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THE SUSPECT . . . Between the covers

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Kate Waters was introduced to readers in Fiona Barton’s novel, The Widow (2016) and made her second appearance in The Child (2017). Now she returns in The Suspect and is very much “the story” rather than just a reporter investigating the dark things that happen to other people. Two teenage girls have celebrated the end of their ‘A’ Levels by heading off on the adventure of a lifetime – a back-packing trip to Thailand. When phone calls home and emails suddenly stop, the parents of Alex and Rosie are at first uneasy, but then disquiet turns into blind panic.

ts coverSensing a very productive headline story that will run and run, Kate Waters uses all her empathy and tricks-of-the-trade to get close to the girls’ families, and the story does indeed have the whole enchilda. Beautiful teenage girls, disappearance in a Bangkok drug den, frantic parents, the possibility of incompetence by foreign police – what could possibly go wrong? Jake Waters is what could possibly go wrong. Kate’s son has been away in Thailand “finding himself” after a failed spell at university, and her journalistic glee at the ramifications of the story is brutally brought up short when she finds that her errant boy might be at the very epicentre of the story she has claimed as her own.

The technique of telling a story from several different narratives is hardly new, but few can have handled it better in recent times than Fiona Barton. The events both here in England and further afield unfold through the eyes of Kate Walters herself, the distraught parents, and the local police team lead by DI Bob Sparkes and his DS, Zara Salmond. Inevitably, the perceptions of Kate Walters are more immediate because her narrative is first person. Barton has probably forgotten more about the world of journalism than most crime writers will ever know, and she makes good use of her experience when she describes the gears grinding as Kate switches from mother to reporter and then back to mother again. On her own website, Fiona Barton writes:

“I should say here that Kate Waters is not me. I’ve been where she goes but she is a composite of many Kates I have worked with. She is in her fifties, has juggled career and family, chafing at her hospital consultant husband’s dismissal of her job and the guilt of missing parent evenings and football matches. She is world-weary at times, terrified by the technology changing the media and insecure about her role. But she is still driven by the need to find the story. And she refuses to go until she has nailed it…”

FionaIt must be said that this is a story long on personal misery and rather short on redemption, but it is beautifully written. The nuances of conversation, gesture and body language are exquisitely observed even if they sometimes make for painful reading, such as the bittersweet moments between Bob Sparkes and his dying wife. My own children are, thankfully, well past the age of “doing” Thailand, but my advice to those with gap-year offspring is, with all respect to Fiona Barton (right), don’t read this book! Once your teenagers have shouldered their backpacks and waved goodbye at the departure gate, your mind will hark back to The Suspect it will be nessun dorma for you!

The Suspect is a superior blend of psychological thriller and police procedural, and Fiona Barton keeps us guessing until the last page and a half. To be fair she does give us a fairly important clue much earlier in the novel, but – quite correctly in my case – she expects that we will forget about it in all the to-ing and fro-ing between Bangkok, Hampshire and London. The Suspect is published by Bantam Press and will be out on 24th January.

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THE MAN WITH NO FACE . . . Between the covers

 

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The most sinister fictional hitmen usually only have a surname, and if that name is a harsh monosyllable, then all the better. Kale is one such, and Peter May introduces him to us in his latest novel, The Man With No Face. Kale, who learned his trade in the British Army, is sent to Brussels to carry out a double killing.

The central character is not the malevolent Kale, but a Scottish journalist, Neil Bannerman, who is sent to Brussels, partly to keep him out of the way of his paper’s thrusting new editor, but also to delve for sensational stories of immorality and incompetence among the myriad employees of what we now call the European Union.

tmwnf coverBannerman initially lodges with an embittered fellow journalist, Tim Slater, who shares his apartment with his autistic daughter Tania. The child is looked after by a young Englishwoman, Sally Robertson, with whom Bannerman strikes up a relationship.  Kale’s victims are Slater himself and a senior British politician but when he strikes he is unaware that Tania is watching from the next room. Mute, she is later unable to tell the police anything, but she draws a picture of what she has seen. The drawing is intensely detailed and very graphic with one exception. The killer has no face.

Peter May aficionados will probably recognise this book in its earlier manifestations; firstly as Hidden Faces, published by Piatkus in 1981 and again with its current title a year later, but this time under the imprint of St Martin’s Press.

mayHow has the book fared, nearly forty years on? Whatever revisions the author has made, he hasn’t pushed the time slot on by four decades, so we are still in the late 1970s, so in a sense the book has become historical crime fiction by default. I don’t know what Peter May (right) thinks about the vexed question of Brexit, but here he paints a picture of the EEC in its all-too-familiar guise as a fraud-riven monolithic haven for thousands of bureaucrats, men and women pushing paper around at huge expense to taxpayers across the continent, but achieving very little except the perpetuation of their own jobs.

The vexed question of Britain’s relationship with southern Africa in the 1970s is now little more than a footnote in the history of the 20th century, but May uses it to good effect here. The setting of The Man Without A Face is a wintry Brussels that, quite literally, chills us to the bone. The snow, sleet, bitter winds and the hazy winking of car tail lights as they battle with the frozen city streets will make you want to reach for an extra layer of warm clothing. In keeping with the weather, there is a distinct noir-ish feel about much of the book, and the existential musings of Kale as he goes about his bleak business reminded me very much of Derek Raymond. Bear in mind, though, that Raymond’s classic Factory novels post date this, making me think that perhaps Peter May was ahead of the game.

Back in 1981, the trope of the mute, blind or disabled witness to a crime had already been explored, most memorably in the Audrey Hepburn film Wait Until Dark (1967), but our current awareness of the complex issue of people with Autism was not mainstream in the 1980s. Leaving aside the socio-cultural background, The Man With No Face is a cracking thriller now, as it must have been then. It is published by riverrun, which is an imprint of Quercus. and it’s out on 10th January.

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THE BOY . . . Between the covers

I do love me a good,sweaty Southern Noir, preferably down in Louisiana, with ‘gators thrashing about in the bayou, a storm blowing in from the Gulf, insects the size of golf balls on Kamikaze missions against the fly screens, and folk pushed to the limits of their tolerance by the relentless humidity. Throw in a dash of Cajun music and Acadiana French cursing, and I am set for the night. Tami Hoag’s latest novel ticks all the required boxes.

Hoag, who hails from the relatively temperate zone of Iowa, has created a brilliant husband and wife police partnership in Nick Fourcade and Annie Broussard. The pair first emerged on the printed page as long ago as 1997 in A Thin Dark Line but, of course, crime fiction time isn’t the same as real time, and the two cops are still relatively young and beautiful in Hoag’s latest thriller, The Boy. They are called to a beaten up shack in the sticks beyond the somnolent settlement of Bayou Breaux, and they find a seven year-old boy hacked to death with a knife, while his mother has apparently fled the scene, barefoot and bearing wounds from the same blade that brutalised her son.

Genevieve Gauthier has a past, however. Before settling in Bayou Breaux with son KJ, she has been no stranger to law enforcement. Blessed – or cursed – with an ethereal and vulnerable  beauty designed to act as a magnet to predatory men, she has served jail time for suffocating her first-born child. Fourcade and Broussard are faced with a dazzling and perplexing star burst of inconsistencies as they try to find who killed KJ. Why was Genevieve allowed to escape with relatively minor injuries? Where is KJ’s teenage baby-sitter, Nora? Is her disappearance connected to KJ’s death?

Fourcade and Broussard have a bitter enemy in the shape of Kelvin Dutrow, their boss. As Sheriff, he likes to dress in tactical combat gear, his belt heavy with weapons he has no idea how to use. He likes nothing better than a press conference where he can strike a pose, talk tough and play to the camera. His animosity to the pair reaches fever pitch when they discover that not only does he have a sinister past, but it comes with some highly questionable connections to the bereaved young woman nursing her injuries in the local hospital.

The identity of KJ’s killer is cleverly concealed until the final pages, and there is a blood-soaked denouement which will satisfy even the most hardened Noir fan. The Boy is lurid, yes, and certainly melodramatic, but it is a gripping read which had me canceling other activities right left and centre so that I could get to the end.

The Boy is published by Trapeze and is out as a Kindle on 31stDecember 2018, and will be available in other formats in 2019.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Broussard-Fourcade-Tami-Hoag-ebook/dp/B01MCZ5Y10/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1543917727&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Boy+Tami+Hoag

WE CAN SEE YOU … Between the covers

Whatever your view on lifestyle coaches, they certainly have a market, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the ever-so-socially-aware state of California. Brook Connor may not have cornered that market, but she has a best-selling ‘how to come out on top’ guide to her name, as well as wealthy clients and a regular spot on TV. She may not have absolutely everything – after all, her husband is a failed movie actor-cum-tennis coach with a roving eye, but her bank balance is healthy, her home is valued in the millions, and she has an adorable five year-old daughter.

 Correction. She did have an adorable five year-old daughter. She returns home after work one day to find both daughter Paige,and nanny Rosa gone,  and a chilling note explaining that they have been taken. A severed finger inside a prettily decorated gift box persuades Brook that these people are not fooling around.

 As ever in kidnap cases both real and fictional, the bad guys caution against any police involvement, and so Brook and husband Logan get the ransom money together and set off to make the exchange. Of course, the exchange doesn’t go to plan, and Brook is left concussed at the bottom of a gully out in the sticks, the money has gone, and there is the inconvenient matter of a body in the trunk of her SUV, lifeless mainly because of one of her own kitchen knives sticking out of his ribs.

 Brook goes on the run, confounded by her initial decision not to involve the police, and also the discovery of the body in the trunk of her car. There is nothing the media loves more than a celebrity criminal, and soon her face is plastered over every news channel. Armed only with her own automatic sidearm and a blazing desire to find her daughter, she leads the law enforcement agencies a merry dance until her race against time comes to an abrupt and bloody end in the personal gym of a notorious ‘businessman’ with links to the infamous cartels from south of the border, down Mexico way.

 Kernick very cleverly uses a split time narrative, with one showing Brook in custody facing multiple murder raps, and another detailing the events which have led to her arrest. He is not done with us, though; a seismic plot shift leads to a dramatic conclusion which even Nostradamus would not have seen coming.

This is breaking-the-sound-barrier thriller fiction at its very best; Kernick doesn’t miss a trick, and gives us the works – crooked cops, a body in the freezer, an embittered PI, an omnipotent and sadistic drug overlord (Mexican,of course), a kidnapped child and that most dangerous of creatures, a powerful female determined to protect her young. We Can See You is published by Century and is out today, 29thNovember.


KINGDOM OF THE BLIND . . . Between the covers

I can almost hear the sneers now:

“Call yourself a crime fiction reviewer?”
“Pull your head out of the sand, mate”
“What next? You have heard of Sherlock Holmes, I take it..”

Actually, no.Crime fiction reviewers tend to be a fairly charitable lot, especially as most of us are not in it for the money, but for the love of reading (and a few ARCs, naturally) But I do have to confess a sense of embarrassment at reading a brilliant book and then realising that it is only the latest in a well established series of which I had been blissfully unaware.

Apology done and, I hope, dusted. Armand Gamache is a senior policeman with the Sûreté  in Quebec the francophile province in Canada. He is still under suspension following a controversial drugs case which resulted in one of his colleagues being badly shot up, and a potentially fatal consignment of the opioid fentanyl going missing.

Gamache is informed by a notary that he has been named as an executor of a will. He has, however, never met or even heard of the deceased woman. Intrigued, he goes to meet the notary and his fellow executors at a remote farmhouse. Arriving, in the teeth of a violent blizzard, he is bemused to discover that a friend from his home village of Three Pines, has received the same summons.

The mystery deepens when Gamache learns that the dead woman was a domestic cleaner, and she has bequeathed an estate apparently worth millions of dollars. She used to joke that she was of noble blood, but was her self-mockery founded in fact?

A murder at ‘Baroness’ Baumartner’s ramshackle farmhouse transforms the affair from peculiar to deadly, and Gamache is sucked into an investigation which can only end badly. In addition,  he has a two huge problems, massive elephants in the confined space of his professional room.  Firstly, Amelia Choqet, an unconventional young police woman who has been mentored by Gamache, has been kicked out for drug offences, and has now apparently reverted to her former lifestyle of street whore and drug abuser. Secondly he is tormented by the fear that if the missing batch of opioids gets onto the streets, there will carnage.

The murder of Anthony Baumgartner takes Gamache and his team into the murky world of investment finance and an environment where millions of dollars are flicked this way and that by financial ‘experts’.

Allegedly, native Canadians have fifty words for snow, and LouisePenny certainly makes us shiver, stamp our frozen feet, and clap our gloved hands together. The  weather becomes a baleful and powerful character in The Kingdom Of The Blind, and every step Gamache and his team take is in defiance of snowdrifts, abandoned vehicles and cold of such intensity that exposed skin is first brutalised and then destroyed.

In addition to describing the search for a murderer, Louise Penny cleverly sets off two other plot-lines for us to chase, and she takes great delight in resolving both, but neither in the way we have been led to expect. Kingdom Of The Blind is little short of perfect; a consummate crime novel with razor-sharp characterisation, a real sense of compassion, convincing dialogue and a plot that seizes the reader’s hand and will not let go. Published by Sphere, the novel (the 14th in the series) is out on 27th November.


THE SENTENCE IS DEATH . . . Between the covers


TSID coverFor those of you who are unfamiliar with the first book in this series
, The Word Is Murder (and you can read my review here) you need to know that Anthony Horowitz has created a quite delightful literary conceit, and it is this: the story is narrated by Anthony Horowitz, as himself, and along the way we get to meet other real people in his life, such as his wife, his literary agent, and even some of the actors in his Foyle’s War series. The principal fictional character is an ex Met Police officer called Daniel Hawthorne, who was drummed out of the service for misconduct, but now operates as a private investigator, paid by the day by his former employers to work on difficult cases. Hawthorne has persuaded Horowitz to be Boswell to his Johnson and to write up the investigations as crime fiction.

Hawthorne is an intriguing character. He is probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum, lives alone, and has few social graces, His powers of deduction and observation are, however, remarkably sound. He immediately sees through the statement one witness has just given:

“The MG was right in front of us. Hawthorn pointed with the hand holding the cigarette.

‘There’s no way that’s just driven down from Essex of Suffolk, or anywhere near the coast.’
‘How do you know?’
‘The house he showed us in that photograph didn’t have a garage and there’s no way this car has been sitting by the seaside for three days. There’s no seagull shit. And there’s no dead insects on the windscreen either. Your telling me he’s driven a hundred miles down the A12 and he hasn’t hit a single midge or fly?’”

The case which has forced the police to seek Hawthorne’s help concerns a rich divorce lawyer who has been found battered to death in his luxurious house on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath. For a decade or more Richard Pryce has been the go-to man for wealthy people who have had enough of their wives or husbands and want a divorce, but more particularly a divorce which will leave Pryce’s clients with as much of the family loot as possible. So, it is inevitable that while Pryce is adored by some, he is bitterly hated by others, and thus there are one or two obvious initial suspects. First among these is a rather aloof literary author whose determination to conflate America’s 1940s nuclear strategy with gender politics has won her many admirers of a certain sort. Her expensively produced collection of pretentiously profound haikus (is there any other kind?) has also made her much in demand at soirées in upmarket bookshops.

Then there is Pryce’s art dealer husband who, Hawthorne soon discovers, has been ‘playing away’ with the svelte young Iranian man who is front-of-house in his so, so discreet gallery. Has his affair been rumbled? Was Pryce about to cut him out of his will? The most unlikely connection, however, relates to Pryce’s younger self when he and two university buddies were enthusiastic cavers. Did a tragedy years earlier, 80 metres beneath the Yorkshire Dales, set in train a slow but remorseless search for revenge?

AHThe abundance of questions will give away the fact that this is a tremendous whodunnit. Horowitz (right) tugs his forelock in the direction of the great masters of the genre and, while we don’t quite have the denouement in the library, we have a bewildering trail of red herrings before the dazzling final exposition. But there is more. Much, much more. Horowitz’s portrayal of himself is beautifully done. I have only once brushed shoulders with the gentleman at a publisher’s bash, so I don’t know if the self-effacing tone is accurate, but it is warm and convincing. More than once he finds himself the earnest but dull Watson to Hawthorne’s ridiculously clever Holmes.

Horowitz is, I suspect, too polite to be cruel to fellow writers, but he cannot resist a dig at earnest feminist authors who treat every moment of history as if it were a glaring example of man’s inhumanity to women. Trash fiction does not escape, either, and when his fictional self reads a page from the latest sub-Game of Thrones swords and sorcery shocker, it is horribly accurate. Above all, though, this is a classic 24 hour novel. You start reading, you dart off to do something like pick up the kids, or turn on the oven. Back you come to the book, and before you know it, you are 200 pages in. Time flies by, and then bang! It’s finished. You know who the killer is, but you just wish you could start the book all over again. It really is that good. Published by Century, The Sentence Is Death is out on 1st November.

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NO TIME TO CRY . . . Between the covers

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I’ll adapt George Bernard Shaw’s famous put-down of teachers and say, “Those who can write, do, but those who cannot, write about writing.” All book reviewers would do well to keep that little homily burning like a beacon in the night, and admire the invention, the endless re-writes and the sheer physical effort required to complete a novel. On top of that, what an amazing stroke of brilliance it is when an author of crime novels creates a character who resonates with the public and is credible enough to support a series. What an even bigger stroke of daring it is when the writer is prepared to leave that person behind. either temporarily or otherwise, and introduce a new creation to faithful readers.

NTTC coverJames Oswald’s Tony McLean has not met with a Reichenbach Falls accident, but at the end of The Gathering Dark we left him facing a tragedy in his personal life. Now, Oswald begins a new series featuring Detective Constable Constance Fairchild of the Metropolitan Police. We meet her when a delicate undercover operation goes badly, badly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that she has found her boss, DI Pete Copperthwaite slumped in a chair in the office they have been using as a front for their sting. He has been tortured, and then shot through the head.

Fairchild is perplexed and hurt when she is blamed for Copperthwaite’s death, and suspended from duty. Puzzled, and seemingly powerless to get to the bottom of who murdered Copperthwaite, she seeks diversion by trying to find a missing girl, the younger sister of an old school friend. Her sense of injustice turns to anger, though, when a clumsy attempt is made on her life, and it becomes obvious that she is being followed. Is this because of the police sting operation which went, as she puts it, “tits up” or is it connected to her search for Izzy De Villiers?

So, to echo Shakespeare, who is Constance, what is she? Lovely, fair, and wise is she? Oswald lets us form our own image to a large extent. We do know that she has short spiky hair, no romantic inclinations that we can see, and has several tattoos. The latter are a result of a rebellion against her aristocratic background, because Lady Constance Fairchild, to use her correct title, is the younger daughter of the Fairchilds of Harston Magna, a Northamptonshire village, much of which is owned by her estranged father. Con, as she prefers to be known, was educated at a select girls’ boarding school, but has gone down the rebellion route at 98 mph with headlights on full beam, and has done everything she can to metaphorically spit in the eyes of her parents – including becoming a police officer.

Admirers of James Oswald will know that he has a day (and night) job as a livestock farmer in the Scottish Highlands, and he indulges himself by taking us there as Con, attempting to throw off her pursuers, retreats to the secluded family holiday home overlooking a remote Scottish loch. One of the big questions that nag at her is the apparent reluctance of Izzy’s father, an obscenely rich hedge fund manager, to locate his missing daughter. How is Roger De Villiers connected to the murder of Pete Copperthwaite? Are Con’s bosses at the Met crooked, too, or are they simply too stupid to see the obvious?

Constance Fairchild is brave, cussed, resourceful and intelligent, and James Oswald has, I believe, struck gold for a second time. The action is relentless, and Fairchild literally has No Time To Cry as she seeks to unravel a tangle of criminality and child abuse, as well as dodging bullets. Those missing the world of Tony McLean have, in addition to a terrific new novel, a crumb of comfort as Oswald cannot resist bringing in an old friend from Edinburgh for a brief cameo appearance. No Time To Cry is published by Wildfire, came out as a Kindle earlier this year, and will be available in paperback from 1st November.

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KITH AND KIN . . . Between the covers

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OKAKComing across a very, very good book by an author one has never encountered before and then realising that she has been around for a while is a shock to the system, and if the downside is that the experience further highlights one’s own ignorance, then the blessing is that as a reviewer and blogger, there is something new to shout about. Jane A Adams made her debut with The Greenway back in 1995, and has been writing crime fiction ever since, notably with four-well established mystery series featuring Mike Croft, Ray Flowers, Naomi Blake and Rina Martin. She began the saga of London coppers Henry Johnstone and Micky Hitchens in 2016, with The Murder Book. Their latest case is Kith and Kin.

The novel has a split timeline. It is mostly set in 1928, but uses flashbacks to earlier events. Two bodies are washed up on the muddy banks of the confluence of the rivers Thames and Medway, on the Kentish shore. Even with the relatively primitive technology available to them at the time, Johnstone and Hitchens realise that the two corpses were not drowned, but stabbed, and then cast into the river. The two sailors who bring the corpses to the attention of the police are then found not to be sailors at all, but henchmen of a feared and brutal London gangster, Josiah Bailey.

I don’t know if the author intended it that way, but the violent paranoia of Josiah Bailey is a perfect echo of the self obsessed madness of a certain Mr Ronald Kray, whose bloodlust has enlivened many a subsequent crime novel – and court report. But I digress. Johnstone and Hitchens have to scrabble and scratch for information, because the dead bodies found on the Kentish marshes are connected to the two most secretive and distrustful communities in the land – Gypsies, and London gangsters. Those groups should not be conflated, and Johnstone does not make this mistake. Instead, he nags away at a connection between the dead men and the cataclysmic events of 1914-1918 – events in which both he and Hitchens were involved, and of which they have indelible memories.

The world of Gypsies remains closed to most of us. We may suffer from Travelers occupying a seafront, a playing field or a car park near us and when they leave behind a mountain of litter and waste we can curse about cultural diversity. This image, understandably negative, can be given a different focus when, as Adams does here, writers remind us of the tight-knit, self-sufficient communities of the old Romany families. The Gypsies in Kith and Kin have a strong sense of honour and a knowledge of the world which could never be imparted in a school classroom.

Jane-Adams-278x371The period is set to perfection, and Adams (right) skilfully combines past, present and future. The past? There can scarcely have been a man, woman or child who escaped the malign effects of what politicians swore would be the war to end wars. The present? 1928 saw devastating flooding on the banks of the River Thames, a book called Decline And Fall was published, and in Beckenham, not a million miles away from where this novel plays out, Robert ‘Bob’ Monkhouse was born. The future? Johnstone’s sister, who has married into money, has a head on her shoulders, and senses that in the financial world, a dam is about to break – with devastating effects.

Kith and Kin is excellent. Adams gives us a spider’s web of a plot; we are attracted, drawn in – and then consumed. Johnstone and Hitchens strike sparks off each other; the bond between them has been forged in the blood and fire of the Flanders trenches. We have memorable characters; Sarah Cooper, the matriarchal Gypsy is strong and wise, but remote; Josiah Bailey is as mad as a box of frogs and a hundred times more dangerous; Johnston’s sister is wordly wise, but compassionate and perceptive.

I apologise for preaching to the converted, but for me, Jane A Adams is a new star in my firmament. Kith and Kin is published by Severn House and is out now.

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BROKEN GROUND . . . Between the covers

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BGThe Body In The Bog is a nicely alliterative strapline normally used to liven up reports of archaeologists discovering some centuries-old corpse in a watery peat grave. The deaths of these poor souls does not usually involve an investigation by the local police force, but as Val McDermid relates, when the preserved remains are wearing expensive trainers, it doesn’t take the tenant of 221B Baker Street to deduce that the chap was not executed as part of some arcane tribal ritual back in the tenth century.

A pair of hopefuls from England have traveled to the bleak Scottish moors of Wester Ross, armed with what they hope is a treasure map. They hope to uncover not a sturdy wooden chest bursting with pirate doubloons or King John’s lost gold, but treasure of a different sort – two mint condition vintage motor cycles, worth a fortune at 2018 prices. They disinter the motorcycles with the help of a friendly local crofter and his mini JCB, but their elation is soured by – yes, you’ve guessed – the aforementioned fellow and his 1995 Nike Air Max sportswear.

Motorcycles? Buried in a Scottish peat bog? Marked on a map? Has Val McDermid finally lost her marbles after years of inventing fiendish ways for people to die? Leaving no question unanswered, I have to say yes, yes, yes – and an emphatic NO! Breaking Ground is the fifth in McDermid’s DCI Karen Pirie series and is shot through with the author’s trademark brilliance. McDermid does complex, clever, conflicted women like no-one else, and Pirie – of Police Scotland’s Historic Crimes Unit – is a fine cop, scarred by personal tragedy, studiously unglamorous in looks and style, but with a fierce determination to seek justice for victims of crime, both living and dead. The police procedural aspect of the story is cleverly done, and provides the essential counterpont of rivalry, betrayal and bitterness which run beneath the main tune which is the public face of policing.

ValMcDermidIf music halls were still in vogue, McDermid would be the dextrous juggler, the jongleur who defies gravity by keeping several plot lines spinning in the air; spinning, but always under her control. There is the Nike bog body, a domestic spat which ends in savagery, a cold-case rape investigation which ends in a very contemporary tragedy, and an Assistant Chief Constable who is more concerned about her perfectly groomed press conferences that solving crime. They say that the moon has a dark side, and so does Edinburgh: McDermid (right)  takes us on a guided tour through its majestic architectural and natural scenery, but does not neglect to pull away the undertaker’s sheet to reveal the squalid back alleys and passageways which lurk behind the grand Georgian facades. We slip past the modest security and peep through a crack in the door at a meeting in one of the grander rooms of Bute House, the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister, even getting a glimpse of the good lady herself, although McDermid is far too discreet to reveal if she approves or disapproves of Ms Sturgeon.

Karen Pirie battles the metaphorical demons of her own personal history, while facing more literal malice in the person of a senior officer who is determined to bring her down. The death of her beloved partner Phil has bequeathed emotional turmoil, anger and longing. When she meets a potentially interesting man in the course of a murder investigation, she is conflicted. Is he lying to her? Is he just a glib charmer, ruggedly beautiful in his kilt, or is his interest in her – intentionally dowdy and brusquely professional as she is – genuine?

Val McDermid answers all these questions, and poses a few of her own, particularly about the state of modern Scotland and the role of cash-strapped police forces in a society which demands quick solutions, and to hell with integrity. Broken Ground is published by Little, Brown and is available in hardback and as a Kindle. Amazon says that it will be out in paperback early in 2019.

Click the link to read the review of McDermid’s previous novel, Insidious Intent.

 

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