Dazzlingly original, Cassondra Windwalker’s Idle Hands crackles with wit and the real-world traumas of a family whose lives change course courtesy of divine intervention from the devil. It’s a veritable feast of the imagination, and a feat of thought-provoking story-telling that will surely appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman. After an abusive marriage, Purdie makes the tough and brave decision to leave her husband to start a fresh life. It’s a heart-breaking move, made harder by her children’s questions: “Your daddy had a choice of his own to make, and he didn’t choose us,” she explains. “But I am choosing you. I am choosing you above everything. We’re going to build a new life, and it’s going to be beautiful.” Purdie makes this happen, but when tragedy hits years later, she’s led to question the paths she’s taken, and tormented by harrowing “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Desperate to shield her family and safeguard their future, she makes a deal with the devil, a philosophical puppet master who now pulls the strings of Purdie’s life. This is a cunningly-told tale of stark dichotomies – between voices and viewpoints, between domestic experience and metaphysical speculation. It shows how we grapple with rationalising decisions and notions of freewill and fate. Every bit as provocative and playful as the devil him (or her) self, this is a daring blast of a book.
A thoughtful yet suspense filled novel introducing the first Sarah Sutherland thriller. Sarah, in her 40’s and divorced, rushes from her day job to care for her father who lives alone. She delights in a second role telling chilling stories to tourists about the Scottish witch trials of the 17th century. I have read Sandra Ireland’s previous three standalone novels and love her blend of piercing reality and folklore. Here we step into a new series and as Sarah narrates, I felt myself sympathising, smiling, and investing in her as a character. Both Sarah and her father John head chapters, with information about Alie Gowdie who lived in Sarah’s cottage and was executed in 1648 also slipping between the pages. A clever brew of tension, diversions and suspense takes hold, with questions forming and sitting at the back of my mind, waiting, biding their time. With an unexpected bite Sight Unseen challenges and provokes thoughts and I thoroughly enjoyed this start to a new series.
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