Review: Karin Slaughter, Cop Town, 2014

1974: As a brutal killing and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first daKarin slaughter cop towny on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.

Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are sidelined in the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

This book has received mixed reviews but I really liked it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Will Trent series so I was a tad concerned about Slaughter going off in a new directions, but I found this to be a great read.

Aside from the plot, which holds up well, I liked the way Slaughter conveyed the casual and embedded discrimination against women and pretty much every other minority in 1970s Atlanta. Whether it was in relation to the uniform, not being able to rent an apartment or get a loan without a male guarantor, or the trauma of running the gauntlet in the station house, this is a read full of atmosphere. You can hear the catcalls, cringe at the innuendo, and wonder at how women lived within the limits that society and their male colleagues foisted on them.

And yet, none of that gets in the way of the story – how the police strive to protect their own, then strive to protect their own reputation through whatever means necessary
.

It’s a cracking read, full of gritty poverty, a nasty but realistic pecking order, lots of laughs (yes, actually), and two believable female characters in the middle whom it would be lovely to see again.

FBI Profiler Series 1997-2008, Lisa Gardner

In this series, we’re introduced to FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, his partner then wife Rainie Connor, and his daughter, Kimberley, who also becomes an FBI profiler.

lisa gardner the perfect husbandIn The Perfect Husband, it’s just Quincy on the trail of a decorated cop who’s escaped from jail after murdering 10 women. And he’s vowed vengeance on the person who put him there, his wife.

lisa gardner the third victimIn The Third Victim, Quincy finds himself in Bakersville, Oregon, where he partners up with local deputy Rainie Conner to investigate a school shooting. Although a boy has confessed to the horrific crime, evidence shows he may not be guilty.

 

lisa gardner the next accidentIn The Next Accident, death comes close to home when a killer targets the people Quincy loves the most. The killer is clever and knows his victims’ secret fears and hidden desires. And how can Quincy live with himself when he’s dedicated his life to solving crimes but is well challenged when crime comes home to him?

lisa gardner the killing hourIn The Killing Hour, rookie FBI agent Kimberly Quincy literally stumbles over a body in the woods. Then, the body count mounts up and time starts to run out.

lisa gardner gone In Gone, Rainie’s demons return and her marriage to Quincy, now retired, is put to the test. When Rainie is kidnapped, Quincy and Kimberly must race against the clock to rescue her.

lisa gardner say goodbyeSay Goodbye is the final in the series so far. Now pregnant, FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quincy takes on the most dangerous case of her career, involving half a dozen missing prostitutes, two kidnapped children, one lying informant, and a villain who is obsessed with spiders.

 

If you like novels that come in a series, Gardner won’t disappoint. Of the two Quincys, I preferred Pierce; I felt he had more depth and life experience to him. His dark silences, a product of his childhood and horrifying work probing sick minds, not surprisingly make relationships difficult. His dealings with his estranged wife, the long silences between him and Kimberley, and the evolution of his relationship with Rainie are all elements easy to empathise with and give him a depth of character that Kimberley’s novels are missing.

As ever with Gardner, her psychopaths will draw you in and her novels are page-turners. Never afraid to have the killer close to home, whether in law enforcement or murdering family members, Gardner plumbs the depths of humanity and, yet, we keep reading.

Do I have a favourite novel? Probably The Next Accident because it merges Quincy’s family and profiling job right on his own door step. Say Goodbye is a very strong novel in terms of showing how children, abused physically, verbally and emotionally by their abductor, become dehumanised by their treatment. And The Next Accident shows how a community – and individual families – are torn apart by that all-too familiar phenomenon, the school shooting. Suspicion doesn’t have to be rooted in fact to do its job, it just needs to be persistent.

Overall, I’d have preferred more novels featuring Quincy and Rainie, with occasional input from Kimberley, as there was definitely more room for character development there. Despite the traumas in Kimberley’s back story, she never became more than one-dimensional for me. Preferred the oldies!

Mark Billingham, Good as Dead (2011)

Mark Billingham Good as DeadPolice officer Helen Weeks walks into her local newsagent’s on her way to work. Little does she know that this simple daily ritual will change her life forever. It’s the last place she expects to be met with violence, but as she waits innocently at the till, she comes face to face with a gunman.

While Helen fights to stay alive, Thorne uncovers a conspiracy as dark and dangerous as any he has ever encountered. As the shocking truth emerges, the body count rises and Thorne must race against time if he is to bring a killer to justice and save a young mother’s life.

This is really a review of the three Tom Thorne novels I’ve read – Scaredy Cat (2002), The Burning Girl ( 2004) and Good as Dead (2011). I read the books out of order but liked the character of Thorne so much in Good as Dead that I sought other titles out.

Mark Billingham The Burning GirlMark Billingham Scaredy CatSet in London, Thorne has one relationship behind him and has as much luck with his relationships at work as he does in his domestic life. Assigned to London’s Serious Crime Group (West), Thorne is unconventional but not universally liked. He’s best friends with the ME, Dr Phil Hendricks, who accumulates tattoos with each failed relationship – and has a propensity for late night beer and takeaways.

In Scaredy Cat, Thorne and colleagues have to deal with what looks like a copycat killer – except both victims seem to have been murdered at the same time. And it’s happened before. In The Burning Girl, gang warfare gets personal when Thorne’s front door is marked with an X, the same symbol turning up on the backs of murder victims. And in Good as Dead, a fellow officer ends up as a hostage in a kidnapping crisis going badly wrong.

Throughout, we come across Thorne’s relationship with his father, who’s sliding into the mists of Alzheimer’s Disease; his sidekick Dave Holland’s new fatherhood; and the trials and tribulations of being Thorne’s boss.

In terms of character development, Scaredy Cat and Good as Dead are rollicking good reads; The Burning Girl doesn’t have the same pace or keep your interest piqued as much as the others. As with all characters set over a series of novels, it’s hard to maintain the momentum, and at the end of Good as Dead, it looks as if Thorne’s life is going to take a very interesting turn indeed. About time …!

Review: David Baldacci, The Target (2014)

The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment. If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel.David Baldacci The Target

Together, Robie and Reel’s talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don’t trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.

This is Baldacci’s third Robie and Reel novel and, as they say, it’s good but not great. I liked it but found it a little disjointed – there are so many thrills and spills packed in here that it’s a little head-spinning. And it’s helpful to have read the previous novel in the series, The Hit.

There’s Reel and her father, the US president and North Korea, the CIA and Reel, Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel …

However, there are some interesting themes: the increasing age of the main characters and the physicality of the job is becoming an issue for both of them; the paranoia in North Korea and the strains of blind loyalty to the Supreme Leader; the strains of loyalty in a ‘free’ society such as America where, however, the CIA agents must do as they are told …

Essentially the three plots resolve Reel and her father, her connections to Neo-Nazis, the president and CIA mucking around in North Korean politics, the CIA trying to break Reel and Robie, internal North Korean politics and society, and the very human cost of loyalty in North Korea.

And we meet someone even better at killing than Robie and Reel: Chung-Cha, a survivor of North Korea’s concentration camps who is a Ninja-style assassin par excellence. And, quite likeable, for her quiet internal revolution …

I liked the book… but the amount of action is along the lines of Mission Impossible…

Review: Nicci French, Thursday’s Children (2014)

Nicci French Thur ChildrenWhen psychotherapist Frieda Klein left the sleepy Suffolk coastal town in which she grew up she never intended to return. Left behind were friends, family, lives and loves but alongside them, painful memories; a past she wouldn’t allow to destroy her.

Then, years later, an old classmate appears in London asking Frieda to help her teenage daughter and long buried memories resurface. Death soon follows, leaving Frieda no choice but to return home to confront her past. And the monsters no one else believed were real . . .

Through a fog of conflicting accounts, hidden agendas and questionable alibis, Frieda can trust no one as she tries to piece together the shocking truth, past and present. Before another innocent dies.

There are three previous novels in the Frieda Klein series: Blue Monday, Tuesday’s Gone and Waiting for Wednesday.

This is just my second Frieda Klein novel and I really like her character. She’s got a slightly off-kilter sense of humour which appeals, as well as plenty of character flaws to keep her realistic.

In this novel, Frieda goes back to her home town of Braxton, which she left suddenly 23 years ago when she was 16. She hasn’t been back. She hasn’t seen her mother since then or her school friends.

Now, she’s been drawn back by the story of a young girl who was raped during the night in her own home in Braxton.

If you’re at all familiar with small town life, you’ll recognise the tensions between those who left to make a life elsewhere and those who made their lives locally. Here, Frieda’s meetings with her old school friends, many of whom tell her she should never have returned, throw up all the old dynamics – who married who, who’s aged well or not, who turned out exactly as expected.

Pretence plays a large part in the novel – school teenage friends who pretend to like each other, who pretend to be more experienced than others in the group. Frieda pretends to be in Braxton because her mother is dying but is actually conducting an investigation. Becky, the young girl who was raped, is accused of pretending that it all happened in the first place and isn’t believed by her mother. In fact, the only one who doesn’t pretend at all is Frieda’s mother, who is painfully honest and narky to the end.

Along with the storyline is a revelation of who Frieda was as a teenager, how others saw her, and who she is now. Her two selves are represented by Braxton with its familiarity, interconnections due to lack of choice or imagination, and the lack of anonymity that lies in each small town. Today’s Frieda is represented by London, where friendships evolve through choice, and she is free to walk her worries away with perfect anonymity, and hid out in her house, taking the occasional dip in the bath installed by her newest friend, Josef.

Through it all, rivers, as ever, provide the geographical backdrop and key moments happen on the river banks.

I thoroughly enjoyed the latest in Nicci French’s (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) novel and am glad that, for me, Thursday’s Children built on the promise I found in Waiting for Wednesday. Nicci French Waiting for Wednesday

Review: Lee Child, Never Go Back (2013)

Reacher has made his way from snowbound South Dakota to his destination in northeastern Virginia, near Washington, D.C.: the HQ of his old unit, the 110th MP. The old stone building is the closest thing to a home he ever had. He’s there to meet—in person—the new commanding officer, Major Susan Turner, so far just a warm, intriguing voice on the phone.Lee Child Never Go Back

But it isn’t Turner behind the CO’s desk. And Reacher is hit with two pieces of shocking news, one with serious criminal consequences, and one too personal to contemplate.

When threatened, you can run or fight. Reacher fights, aiming to find Turner and clear his name, barely a step ahead of the army, and the FBI, and the D.C. Metro police, and four unidentified thugs.

 

I had wandered away from Reacher novels, but recently read Echo Burning and now Child’s latest.

I liked this novel and guess it will find more favour among female readers because of the evolution of Reacher’s storyline – there’s a love interest (Susan Turner, who turned up in a previous novel) and the possibility of a love child, a daughter in LA. (Apologies if anyone found that to be a generalisation).

Reacher is very much a black-and-white character – there’s right and wrong and that’s pretty much it. He carries no physical baggage and claims to carry no emotional baggage – and the plausibility of the storyline after 17 previous novels was beginning to wear thin.

I liked this link up with Turner, I liked the atmosphere of the novel, I liked the possibility of Reacher having a daughter, I liked that fact that, unlike earlier Reacher novels, the female character didn’t end up dead!

The Afghanistan storyline was intriguing also, not least because it’s current and was used as a backdrop to reinforce that all the action in the storyline was set in the US, and hence the solution to the plot was also in the US.

Am I waiting for the next Reacher novel? Honestly, if the ending was different and there was some evolution in Reacher’s character, then yes. But, if it’s more of the solitary open road with many broken bones thrown in, I’m not sure what’s in it for me as a reader. Top marks for plot line, fewer marks for character development….

Review: Mo Hayder, Wolf (2014)

When a vagrant—the Walking Man—finds a dog wandering alone with a scrap of paper with the words “HELP US” attached to its collar, he’s sure it’s a desperate plea from someone in trouble and calls on Detective Inspector Jack Caffery to investigate. Caffery is reluctant to get involved—until the Walking Man promises new information regarding the childhood abduction of Caffery’s brother in exchange for the detective’s help tracking down the dog’s owners. Caffery has no idea who or what he is searching for, but one thing he is sure of: it’s a race against time.

Mo Hayder WolfMeanwhile a wealthy local family is fighting for their lives, held hostage in their remote home. As their ordeal becomes increasingly bizarre and humiliating, the family begins to wonder: Is this really a random crime?

If you’ve been following the Jack Caffery series, this is a worthy addition. If you haven’t, this will make you want to go right back to the start and read them in order.

This is a solo Jack journey – no Flea for those of you interested in that storyline – and it all makes sense at the end of the book. The Walking Man appears and, in order to get information from him about his brother’s death, Jack has to find the dog’s owner.

As ever, Hayder gives all the characters great depth: the wealthy family, the men holding them hostage, and Jack. The dynamics at play in The Turrets, where the family is being held hostage, are fascinating. No family is ever as it seems, secrets abound, and this one is no different.

Equally, the author has the capacity to evoke sympathy for one of the kidnappers through his childlike faith in his wife’s lipstick to transport him back to the US where she lives. The lipstick becomes a barometer as to how he measures himself and it is interesting to see where that tiny detail takes him. And, again, things are never as they seem and the way the kidnappers’ relationship plays out as the tension increases, is frighteningly real.

The house itself has a personality and it’s amazing how Hayder can paint so much drama into the mundane – a bra wire, a rusty scissors, a footstep on the stairs. You can hear the silence in the house as the family try to visualise the movements and predict the actions of their new residents.

As ever, there are twists and turns as the two storylines draw inexorably closer – missing dog, family hostages – with Jack as the lynchpin between both stories. The story’s ending is an extraordinary twist which underpins the old adage: be careful what you wish for.

Read it, you’ll really enjoy this one.

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