GR Halliday

UNDER THE MARSH . . . Between the covers

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This is the third novel by GR Halliday featuring Inverness copper DI Monica Kennedy, and you can read my review of the previous book, Dark Waters, by clicking on the title link. DI Kennedy’s life revolves around being the best mother she can be for her five year-old daughter Lucy, and solving serious crime for Police Scotland. When those two vocations collide, she is helped out by her willing, but rather reproachful mother.

The novel begins with one of those “She’s Leaving Home” moments, but there is a difference. The worst that we know of what became of the girl in the Beatles song is that she went off with a man from the motor trade. What happens here is worse. Much, much worse.

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UTM coverOne of Kennedy’s chief scalps was serial killer Pauline Tosh, who now faces spending the rest of her days in a remote high security jail. Out of the blue, Tosh requests a visit from the officer who ended her murderous career, and what she reveals sets off a search for a body. When it is discovered, and is revealed to be that of the long-since missing Freya Sutherland, what is in effect a massive cold-case-murder hunt is put into place.

I am not the greatest fan of the split time frame mode of storytelling, but Halliday uses it sparingly. Freya’s links with some minor celebrities back in the day provide leads for the investigation, but they are not necessarily fruitful. Along the way, the author has fun painting dark pictures of people who were once ‘something’ in the entertainment business, but whose best days are long behind them, but the questionable ethics and narcissism that brought them fame are as strong as ever. More troubling for Monica Kennedy is that one of the people who crops up in her investigation into what happened decades ago is now a prominent Scottish politician.

Monica Kennedy gets on really well with her professional partner, DC Connor Crawford, but then he goes AWOL at a time when the investigation is floundering. When he does surface, it is to tell Kennedy that he is in la merde profonde. He has become captivated with a Lithuanian stripper who works for one of Scotland’s major villains, who now has compromising footage of Crawford and Emilija. This footage will be revealed to all and sundry unless Crawford agrees to feed him with information. It is not all doom and gloom, however, as Crawford has had a bit of luck via a cassette tape which seems to indict several of Kennedy’s suspects in the search for Freya’s killer.

Screen Shot 2022-08-13 at 19.09.20As with all good crime writers, Halliday (right) leads us up the garden path, and killers (plural) are actually found, but the solution is surprising and beautifully complex. Oh yes, I almost forgot. From his bio, GR Halliday is a lover of cats, so if you share his passion, there are cats in this story. Several of them.

The author brings us a dark and compelling mystery set against the dramatic and occasionally unforgiving landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Monica Kennedy is a fully fleshed out character we can all believe in. Under the Marsh is published by Vintage, and is available now.

ON MY SHELF . . . June 2022

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NOBODY’S AGENT by Stuart Field

Stuart Field Author PictureThis thriller is set in Finchley – not Mrs Thatcher’s old baileywick but a fictional (I believe) small town in upstate New York, where three bodies are discovered in an old mine. The local Sheriff is out of his depth, and asks the FBI for help. They persuade a former agent, Ronin Nash to take the case, but he discovers the town has a big secret which powerful people will go to any lengths to protect. The author tells us:

“Born in the West Midlands, Great Britain. Later I joined the armed forces where after 22 years of fun and adventure I left to start as a writer. Married with a daughter I still have not grown up which helps with the imagination. Love to travel and experience other cultures. Love to love life.”

Nobody’s Agent is published by Next Chapter and is available now.

LISTEN TO ME by Tess Gerritsen

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.48.18Detective Jane Rizzoli and Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles are, I think, crime fiction’s only female duo of investigators. They are certainly the best known, and the Massachusetts pair have a twelve book series (this is the thirteenth) and a popular TV show behind them. Here, they investigate the murder of a much loved nurse, Sofia Suarez, a woman much loved in the community and – seemingly – no enemies. In a parallel plot strand, Jane’s mother Angela is embarking on an investigation of her own, and it is one that will plunge both her and her daughter into danger. Published by Bantam (hardback) this will be out on 7th July.

HAWK MOUNTAIN by Conner Habib

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.49.28Described as a literary thriller, Hawk Mountain tells the story of a thirty-something man – Todd –  who is accidentally re-united with his high school tormentor. The Jack of old seems to be a reformed character, warm, radiant and sorry for his youthful misdemeanours. But is he? And was the chance reunion accidental at all? Cue a spiral of menace and entrapment which plumbs the very worst parts of the human psyche. Perhaps I don’t get out as much as I should, but I think this is the first thriller written by a former adult movie performer. He says:

“I’m the host of the podcast Against Everyone with Conner Habib, an author, a lecturer, and a sex workers’ rights advocate. I give lectures around the world about sexuality, spirituality, pornography, science, and art.”

Hawk Mountain is a Penguin book and will be out as a Kindle, audiobook and paperback on 21st July.


HallidayI missed From The Shadows, the first book in the DI Monica Kennedy series, but thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed the second, Dark Waters. Now, DI Kennedy returns with a case involving a serial killer – Pauline Tosh – who is jailed for life. When Tosh requests a visit, and hands Kennedy a sketch map of a remote marshy area with crosses marking the last resting places of more victims, the police officer is forced to take it seriously. What ensues creates a nightmare for the police and the relatives of long lost victims. Halliday creates a Scottish highlands which is a far cry from the glorious mountain vistas and the romantic skirl of the pipes. It is a place of dark secrets, bestial human behaviour and a landscape where the very stones are steeped in blood. Under The Marsh is a Vintage publication and will be on sale from 21st July.

THE WILL by Rebecca Reid

Screen Shot 2022-06-10 at 20.51.39‘The Reading of the Will’ used to be a standard trope in crime fiction years ago. Picture the scene, preferably in black and white. The fusty old solicitor addresses the family, gathered in the library of a stately old house. What he announces sets up the plot of the novel/film, and pitches different family members against each other. Rebecca Reid revives this chestnut, and gives it a modern slant, when the family of the recently deceased Cecily Mordaunt gather in Norfolk at Roxborough Hall, each hoping to leave the scene as significant beneficiaries of the old lady. Of course there is disappointment and joy – which will lead to chicanery and revenge. Rebecca Reid is a freelance journalist. She graduated from Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA in 2015. She is the author of Perfect Liars, Truth Hurts, Two Wrongs and The Power of Rude. The Will is her latest book, and joins two of the other novels in this post in being published on 21st July.

DARK WATERS . . . Between the covers

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Police Scotland DI Monica Kennedy is a distinctive woman. Tall, angular, gaunt, even. She can seem forbidding, and has little personal life outside of bringing up her daughter with the help of her long suffering mother. Monica Kennedy can be brusque with her young male DCs, Fisher and Crawford, but she is not without charm. Towards the end of the book, she and Crawford are having a rare bevy in an Inverness bar.

He tilted his head. She could tell he was already a little drunk.
“You know, you could be a model.”
Monica laughed. Almost choking on the mouthful of vodka and orange she’d just taken. Sensing the hysteria that proximity to death seemed to encourage. Sex, anger, laughter – anything to keep the reaper at bay.
Crawford screwed his forehead up and glanced round the pub.
“You’re statuesque. It was a compliment.”
“You’re funny, Crawford.”
She finished her drink and stood up to leave, but lingered for a second, glancing around the bar. The sounds of casual drunken conversation were a comforting reminder of normality.’

DW coverThe dark waters of the title are both literal and metaphorical. Deep in a cave system beneath a mountain lies a sump, whose black depths feature in the tense and frightening final stages of this story. The dark metaphorical waters are mainly centred on a deeply disturbed – and disturbing – family who have lived their lives in a remote Highland glen, happily divorced from civilisation and its moral code. If I drop the names Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes, you should get a snapshot of the Slate family.

In a nutshell the plot of Dark Waters is that the remains of two horribly butchered men have been found, separately, in water near a huge hydro-electric dam in the Highlands. The autopsy reveals that the atrocities inflicted on the bodies were not the cause of death. As Kennedy and her lads try to identify the two men, and unpick the tangled knot of how they came to be where they were found, Halliday has a neat little game going on. A young woman disappears in the same area. The police have no idea she is missing, let alone know who she is, but we do. The first paragraph of the book is a cracker:

“When she still had all of her arms and legs, Annabelle liked to drive. And it was while she was on one of her drives that she made her first mistake.”

We share every agonising second of Annabelle’s fate,and I should mention that people with even a hint of claustrophobia or nyctophobia will not enjoy parts of this entertaining novel, nor do those who enjoy a good plate of meat get off scot-free.

halliday006Talking of Scots, GR Halliday (right) has an interesting bio:

“G.R. Halliday was born in Edinburgh and grew up near Stirling in Scotland. He spent his childhood obsessing over the unexplained mysteries his father investigated, which proved excellent inspiration for his debut novel. He now lives in the rural Highlands outside of Inverness, where he is able to pursue his favourite past-times of mountain climbing and swimming in the sea, before returning to his band of semi-feral cats.”

I might be mistaken, but I think the author makes a brief appearance in his own novel. Monica’s daughter Lucy has long wanted a cat, and Monica knows just the person to provide one:

“Michael Bach was outside in the hall, crouched over a cat basket. He stood up when he heard the door opening. He was almost as tall as Monica and seemed even larger than the last time they’d met, months before. Michael was a social worker Monica and Crawfor had previously collaborated with on a case. More important on this occasion was the fact that a number of semi-feral cats had moved in with him at his remote croft house.”

Dark Waters is a gripping crime thriller, well crafted and certainly not for the squeamish. It is published by Harvill Secker and will be out on 16th July.

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