Review: Alex Kava, Breaking Creed (2015)

alex kava breaking creedWhen dog handler Ryder Creed and one of his dogs are called in to search a commercial fishing vessel, they discover a secret compartment. But the Colombian cartels’ latest shipment isn’t drugs. This time, its cargo is human. To make matters worse, Creed helps one of the cartel’s drug mules escape. Meanwhile, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell is investigating a series of murders and uncovers a hit list with Creed’s name on it. 

I’ve been a fan of Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series since I discovered it and was intrigued to see that she was shaking things up a bit by introducing a Ryder Creed (not sure I like the name!) thread. Creed had been introduced in a previous novel so, potentially, this is an interesting avenue to follow.

By it’s nature, the novel needs to introduce us more to Creed, his business partner, Hannah, his team of dogs, and his home base. Equally, it gives quite a lot of time to Maggie and her perspective as their two separate cases inevitably come closer to collision.

For me, the most interesting strand of the novel was the child trafficking and drug mule element. Amanda is 14, American born, but travelling between Colombia and the US carrying drug balloons for a drugs cartel. The child trafficking element alone would have made a substantial storyline but it wasn’t really capitalised on, I felt.

Elsewhere, we didn’t really get to delve as deep into O’Dell’s psyche as usual. And, maybe, Kava has said all she wants to say with O’Dell and, in her notes before the novel, admits that the dog handler character is a labour of love, based on her own love of dogs.

For me, I’d give this three stars. I read it on the Kindle and couldn’t believe how quickly I was getting through the book. I’d love to see more depth and less hopping around different storylines in the next novel. Worth a read, yes, but better if you’ve read some of the previous O’Dell books cos there were great.

Review: Jodi Picoult, Leaving Time (2014)

Jodi Picoult Leaving Time13-year-old Jenna Metcalf is on a quest, searching for her mother, Alice, an elephant researcher, who disappeared 10 years earlier after a tragic accident at their sanctuary for former circus/zoo elephants in New England. Leaving Time explores the mother-daughter relationship, be it elephant or human, and the idea that those we can’t forget are never truly gone.

I judge a book by whether I’ll keep it or give it away to the charity shop. Disappointingly, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult is not a keeper for me. Jenna teams up with psychic Serenity and has-been cop and deadbeat PI Virgil to search for her mother, Alice, who’s been missing for ten years. Alice is possibly murdered, a murder suspect, or on-the-run. Whichever, Jenna is determined to find out.

I’m not a great fan of stories told from different perspective – instead of getting to know a character well, I always feel the change in narrative to be jarring with not enough depth for the main character. Here, Jenna’s story is interspersed with the voices of Alice, Virgil, and Serenity. Then there’s Thomas, Jenna’s father, along with elephant sanctuary workers Gideon, his wife and his mother-in-law.

Add in the tracts of research into elephants and how elephants grieve, and you’ve got a lot of perspectives to deal with.

For all that, I did enjoy the accounts of how elephants grieve, how herd and individual memory manifest themselves the next time they pass the bones of an elephant from their own herd. And, the accounts of how mothers treat their calves, how sisters are socialised into future motherhood, how the protective instinct of mothers is brought out, and how survival impacts on the behaviour of all herd members.

If you’re an elephant fan, this is great stuff. I found it interesting, but thought there was too much of it. And [no spolier alert], when the story winds up, I was left with a feeling, ‘Oh no, not that twist; that’s disappointing.’

That sums up my feelings for this one, I’m afraid: disappointed.

Review: Jane Casey, The Kill (2014)

Jane Casey The KillA killer is terrorising London but this time the police are the targets. Urgently re-assigned to investigate a series of brutal attacks on fellow officers, Maeve Kerrigan and her boss, Josh Derwent, have little idea what motivates the killer’s fury against the force. But they know it will only be a matter of time before the killer strikes again.

Let me say at the outset that I’m so delighted to have discovered a new author whose novel I really liked that I went off and sought out the first book in this series (The Burning).

This book, The Kill, is the fifth in the Maeve Kerrigan series, a Detective Constable based in London of Irish parents. As a woman, and a tall woman at that, and second-generation Irish, she gets regular slagging from her colleagues. It’s also not helped by the fact that she was called on to the murder squad by her boss, Godley, earlier than others feel was warranted. That fact alone has led colleagues to speculate that they’re having an affair …

Here, Kerrigan and her boss, John Derwent, have to find out who’s murdering police men and women across London. Along the way, Kerrigan figures out what’s going on with the answer closer to home than she likes.

Casey’s writing style is attractive, the novel fast paced, the banter between colleagues unforced and realistic. Just as familiarity breeds contempt, so do Kerrigan, Derwent and colleagues pick up on each other’s annoying habits. More than most, I found this to be quite a realistic portrayal of how colleagues behave – they fancy each other, they dislike each other, they know too much about each other.

And, again, whilst the violence against the cops escalates, it’s not unrealistic and, amidst the chaos and running around London, they do stop for breakfast and the odd kip. That’s one criticism I have of US crime fiction – the manic pace of the investigations and the ratcheting up of serial murders, the Karen Rose all-nighters, the Jack Reacher ability to go for days without food or sleep. I just can’t identify with that side of it, whereas going for a fry up in the morning to keep you going (and awake), well, who hasn’t done that?!

I liked novel, the easy style, the layering of each character which was delivered as a deceptive accumulation of info rather than delivered by the pallet-load. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next installment.

Review: The Killing by David Hewson (2012)

David Hewson The KillingSarah Lund is looking forward to her last day as a detective with the Copenhagen police department before moving to Sweden. But everything changes when nineteen-year-old student, Nanna Birk Larsen, is found raped and brutally murdered in the woods outside the city. Lund’s plans to relocate are put on hold as she leads the investigation along with fellow detective Jan Meyer.

While Nanna’s family struggles to cope with their loss, local politician, Troels Hartmann, is in the middle of an election campaign to become the new mayor of Copenhagen. When links between City Hall and the murder suddenly come to light , the case takes an entirely different turn. Over the course of the twisting, tortuous investigation, suspect upon suspect emerges as violence and political intrigue cast their shadows over the hunt for the killer.

I liked this book. And if you like Nordic fiction or Nordic TV drama, I suspect you’ll like it too.

There’s a starkness and spareness to both the writing and scenery in Nordic drama that is worlds away from the slickness we’ve come to expect from US TV drama – the high heels of The Good Wife (which I love) just look less polished on the streets of Copenhagen in Borgen. And, frankly, Lund wouldn’t be seen dead in high heels, which would so not go with her black and white and white and black range of jumpers!

This novel by Hewson is based on the screenplay of the TV drama, The Killing, which I haven’t seen. And, whilst, initially, I found the writing style to be slightly jagged, once you adjust, it fits perfectly with the taciturn nature of Lund, who sees more than most at crime scenes mostly because she talks less and looks more.

Whilst in some novels, the range of characters can get confusing, they’re well balanced here, so you don’t feel like you’re losing track as red herring after red herring and lie after lie send Lund and her sidekick, Meyer, around in circles. The tensions of the grieving family and the destructive and individual nature of grief – and grief after such a horrible murder – are well drawn out.

Loyalties come and go under the pressure of the investigation – loyalties within the police department, the grieving family, the politicians who come under suspicion. Suddenly, everyone becomes a liability, a possible suspect, a possible liar.

And, in the midst of all this, Lund can’t stop being herself – driven, a loner, isolated, focused, right. And not easy to live with, as her mother, her son, her lover, her ex-husband all fall prey to the demands of the job. The last scene is a classic and makes me, for one, want to see where the series or the next book takes Lund.

Review: Sophie Hannah, The Telling Error (2014)

Sophie Hannah the telling errorControversial newspaper columnist Damon Blundy has been murdered, and a woman who has never met him – housewife and mother Nicki Clements – is brought in for questioning.

Nicki can’t answer any of the baffling questions detectives fire at her. And she can’t explain why she was so close to the crime scene – not without revealing the secret that could ruin her life. Because, although Nicki is not guilty of murder, she is far from innocent…

This is Sophie Hannah’s ninth novel featuring Culver Valley and chief protagonists Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. It doesn’t feature them enough, IMHO, and instead features a dizzying array of characters and voices.

There’s Nicki, her husband and children, her friend who’s married to her brother, murdered Damon Blundy’s newspaper columns, Blundy’s wife, a politician and her husband, a novelist and his wife, a disgraced athlete and his mother, Simon Waterhouse, wife Charlie, Charlie’s sister Liv and cop Gibbs, plus the usual Culver Valley cops.

So, Blundy is murdered in an odd fashion. His wife reckons he never loved her and wants to know why, as well as who murdered him. Nicki has a secret that could ruin her life and gets herself inserted into the centre of the murder investigation. Her secret takes us off on a whole other trajectory, as does Blundy’s shoot-from-the-lip newspaper columns which target and fillet the characters of people who annoy him for some and no reason.

Waterhouse is tasked with finding the killer and Charlie is only involved on the periphery of the investigation, so there’s not a whole pile of interplay between them in terms of their odd relationship.

Overall, this is one I read through because I was so delighted with Sophie Hannah when I discovered her a few years ago. Previous novels have had more richness in their characters than this one, so don’t judge the author on this book alone.

Review: Dwayne Alexander Smith, Forty Acres

Dwayne A Smith Forty AcresWhat if overcoming the legacy of American slavery meant bringing back that very institution? 

Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. He’s dazzled by what they’ve accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be as successful as they are. They invite him for a weekend away from it all—no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But far from home and cut off from everyone he loves, he discovers a disturbing secret that challenges some of his deepest convictions…

I always judge a book by whether I’m still thinking about it and its characters a few days later. This is such an amazing premise for a book – black slavery avenged by black men who now enslave white people in a plantation-type setting. And, yet, it didn’t linger.

In the novel, black men at the top of their careers follow the philosophy of a Dr Kasim, who believes that only by enslaving, beating, raping, and killing white people can the screams of their enslaved black ancestors be silenced.

Kasim believes that it is ‘black noise’ that keeps black men (black women must stay at home and bear children, boys preferably) ‘tipping the forelock’ (as we say in Ireland) to white people. This often-unconscious subservience is as effective as shackles in keeping the black man ‘in his place’, according to Kasim.

Given that Martin, an up-and-coming black lawyer, was to be the vehicle for our misgivings and doubts, his character lacked sufficient depth. This premise – that white people’s enslavement could ‘free’ black people – is open for rich debate at all sorts of philosophical levels and yet, as readers, we’re never pushed or challenged to go there.

Martin’s Jewish friend and law firm partner momentarily shines a light on how being excluded from the weekend gathering because he’s white (not because of his religion, a whole other debate no doubt) is ironic given the struggle by the black community to, rightly, have colour ignored when it comes to human rights for all.

Overall, a pacy read, a definite first novel, a great concept, loads of room for deeper analysis (though a thriller is hardly the ideal vehicle for this), and potentially thought-provoking …

Review: Stacy Green, All Good Deeds (2014)

stacy green all good deedsLucy Kendall isn’t a serial killer. The decade spent working in Child Protective Services before becoming a private investigator taught her two truths. One, CPS failed miserably in protecting children. Two, Lucy was more than willing to do it for them, meting out her brand of dark justice in spite of her own fear of death. But Lucy’s crusade is compromised when a self-proclaimed sociopath offers to help—and leaves her no choice but to accept it. 

When eight-year old Kailey Richardson is abducted, it sets off a chain of events linked to Justin Beckett, a suspect in a life-changing case in Lucy’s past. The path she’s chosen since dealing with Beckett has been dark and terrifying—but she has no idea just how deep she will go or where the twisted road will take her. 

This is my first Stacy Green novel and I’d certainly be interested in crossing paths with Lucy Kendall again. In this, the first of a proposed series, Kendall has her own code of honour – she only ‘murders’ active paedophiles. This is tied in to the finality of a death in her childhood and her certainty that paedophiles do not change their colours.

The release of Justin Beckett, convicted as a child himself, sets Lucy on a path to ‘clear out the garbage’, as one character describes. It’s high risk, she fully expects to get caught and, yet, she cannot stop. However, when she meets up with Chris, a self-described sociopath, she’s forced to think about her choices in more stark terms: is she a justified vigilante or a serial killer?

In much the same way as we have a good and not-so-good side to our own personalities, here Chris seems to represent Lucy’s darker side. He understands her as few others (apart from her computer hacker) do and agrees with her desire to clear the world of those the justice system spits out. Justin Beckett’s brother, Todd, now a detective, represents the goodness of the system when it works – he’s well-intentioned but tied by bureaucracy. And getting suspicious of Lucy …

Green handles the issue of paedophilia well – the horror is implied rather than overly spelled out, but you’re not left guessing either.

I took a while to warm to Lucy – she has an interesting back story but I just couldn’t empathise with her for a long time. However, I’d be curious to see how the story develops with her, how Lucy rationalises her reaction to the next dilemma, and how the Chris-Todd dynamic works out.

From a writing perspective, Green writes with confidence. She layers on the detail and narrative in just the right measure with short, sharp, suspenseful chapters designed to keep the action moving at pace. With enough twists and turns to have you saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that coming’, there’s enough here to keep any seasoned reader turning the pages.

*Novel received from author for review

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