Latest news 9 December 2017. NEW POST on blog page - The Psychiatrist - a new character.
Colonial Compromises is now published on Kindle. To preview and read a sample follow this link.
First 13 chapters of Colonial Compromises on blog page. This is the final draft.
You can pick up the story from December 2015, bearing in mind that the chapters posted early 2016 were first drafts, and have since been amended/edited. Nevertheless the story remains the same.
Colonial Compromises (85K words) is general fiction suitable for adults. Emanating from the December 2004 tsunami tragedy, and based in Aceh, Sumatra, the linked storylines tell of three mature ex-pats living in their Manor House, who all lost loved ones, and how their narratives twist and turn together when the tsunami destruction sets in motion life-changing consequences to their fragile colonial idyll.
I have structured it as a discovery journey with three characters travelling separate paths that sometimes cross, but all end up at the final showdown where all is resolved.
DELCIE, an upper-class socialite, is the main protagonist; her goal is to rebuild her life after her daughter, Angelique, dies in the tsunami. A chance meeting with Jane, the daughter of her UK best friend, Mary, gives her a new purpose in life, when Jane, an Aid agency counsellor for NEMO, discloses she is pregnant and invites Delcie to take on a baby-sitting role.
RICHARD, a socialite outsider and Delcie’s stoic husband, blames her for his daughter’s death, becomes estranged, and seeks a more spiritual release from his suffering. He teams up with an orphan native, Eko, who, in Richard’s mind, is the son he never had, but just as he bonds with him, Eko is chased away from the House. From then on Richard’s quest is to reunite with him.
CHARLES, an ex-army major, Delcie’s cousin, and one-time suitor, loses his fiancée in the tsunami, and then has an illicit affair with their young housekeeper. His caddish and shallow approach to relationships is transformed when Delcie throws him out of the House and he is left to come to terms with his actions. His journey across Sumatra forces him to become more self-aware and what he really wants out of his life.
My new novel, Darkness is published on Kindle at £1.92. Here is the blurb:
“Wow! I loved this. Fast moving, action packed and a superb plot. The characters are great also. If you read this Mr. Terry, please write another one!”
Well, I wrote more than one after No Money No Honey. Four more, in fact. This is my fifth. It’s the Darkest yet—don’t turn off your bedroom lamp.
When a young girl is found butchered on a deserted land-fill site, maverick Detective Constable Jackie Steel is assigned to the case. The pathologist’s report is grim, and to make matters worse, the victim is carrying a virulent strain of AIDS—and nothing can stop it spreading.
Her search for the killer brings her into the crime-ridden pit of Harmony Estate—a haven for perverts, prostitutes, and thugs. But a no-go area for P.C. Plod.
In a race against time, as more gruesome murders pile up and her unconventional methods bring her into conflict with corrupt senior officers, Jackie is faced with losing everything she holds dear—most of all, her life.
And some would welcome that...
Here is the link:
New blog post. A Musical Plagiarism
Comments boxes. There is a large one on the Writers Block page and a tiny one under the Blog posts.
First chapter of El Paso on Blog page
New book review on blog page. Recommended.
2 May. The Hat...flash fiction...on blog page
3 March. Ants in his pants...flash fiction...on blog page
2 Feb. Spiderman...flash fiction... on blog page
30 January. Brother... flash fiction... on Blog page.
4 January. Out of the Bratpfanne... flash fiction... on Blog page.
8 December. You get what you get... short story now on Blog page
2 December. Staggered - a short romantic story - hee hee - on blog page.
Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver
Tense, dramatic plot with many pacy twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right up to the end.
David Raker finds missing persons – he never gives up, that’s his motivation - but when he takes on an assignment from Emily, a close friend, to track down a missing family, he soon finds himself involved in a sinister cover-up spanning decades and costing countless lives.
The Lings: Carrie, her husband, and two young daughters disappear one evening. Emily (Carrie’s sister) finds their house is unlocked, no one is inside. Dinner’s cooking, the TV’s on, and there’s no sign of a struggle.
The police are baffled, and so is David initially, but he gradually unravels a secret; someone doesn’t want the family found, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the secret intact.
When he comes closer to the truth, he realises that he just might have made himself the next target, and as the novel races towards a final showdown, it’s clear that Raker needs more than luck to stay alive.
Can he survive?
This is Tim Weaver’s fourth Raker novel, and it’s a complex maze of deceit and deception throughout. Absorbing and entertaining read – a real page-turner that keeps the reader engrossed right to the climatic end. A standard plot, but with a fresh slant that sets it apart from others.
It really is that good.
My main critique (which is easy to remedy) is that I couldn’t form a mental picture of the Raker character – how old he was, his physical attributes, what he looked like, etc. which was disconcerting given that other main characters were more than adequately described. Given that I hadn’t read the previous novels, it was perhaps understandable that the author didn’t feel necessary to regurgitate this – however Lee Child (with every Reacher novel) makes a point to enforce his main character.
Also, place descriptions went on ad-nauseam (the novel is over 500 pages) to the point that I skipped them altogether.
Quibbles; just a few minor ones: there were too many sentences beginning with “…ing” words or “As I, blah, blah” that distracted me to the extent that I found myself looking out for the next one instead of soaking up the story.
My copy was an advanced reading copy and there were several misspellings and typos that need amending before publication.
Bottom line: three national newspaper blurbs are all positive, and I agree with them that Tim Weaver has delivered a cracking crime thriller. Highly recommended. Buy it and enjoy.
Hell to Pay by George P Pelecanos
Gripping US street-crime noir-thriller set in Washington DC. Multi-layered novel of violence and despair – with dreams of a better future shattered at every turn.
Orion fiction blurb sets the scene: private investigators, Derek Strange and Terry Quinn are used to seeing the darker side of Washington – the runaways, the teenage hookers, the drugs. Strange and Quinn are coaches to a black boys football team, where they try and educate the youngsters to follow a good path and to live good lives. It’s not easy when all around them are young gangsters and drug pushers, some who are also killers without remorse. One of these is Garfield Potter, a particular odious youth with no redeeming features, but also a victim of his upbringing, living in an uncaring society where dog eats dog to survive.
One more senseless death on a sunny afternoon shakes even Derek Strange’s world. A young boy shot down by bullets meant for another; a tragic vengeance that strikes too close to home. Strange’s grief is all-consuming - it adversely influences his tentative relationship with his girlfriend - and he swears to track down and destroy the killers – retribution is a necessity. Quinn has his own problems, but even he is shocked at how far Strange would go.
The story is full of street-cred vocalisms, football, and young black boys treading the thin line between good and evil choices. For all that, there is a gritty realism throughout. The plot is realistic, and grim, and keeps to the point. Scenes are set in DC; where there is an underworld of corruption, violence, social and moral decay that this black community suffers on a daily basis. Ardent US crime readers will be hooked from the off, but it takes a little time to appreciate and understand the motivations of black society in DC. It throws up some interesting challenges to the US government.
The author has written many similar books – he is said to be comparable to the best of Elmore Leonard. Dialogue is crisp and is attuned to Strange’s world. Characters all possess fundamental flaws – especially Strange himself, who indulges himself at whore-houses in an attempt to block out reality. Not for the faint at heart, nor an early Xmas present for your granny. Without being sexist, its market is most likely hardened male readers.
This novel is a page turner, but on a technical point, I do not like POV head-hopping switches in dialogue. Nevertheless, the story exudes energy on every page and I’ll certainly look out for another one of his novels.
The Potters Field by Andrea Camilleri
Captivating murder mystery set in Sicily. Great characterisation and sparkling dialogue.
The hand-out by Mantle publishers sets the scene:
While Vigàta (Sicily) is wracked by storms, Inspector Montalbano is called out to attend the discovery of a dismembered body in a field of clay. Bearing all the marks of an execution style killing, it seems clear that this is, once again, the work of the notorious mafia.
So begins a labyrinth of unconnected events that are, in fact, anything but. Montalbano must solve the enigma of the Potter’s field and also confront the strange and difficult behavior of his colleague, Mimi, and avoid the distraction of the enchanting Dolores Alfano – who seeks the inspector’s help in locating her missing husband.
Add corruption, false clues, a vendetta – and delicious meals, Montalbano picks his way through with panache, but his authoritative and combative style also leads to conflict with other authorities – and the local Mafia boss.
Montalbano - derided by the local newscaster as being useless – is as sharp as a needle, but his lackadaisical approach to his work and life is a perfect foil. A workaholic, he’s not –that’s for his junior officers who he sends everywhere to follow up leads. The interaction between them is outstanding, and at times quite brilliant repartee.
The author is one of Italy’s most famous contemporary writers. His Montalbano series has been adapted for Italian television, and this novel breathes out the sense of place – although I wish there had been a map to look at - and has a sense of humour that is fresh and sparkling with insight.
I admit, I didn’t think that’s its relaxed style would be to my taste, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Characters are well-drawn – it reminds me at times of the Pink Panther series - the colloquial dialogue is witty – I lost count of the times I laughed out loud - and the plot is a gem. It’s a book that demands to be savoured, but I found it an irresistible page-turner.
Minor niggles; the author uses a dream sequence near the beginning, which didn’t work for me, and Montalbano writes letters to explain how he’s solving the case – it’s a pro trick, but doesn’t detract from the charm of the writing. The English version is by Stephen Sartarelli, an award winning translator, and a published poet – it’s very polished.
I loved it.
It’s ***** and highly recommended. Buy it. And the other thirteen novels - I’m already searching out a source in Thailand.
Below the Thunder by Robin Duval
Slow-burning tale of international conspiracy, self-discovery and love
The hand-out by Matador books sets out the story quite succinctly as follows:
Fortyish professor Bryn Williams enjoys the simple things in life – history books, real ale and Wagner. So when, one summer evening in Bavaria, he meets a beautiful woman (Agnete, a Danish lady) and a mysterious American – Bryn doesn’t realise that he’s walked into an international conspiracy, he’s more concerned that his wife is leaving him for another man.
Determined to make the most of his extended holiday and to build the start of a new life, he travels into the Bavarian mountains and bumps into his cousin Marcus – a MI6 agent, so he’s told. It is not a coincidental meeting - Marcus has tracked his movements and needs his help – someone who is ‘clean and off the radar’.
Bryn is not interested and rejects the mission, but a few weeks later he is hiking in the California mountains and stumbles across a newly dead body with a single shot wound to the head. The police arrest him on suspicion of murder, but later a Fed agent releases him with a warning of not to get involved. Later his hotel room is blown up and - fearing for his life - Bryn flees north, hoping to return to the UK via Canada.
However he is once again intercepted near the border by Marcus and Agnete, who appears to be attracted to him. He learns at last the reason for his predicament and about a plot to plunge the Middle East into turmoil and destroy the liberal lady US President.
He is persuaded – by his hopes for a new love rather than good judgement – to accept the mission that will defeat the conspiracy, and finds himself drawn into a web of deceit whose true nature only gradually becomes apparent.
As the narrative races towards its unexpected and shocking climax with Agnete in tow, Bryn discovers untapped reserves of talent, and the ultimate triumph of an unlikely hero.
This is Robin Duval’s follow-up book to Bear in the Woods – it is capably written with almost all of the plot themes tidied up, but the major theme at the end seemed to be distorted to fit the story. I’m sure you will be able to notice the flaw (a solution that was never raised by Bryn until the end).
Clearly the author is a highly educated man, using words I’ve never heard of (which took me out of the story) and sprinkling the passages with German and Danish phrases.
My main critique is that the story takes a long time to get started; the first hundred pages are setting the scene, and I felt at times that the author self-indulged by demonstrating his knowledge of Wagner and endless locations in Bavaria and California to the point of distraction.
Another niggle is the ‘almost too easy’ love story with Agnete – I felt that unrealistic, given the context of the one brief meeting in Bavaria – and Bryn’s immediate willingness to forgo his wife of many years.
Is it a buy? – *** and a guarded recommendation, because the story is fresh and there are several intriguing twists and turns that make it entertaining and, ultimately, a page-turner.
Diplomatic shenanigans in Manhattan. Intricate plot.
Chau Chan, a renowned painter and dissident artist, was allegedly killed during the Tinanmen Square uprising in 1989. Forward twenty plus years to today, and new paintings by him are rumoured to have emerged, which is causing excitement throughout the art world – and is rattling a few political cages.
Is Chau alive? And if the paintings exist, are they real or fakes? Interested parties hire Private Investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith to trace these whispers to their source, but the road is full of minefields with danger lurking on every corner. Some want buried secrets to remain buried and will stop at nothing to prevent Lydia and Bill from finding out the truth. When Lydia finds out that Bill’s friend (Jack Lee) – another PI and art expert – has also been hired to locate these paintings, the chase heats up. Can this unlikely trio link up, and can they trust one another?
The investigation takes the reader criss-crossing through Manhattan, visiting art galleries, coffee outlets, and down-town bars. Throw in an unlikely assortment of gangsters, crooked art dealers, and academics, it’s a master class of dead-ends and blind alleys – with unexpected twists throughout. The end is climatic, and all the loose ends are neatly bundled, which leaves the reader satisfied that the author has been in control throughout.
If this sounds like blurb, it is, because to fully explain the story would be to reveal the plot; nevertheless, characters are not who they seem, and some would like to keep it that way.
S.J. Rozan is an award winning American crime writer; her strengths are lifelike - if a bit stereotyped - characters, and sharp, humorous (tongue in the cheek) dialogue – but very much slanted towards a female audience (beautiful, sassy, and clever female accompanied by brow-beating male companions, who fancy the pants off her).
I found the story line a bit convoluted – Lydia and her associates exchange too many theories, which tend to leave the reader confused. Also, there is a proliferation of American clichés and oblique references that would be understood by an American audience, but not necessarily by those across the pond.
The end result is lightweight crime, with a minimum of violence suitable for those with nervous dispositions – it won’t keep you awake at night. Bottom line: Would I read another of her novels? In all honesty, only if I was researching Americanisms for an American based novel.
Don’t let me put you off, though, the dry humour is well worth the outlay – you won’t be disappointed. A guarded 3* for content.
No Come Back (my latest murder mystery novella) is published on Kindle costing less than a half-pint of beer. It has two 4 star reviews.
This is the blurb...
Mitch leads a cushy life in Thailand with Tigger, his cat, but maybe it’s just too quiet. So when a long-lost mate dies in mysterious circumstances on nearby Koh Samui, Mitch decides a bit of 'playing detective' could be just the ticket to spice up his days.
But when more bodies start to pile up and his new girlfriend goes missing, Mitch wonders if he's bitten off rather more than he can chew...
Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman
American murder mystery thriller – intricate story with compelling characters
On a March night in Barron, Minnesota, three teenage girls meet in a ghost town and become involved in a terrifying game of Russian roulette.
By the morning, one girl is dead, and another is in police custody. Olivia Hawk claims she didn’t pull the trigger on Ashlynn Steele - the spoilt daughter of Florian Steele, owner of the Mondamin chemical research centre - but no-one believes her. Olivia’s best hope for getting out of jail is her estranged father, an attorney from Minneapolis.
Chris Hawk rushes to his daughter’s aid, and discovers two towns at war: Barron, where Mondamin has brought prosperity, and St Croix, Olivia’s downtown home, where the same chemical works are believed to have brought death to several youngsters: a cancer cluster with mysterious origins. For the people of Barron, this is the latest act of violence directed against them by the small town of St. Croix in a feud that is being plagued with vandalism and gang warfare.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and Olivia looks guilty as sin, but if Chris is going to prove her innocence he’s going to have to learn everything about her public – and private – life, and he begins to realise he hardly knows her at all. As he continues to ask questions he uncovers horrifying secrets and evidence of a fatal cover-up at Mondamin which threatens to destroy them all...
Brian Freeman is a bestselling author of psychological suspense novels; his fifth novel The Burying Place was a finalist for Best Novel of the Year in the International Thriller Writer Awards. This is his seventh acclaimed by the media and notable authors as Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille and Jeffery Deaver saying it’s a great story with page-turning suspense.
The story was nicely paced, easy to read, and contains many good scenes, although the ‘mystery’ is pretty obvious from an early stage. There were a few unexpected twists and turns that added to the overall effect of a satisfying and entertaining read throughout.
I found that the character of Ashley, the dead girl, was keenly portrayed and sparkled throughout. Olivia, on the other hand, wasn’t a likeable character – too self-centred – and two of the bit players outshone her. Chris Hawk, the hero, seemed a good guy, but most of the other males weren’t.
I had two quibbles: the story is told through several character POVs, which has its pros and cons, but dilutes the main characters; and whenever a character comes on stage the story stops to describe in some detail what the character is wearing. I found that irritating; it’s writing to a prescribed clichéd template.
Overall, though, an enjoyable read. Worth considering.
The Last 10 Seconds by Simon Kernick
UK police thriller – pacy page-turner, with plenty of implausible twists worthy of a fantasy novel.
Below is part of the book’s blurb: a standard teaser that’s becoming passé. I suspect the proliferation of crime novels on the market necessitates such ‘stimuli’ to attract readers, but the same seasoned material is pedalled out time and again.
‘A man, a woman, a sadistic killer. As they race towards a terrifying confrontation only one thing is certain: they’re all going to fight very hard just to stay alive.’
Wow – I don’t think. Come on – this is par for the course. Can’t publishers dream-up something new?
This is the ninth book by the author – and it’s good, but not great. All of Kernick’s books have similar plots: main character (DI Tina Boyd) with a drink problem has a single-minded cavalier approach to policing. Add main character undercover cop (Sean Egan) who is determined to be more ruthless than the criminals in the name of justice. Mix in a serial killer whose alleged killing of one victim is linked to a much wider criminal conspiracy – and watch the body count rise.
The action scenes teeter on the edge of credibility, e.g. the undercover cop, Sean Egan manages to perform heroics worthy of Robocop whilst on crutches, plus having a bandaged gut-shot exit wound the size of a golf ball.
The master criminal seems to have the constitution of a Terminator robot, despite Egan’s attempts to nail him. At the climax with DI Boyd eventually appearing on centre stage (without a glass of wine in her hand and bemoaning the fact that her career would be finished – yet again) to confront the master criminal, and miraculously with one bullet left in Egan’s gun, and with the last ten seconds of Egan’s life ebbing away... there is a dramatic twist.
I have to admire the pace, but I felt the characterisation lacked sparkle – there were no relationship issues – the insipid love interest between Sean and Tina never got to first base – and the serial killer (what serial killer?) was a sham who never came into the picture except to provide background to the story. That was a bit naughty.
I also didn’t like the ‘prologue’ – it just didn’t work. Maybe the publishers thought that an action scene would hook readers in straight away – but it just confused the story and gave away what was going to happen at the end. Ignore it – start straight into Chapter One.
However – I doubt that my less than favourable critique would inhibit any Kernick fan from buying it. Three stars for pace.
His earlier books were far better. Your choice.
Dark Origins by Anthony E Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski
Sqweegel is a level 26 serial killer – the worst kind of monster ever. Not for the faint –hearted or pregnant women – it’s a living nightmare.
This is the book’s blurb:
‘Steve Dark is in retirement from the elite crime squad Special Circs. Two years ago he came close to terminating a psychopath’s killing spree – but not close enough. In revenge, the killer destroyed Steve’s family – and Steve quit, vowing never to return.
But now the killer’s back – having shot, raped, strangled and tortured fifty more victims. This time he targets Steve’s new wife and unborn child. Special Circs are convinced that only Dark can stop him – but is Steve prepared to risk everything to once more hunt a monster?’
The answer is obviously, yes. I cannot imagine any man with his background, who wouldn’t be prepared to protect his wife and unborn child, and I found the initial reluctance to be barely credible – and the rationale behind it, a bit weak. Strangely enough, the book’s other operatives appeared to have a far greater capacity (and willingness) to catch Sqweegel, than Dark.
This is the first book in a ground-breaking trilogy by the creator of the CSI franchise. It features a bonus interactive video – a horrifying glimpse into the sick mind of the monster and his victims. While I had some concerns about the character portrayal in the movie scenes (see below) the dramatic atmosphere conjured up is suitably scary, with great sound effects.
However, the second book, Dark Prophecy has a more intriguing video – and a better story line, but with a less frightening killer. In this one, I found the Sqweegel visual scenes portrayed him to be more of a contortionist clown than a monster, and because he does have some moral reasons for his actions – it does raise a question whether he could really be classified as a level 26 killer? In my opinion, a level 26 killer should have no morals, no remorse – just kills because he wants to, full-stop. However, I suspect that the US publishing industry wouldn’t endorse it – too much political correctness, nowadays?
Also, Steve Dark’s movie portrayal by a pony-tailed, lacklustre, lightweight doesn’t come across as being macho enough to destroy Sqweegel – Sibby, Dark’s wife seemed to have more spirit, despite her horrifying predicament; it would be any pregnant woman’s worst nightmare. On the other hand Riggins movie character is superb – and highly believable.
But for all that, the written book is still heavyweight US crime fiction, all 390 pages of gripping tension. As gruesome as it gets.
Be warned. Buy it, and cry.
Worth Dying For by Lee Child
Action thriller set in Nebraska USA. High body count.
This is the fifteenth book in the Jack Reacher series, following on from 61 Hours, but it is a stand-alone story.
The Duncans, a local clan, who run a transporting company, terrorise the local farming community – until Reacher comes to town. He’s on his way to Virginia, but gets drawn into their lives, and the unsolved case of a missing eight year old girl some decades ago.
Add a motley crew of mobsters, a team of college-boy enforcers, and a mystery – Reacher cannot let go until he has resolved the case, and eliminated all the bad guys.
This Jack Reacher did not win my sympathy – he is too sadistic and mocking, even though the bad guys should have been locked-up, and the keys thrown away. The action ebbs and flows with constant scene changes that feels a little disjointed at times.
Lee Child has created an icon who is becoming a little rough around the edges, and starting to get stale. Can’t say it is one of my favourites – but who cares – every Reacher fan will buy it.
Snowdrops by A. D. Miller
Drama set in Moscow, Russia. A slow burn that fizzles out
The story follows the confessions of Nick, a thirty-eight year old British lawyer, who falls in love with Masha, a sexy, young twenty-something Russian woman during one winter in Moscow.
Masha is an enigmatic character, but Nick’s infatuation overrules common-sense as he is drawn into a decadent and corrupt side of Russia – where criminals leech on unsuspecting victims, and money is king.
The story succeeds brilliantly on one level; a snow-filled, scenic picture with an absorbing portrayal of promises and deceit, plus a touch of unexpected and seedy humour that illustrates the underlying debauchery. The writing flows, and entertains throughout; and that alone will attract a legion of fans.
As a mainstream crime thriller, it promises much – the opening scene is captivating – but, in the end, it never delivers – a major disappointment.
This is A.D. Miller’s first novel, and the literary blurbs are all positive; it is easy to see why, yet I was left with the feeling it could have been so much better, had the story been stronger.
A proficient read from a talented author, with a caveat not to expect the full McCoy on all levels.
Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton
Murder mystery set in Upper Peninsula, Michigan, USA. An entertaining read with plenty of twists and turns.
This is the eighth Alex McKnight novel. Alex, is an ex-cop now making a living renting cabins in the small town of Paradise in Michigan's isolated Upper Peninsula, who becomes a reluctant private detective.
The story starts with a sinister setting of a young college student found hanging from a tree overlooking Misery Bay, Lake Superior. There is no evidence of foul play, and nothing to suggest it’s anything other than a tragic suicide.
The boy’s father, Raz, (a US Marshall) has one question: why?
Police Chief Maven - a no-nonsense, hard-bitten cop, who hasn’t seen eye to eye with McKnight in the past – now seeks McKnight’s assistance to bring about closure for his ex-partner, Raz. Just interview a few of the student’s friends is the start of a long and winding trail for McKnight.
He doesn't want to, but reluctantly agrees. He winds up driving all over Michigan, and sometimes into Canada, with Maven tagging along some of the time. The love interest is provided by FBI agent, Janet Long, whose FBI partner is a stereotype asshole.
My initial impressions: the writing is crisp, dialogue is genuine, and great dry humour abounds - plus the story flows at a good pace. The confrontation with the killer is masterful; full of drama and suspense.
Nit picks: snow is constantly falling, it’s always freezing, and - unless you hail from that part of the world – the myriad of towns and lakes visited can be bewildering.
Steve Hamilton has won several crime awards, and he knows how to tell a good story – I was impressed with how he manufactured yet one more lead from what appeared to be a (writing) dead-end.
Bottom line: Five stars for entertainment, ingenuity and dry humour. It certainly is no cure for insomnia – you’ll be burning the midnight oil. If you’re looking for an enjoyable read to while away the hours, this one’s for you.
The Accident by Linwood Barclay
Murder mystery set in New England, USA. A fast-paced page turner
‘Milford, Connecticut, is a quiet orderly place to live, a good place to bring up kids, but people are beginning to feel the bite of financial hard times.’
This is the blurb setting the scene, and this book centres on some of these people, mainly unwary women, who resort to ‘get rich’ schemes to solve their family problems. Unfortunately, these schemes - cheap knock-off goods: purses (designer handbags), pharmaceuticals (drugs), and other goods - are run by organised crime syndicates, whose only interest is being paid.
Glen Garber is a family man with an eight year old daughter, whose world starts to collapse around him when his wife, Sheila, fails to return home from night school. When Glen tries to follow her route in his search, he comes upon an accident, cordoned off by police. He sees one of the cars is his wife’s and the police tell him she did not survive. Further, the police suspect Sheila had been drinking and passed out. Two people in the other car - a Milford father and son - were also killed in the accident.
To add to Glenn’s troubles, his building company is feeling the pinch – no new orders – and then a house he had been building is burnt down overnight.
While Glenn tries to make sense of it all – Sheila, was a kind-hearted, intelligent woman who never drove under the influence – his daughter, Kelly is being victimised at school by classmates, who blame her mother for causing the death of a popular boy.
Sheila’s snooty mother, Fiona, blames Glenn for Sheila’s death and seeks to take Kelly away from him; this is an ongoing conflict throughout the story. When Kelly’s one remaining friend, Emily Slocum, invites her for a sleepover, Glen is apprehensive but agrees. It turns out a bad move - and everything starts to spiral out of control.
Glenn is caught up in a maze of mysteries and more deaths, as he frantically seeks solutions. He finds he cannot trust anyone except Kelly, and feels his whole world crumbling around him...
Characters are well drawn; particularly the sensitive and compassionate relationship between Glenn and Kelly – like most children, she steals the limelight when on stage. Conflict abounds from every page; twists and turns are par for the course, and the reader is taken along a roller coaster of a ride to the unpredictable conclusion.
A few nit-picks:
The prologue didn’t add to the story, it is pointless information – and in some ways is more of a spoiler. I wouldn’t bother to read it – start straight in at Chapter one.
There are ‘unannounced’ POV changes within scenes, some of which worked - others could have been written differently with no loss of impact. Seems like established writers can ‘break rules’ – and to be fair, I suspect most readers would not notice.
The story borders on the edge of credibility – a fictional licence to entertain, and it does that in spades.
The epilogue is also spoon-feeding the reader, somewhat corny - okay, it tidies everything up, but the ending is good enough.
This is the fifth book by Linwood Barclay, and a real cracker. It’s hard to put down.
The Gift of Death by Sam Ripley
Murder mystery set in Los Angeles. Horrific.
The story follows the lives of Dr Kate Cramer, forensic artist now photographer, and others drawn together by their involvement in the case of a long dead serial killer, Bobby Gleason. As gruesome events start to happen to all of them, it appears that the killer has returned.
Josh Harper, a detective – and Kate’s ex-lover, is assigned to the latest case, much to her anguish. Kate conceived on the day he dumped her for a new partner, and it hurts. This relationship conflict is ongoing throughout the story.
The ‘back from the dead’ serial killer is chilling, an evil character with a twisted sense of morality, but he is being hunted by an unknown vigilante who tries to orchestrate his downfall at the hands of his victims’ families.
Kate is determined to banish her demons once and for all by eliminating Gleason’s spectre. Mix all these ingredients, add a few vulnerable characters, and the result is a frightening ride to a shocking conclusion.
This is a Kindle e-book economically priced at $2.99. Sam Ripley constructs an edgy read and two reviews are very positive. However, be aware of occasional typos and constant POV switches. To be fair, I expect that most readers would not notice these - or care. If this is not a concern, and you enjoy grisly horror scenes, then this novel would be for you.
A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
Murder mystery in New York. Slow burn that fizzles out.
This is a Matthew Scudder mystery, one of a series. Lawrence Block is a veteran writer, with over 60 published titles since 1958. Demands respect.
This book takes us back to the time when Matt is a recovering alcoholic; he’s an ex-cop and now a freelance private investigator. The story is about a childhood friend (Jack Ellery) who he met at one meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Next thing he heard, Jack was dead, and not from natural causes.
Matt discovers that Jack had written a list of people he had wronged whilst an alcoholic and Jack’s attempts to make amends. Maybe someone on the list killed Jack, and Matt tries to piece together the events surrounding the death, and bring the killer to justice.
As a storyline, standard murder mystery, a love interest, and a few faceless characters written by a maestro of crime, but much as I admired the writing and technical excellence, it bored the life out of me.
The introduction was a forty page exposition relating to Jack Ellery’s life, which played a minimal part in the story. I had to force myself to read on. The main meat of the story had patches of brilliance, but overloaded with constant AA meetings. Okay, I learnt a lot about the twelve stages of redemption in a NY setting, scenes which repeated themselves endlessly. Matt, living in a hotel room, goes to a meeting, meets someone, goes back to the hotel, finds messages, makes calls, goes to another meeting etc, etc.
The end game (if you are a LB fan) is imaginative and, in another past era, would be par for the course. Today’s crime fiction is more slam, bang, thank you ma’am (whether that’s a good thing or bad, depends on what you prefer). Suffice to say, this ending fades into the sunset.
But, in some ways, this is more about the writer than the book. I found his style as good as it gets in first person narrative, which means I want to (and will) read more.
Buy Lawrence Block *****, but not this book**; at least, not if it is your first venture into LB’s world.
Fun & Games by Duane Swiercznski
Murder and mayhem in Hollywood Hills. A thrill a page.
Zany crime caper that reads just like a cartoon story and does what it says on the tin. The hero, Ex-cop Charlie Hardie – Road-Runner, and Mann, the big-breasted female baddie - Wile E. Coyote, and a great supporting cast.
Hardie’s latest job is a house sitter at an isolated mansion. Easy life, watching old movies and drinking bourbon. But it comes with an uninvited guest, a D rated actress (Lane Madden) who says she’s being hunted by professional hitmen. Hardie thinks she’s paranoid, but he’s wrong. Mann’s hi-tech team - The Accident People - are well prepared to take them both out – preferably in body bags.
But when the action arrives, Hardie’s not the sort of guy to lie down and he fights back to protect Lane Madden - and his own past demons from surfacing again.
It’s fast, furious, and funny. With a story line that is part credible and part creative – but always entertaining. I rarely read a book in one, or even two, sittings – but this one gripped throughout and had me wanting more. Some brilliant one-liners from Hardie, even in desperate situations.
What critics call a page-turner, all 280 pages. I can’t wait to read the next one, Hell and Gone. Duane Swiercznski (remember the name) is here to stay – big time.
Dark Prophecy by Anthony E Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski
Tarot cards hold the secret to a sequence of gruesome murders across the US – a terrifying journey of revenge. Don’t read at night...
Steve Dark, ex Special Circs agent, is drawn into capturing the Tarot Card Killer. The TCK is a level 26 killer, the worst of the worst. Aided by Lisa Graysmith, a secret US government operative with her own agenda, Dark strives to stop an avalanche of murders that appear to have no meaning, no link.
The secret is in Dark’s own sickening past, and he makes a breakthrough in understanding how his fate links to the TCK when he visits a tarot card reader. Then it’s a game of cat and mouse, with Dark trying to prevent more mass murder before time runs out on his own life.
He’s a lone operative, the best of his kind, but not without enemies from his past role in Special Circs, who aim to take him out of the playing field - forever.
This is the second book in a ground-breaking trilogy by the creator of the CSI franchise. It features a bonus interactive video – a fascinating glimpse into Steve Dark’s past as he struggles to come to terms with his own demons and forge a new life.
It’s heavyweight US crime fiction, all 384 pages of gripping tension. As good as it gets.
Dying Scream by Mary Burton
A murder mystery set in Virginia, USA – Intriguing.
When Adrianna Barrington, the beautiful wife of Craig Thornton, decides to sell her dead husband’s estate to pay off a mountain of debt, it triggers off a sequence of events that lead to murder.
Craig Thornton, a blue-blooded Virginian, was the last surviving heir of the Colonies. He died two years previously in a tragic car accident that left Adrianna penniless and a legacy of deceit and illegitimate affairs – Thornton and Barrington family secrets that are to be protected at all costs – and by any means.
One of those secrets is that Adrianna finds out she was adopted as a baby to replace a presumed cot death, and she struggles to come to terms with her own identity and how the baby died.
Now, the new owner of the Colonies wants the family graves evacuated, and Adrianna is caught up in a saga of unsolved crimes when two skeletons are discovered in the grounds. Then a series of loving messages arrive from someone who is pretending to be Craig Thornton, a mystery person who is also a killer.
Detective Gage Hudson, an ex-boyfriend of Adrianna, never forgave her for marrying Craig Thornton, and it’s his case. He thinks the skeletons are missing females that had secret affairs with Thornton and were killed by him - a speculation that is abruptly refuted when a fresh body is found in the woods – and identified as the woman that was driving the car that killed Thornton.
Hudson, caught up in his reborn emotional entanglement with Adrianna, realises that a serial killer is at large, a serial killer who will continue to kill to protect the Thornton reputation and to win Adrianna.
This is the fourth crime novel by Mary Burton and, while the storyline is strong, I felt the characters (apart from the killer who was chilling) were lacklustre, lacking sparkle, and the writing clichéd, as if painting by numbers. For example, every time a character was introduced - there were many – there followed a bland description of what they were wearing; to me a stereotyped info dump that didn’t engage me – in fact, it was annoying.
Similarly with scene setting descriptions loaded with metaphors, and wooden dialogue dotted with numerous adjectives and adverbs. For example, what is “a nervous hand”? What is “a small cry escaped Adrianna”?
Here is one segment near the end of the story that seems meaningless character behaviour at that point:
Adrianna hung up and stared at the rumpled bed. She’d made her bed almost every day of her life and had never questioned the chore.
And now, in the grand scheme, worry over something so trivial seemed stupid. She left the bed as it was and got dressed. Fifteen minutes later, she left her unmade bed and got into her Land Rover.
Maybe, I’m being too harsh – but I would expect better from a critically acclaimed author. In fact the teaser prologue into her next book “Senseless” was much more engaging – that sparkled.
Bottom line: excellent book cover and blurb, intriguing story, creepy killer – otherwise forgettable.