Tag Archives: crime

‘Career of Evil’ by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evilstarstarstar(Cormoran Strike #3) Robert Galbraith (pen name for J.K. Rowling’s crime series) sets off at a lightning pace right at the beginning of this third instalment Career of Evil. In the first chapter we already learn that a serial killer has his sights set on Robin Ellacott as his next victim. Then in the next chapter a woman’s severed leg (crammed into a postal box) is delivered to Robin’s office where she works for Cormoran Strike, who is a private eye and Afghanistan war veteran. This tale does take a darker turn then the previous two. But there’s plenty of character development and humour as well.

Like the preceding two novels called The Cuckoo’s Calling (#1) and The Silkworm, (#2) Career of Evil is suspenseful and engaging. Cormoran and Robin continue to take matters into their own hands and at their own peril. I feel that the author is getting into her stride now in this series, and is feeling more comfortable and enjoying herself more. In fact she admitted as much in a recent interview, calling the Cormoran Strike series like “her own private playground.”  I did like this one better than the first two, but that could simply be because of familiarity. It is quite widely agreed by reviewers that it is best not to skip to the latest instalment, but start from the beginning if you are new to the series.

In this one, we learn a bit more about Cormoran, Robin, and Matthew’s past and the tensions amongst these main characters deliciously continue. You know, we just want Cormoran and Robin to be able to confront their true feelings for each other, but there are all sorts of complicated reasons why they can’t, and so the tension. Like any (or dare I say all) literary series and/or TV series, tensions are the very thing that keep us coming back for more, so those tensions can’t possible be resolved yet, as much as we would like them to be. I found the ending, in this regard, to be quite cheeky and I wonder what the author meant by it and what she is going to do next! Can’t wait!

‘The Silence of the Sea’ by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Silence of the SeastarstarA luxury yacht smashes unmanned into Reykjavik harbour with no sign of the crew or the young family who were on board when the ship left Lisbon. Thora Gudmundsdottir is hired by the father’s parents to investigate. Was there something sinister going on or was it true that the vessel was cursed?

The chapters alternate between Thora’s investigative discoveries and what was actually happening on the boat. I did enjoy this style for awhile but despite the intriguing premise, it was not enough to keep me engaged. There’s actually very little action–just discoveries of dead bodies and things gone missing. And there wasn’t much creepy atmosphere created either–perhaps it was lost in translation.

I had hoped that this would be a great new Nordic crime thriller series in the vein of the Dragon Tattoo, but even though I tried to like it, in the end I felt it was too long-winded and the ending really not worth the effort.

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Cuckoo's CallingstarstarstarIn case you missed it in the news, J.K. Rowling wrote another book under a pseudonym to see how her writing would fare without the hype of her very own name attached to it. But the secret was leaked, and the book immediately jumped to the top of the bestseller’s lists. The war veteran’s charity, to whom Rowling committed all of the proceeds because she was touched by their plight while researching the novel, is laughing all the way to the bank. The main character in the story is a wounded war veteran, and the same charity also received a tidy sum from the lawyers who leaked the info, by way of apology to the author. All of this is beginning to sound like a plot for yet another story!

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ is a nice little crime novel, complete with the requisite characters: 1) the struggling and troubled yet sharp private eye who despite his shortcomings, is still very loveable; 2) the ‘more than a pretty face’ assistant whose intelligence and quick thinking saves the private eye’s backside more than once, and enjoys working for him more than she thought she would; 3) the glam victim who ‘had it all’ but also had some reason to commit suicide; and 4) of course a whole host of dark and shady characters who all might have had a motive to commit  murder in case it wasn’t suicide at all. At any rate, a crime novel ensues with a far higher vocabulary and complicated sentence structure than I have ever experienced in a book of this genre before. The Latin in the chapter headings should have been the biggest clue!

When the leak first hit Twitter, an expert at Oxford was consulted to use his algorithm program to do a little sleuthing work of his own. He submitted for testing, a Harry Potter book, her other non-Harry novel ‘Casual Vacancy’ and a number of other crime novels. The results were conclusive. This book had the same writing style, word usage, and sentence structure as the other books by Rowling, with less resemblance to the other crime novels. Busted!

Aside from all the hype, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’  actually was a good read. I especially liked the characters who were believable and well drawn. I do not think that this is Rowling’s best work though. A crime novel should have a bit more suspense and a bit less character development to satisfy the die-hard lovers of the genre. The genius she was capable of in the Potter series has, in my opinion, never been repeated in her other works, but I don’t blame her at all for trying. If Cormoran Strike reappears in a sequel, (and it has already been leaked that ‘Galbraith’ will produce a second in the series) I will definitely want to see what he and his indispensable assistant are up to next!

‘The Dogs of Riga’ by Henning Mankell

The Dogs of RigastarstarstarAfter reading Faceless Killers, I knew that I would want to read more from Mankell and follow Kurt Wallander through this crime series set in Sweden. Just as I’ve been doing with Kathy Reichs’ crime series, I read roughly one in the series each year. I’m reading them in the order in which they were written so that I keep the storyline about the detective in chronological order. Why do I love bumbling detectives that do stupid things and get themselves into trouble? Why do I love their personal stories and follow their loves and losses with such glee? It’s compulsive and addictive and enjoyable.  It’s the humanity and the suspense and the comfort of settling into a page turner where we already know the characters and we are quite sure that everything will turn out ok in the end. A formula is not always a bad thing.

What I like about Mankell’s books is that with each instalment, he chooses an issue to deal with, usually socio-political. In ‘The Dogs of Riga’ he focuses on the Eastern Bloc countries and their difficult relationship with Russia. Of course this book was written in the early 90’s so it is rather outdated. But that lends it a bit of charm, like reading about the cold war. Even the fact that they receive information in the police station by telex is endearing, hearkening back to a simpler time before the internet machine took over. Also, the harsh, snowy, foggy, grey winter scenes in Sweden seem to create a gloomy landscape that somehow seems appropriate to the cold of murder and crime. I am not ashamed to admit that I like the way Mankell writes and I like the character of Kurt Wallander.

In ‘The Dogs of Riga’, a lifeboat washes up on a beach with two men in it, both dressed in expensive suits and both shot dead. Wallander travels to Riga, in Latvia, where he is plunged into an alien world of police surveillance and multiple lies and threats. He must fear for his life when he no longer knows who he can trust.

‘A Time to Kill’ by John Grisham

A Time to KillstarstarstarstarstarOne of my greatest pleasures living in London, is being invited to attend BBC recordings of interviews with famous authors. BBC World Book Club is the most listened to radio book club in the world. And Harriet Gilbert does a marvellous job of  the interviewing. As members of the audience, we are allowed to ask questions alongside questions which have been emailed and tweeted in from around the globe. It’s always exciting, especially because the author is there in person and we are allowed to participate in  a recording that will soon be broadcast around the world.

Yesterday the recording was an interview with John Grisham on his book ‘A Time to Kill’. The recording took place in the US Embassy but unfortunately Grisham was unable to actually make it to London and was skyped live into the auditorium where the recording took place. We were all disappointed that he wasn’t there in person but he was so charming and well spoken he was soon forgiven for not showing up. 🙂 If you want to hear the interview it will air on April 6.
BBC World Book Club

‘A Time to Kill’ was Grisham’s first novel and is his most dramatic and compelling. It actually didn’t become popular until his next book ‘The Firm’ made it big. The book is about a young black girl who is raped by two white men. The father decides to take matters into his own hands because he suspects that in the deep south the white men will never be fairly tried or punished. In an act of fatherly outrage and retribution, he shoots the men himself and then hopes that lawyer Jake Brigance will be able to defend him in court. Brigance takes on the case, but not without considerable struggle and threats from the KKK.

In the interview, Grisham, a lawyer who practiced himself for 10 years, said the story sprung from a case he himself witnessed where a black girl was raped and the white men got off with very light sentences. He also once saw a young rape victim questioned on the stand in court and seeing her struggle touched him deeply. He admitted that the book is so powerful and graphic, he might not have been able to write it today, after having a daughter of his own. He says he even had trouble watching the movie when it came out.

Grisham also spilled the beans about writing a sequel to this novel which will be coming out in the fall. It won’t be a direct continuation but it does also take place in Ford County, again features the lawyer Jake Brigance, and takes place 3 years after ‘A Time to Kill’. He said the topic of the new book was “a rich and meaty legal dispute” which doesn’t really tell us much since that describes many of his books! Other interesting facts I learned are that he never has had writer’s block. He always has more ideas for stories than he can actually write. And he carefully outlines his books before he writes them, knowing exactly what’s going to happen. He says he wants his readers always to be “turning pages”, and in this, I think it is safe to say, he has succeeded!

‘Faceless Killers’ by Henning Mankell

A friend of mine recently mentioned that she had lately become rather addicted to Henning Mankell books. Now that I have finished ‘Faceless Killers’, I can understand why, and I think I may fly through the series as well.

An elderly farmer and his wife are brutally murdered in their home. There is no clear motive and no leads in the tragedy, except for one word the woman utters just before her death. She says the word ‘foreign’.

Henning Mankell is a thoughtful and reflective author who writes what I would call intelligent literary crime fiction. The author also seamlessly incorporates social issues, in this case he has woven in the difficult question of how refugee immigrants are received and regarded in a country like Sweden. In other books, he deals with things like the collapse of the Soviet Union, teenage suicide, Internet crimes, and how citizens sometimes take justice into their own hands, instead of leaving it to the police and the justice system. Mankell understands cross-cultural issues. He has a home in Mozambique where he stays part of the time.

Kurt Wallander is a character who develops and changes which keep the series full of interest. Contrastingly, the character of his father is someone who never changes at all except that he is beginning to suffer from dementia. And Wallander’s daughter and ex-wife Mona figure into the stories as well. In fact, Wallander’s occasional issues with women are probably due to the fact that he is a compassionate soul,  still dealing with the loss of his marriage and not ready to move on well until he has accepted this.  Mankell says that he has always been the same age as his Wallander character, which has informed his writing. And he makes Wallander quite vulnerable and realistic. In the 4th novel he gets diabetes and has to deal with that as well, mostly because he neglects his own health while busy with investigations.  That would never happen to James Bond!

One interesting tidbit I learned by listening to an interview with Mankell, is that he has placed a mistake in each one of his crime novels. Now there is an additional challenge for a detective novel fan!

‘Monday Mourning’ by Kathy Reichs

Where does this author find the time? Kathy Reichs has impressive professional credentials as a forensic anthropologist and manages to write a novel almost every year in addition to her work. Dr. Reichs works for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciares et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. She is one of only sixty-eight forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and formerly sat on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. A professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Dr. Reichs is a native of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D at Northwestern. She now divides her time between Charlotte and Montreal and is a frequent expert witness at criminal trials. She also produces the TV series ‘Bones’ which is based on the novels. Like I said, where does she find the time?

What I like about her crime novels is the authenticity of the forensic anthropology which she is expert at. The novels are somewhat formulaic, but I find this more comforting than irritating.  She usually is called in to deal with some odd bones which lead to the discovery of a crime.  Following her instincts, she investigates, often without the support of her colleagues, gets into danger herself, all the while juggling her private problems and love life while simultaneously solving the mystery!  Of course in the end she is ok, and the perps are brought to justice.  In a sense she has put herself into the character of Temperance Brennan, who also divides her time between the two locations, has the same credentials, and does the same work. What I like the best is that when she takes on the mystery,  she also takes those bones and makes real people out of them. She cares about the people the bones represent and wants to reveal their secrets to honour them, even in death. It all rings rather true, is entertaining, and I usually learn something interesting.

In this particular instalment, she finds some bones in a rat-infested basement of a pizza joint. The mystery leads her into the sad, but all too realistic, story of the kidnapping and brainwashing of these young girls whose bones she has found. In addition to the bones and what they reveal, she also takes on various criminal issues like this and deals very sensitively with them.

The first few books she wrote had French titles: Deja Dead, Death du Jour, and then a number of English titles followed, about one per year. Some are set in the States and some in Canada. Her website will give you a full listing. I’ve read seven so far and enjoy picking one up every year or so. Maybe you will too. I’ve never actually even seen the TV series but I’m sure the books are better! 🙂
Kathy Reichs Website

‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ by Martin Walker

What a lovely escape into rural France. And for crime fiction, even the brutal murder and subsequent investigation seems muted and gentled by the rolling hills, the mellow wine, and the rich and tasty food. But make no mistake. This is an intelligent novel, well written and full of political and historical reality and unafraid to deal with difficult issues.

Bruno is a village policeman, well versed with the ways of his sleepy but robust little town, from the markets to the vineyards. He has a basset hound, makes his own wine, grows his own vegetables, and teaches five year olds tennis. That way he not only participates in community service, but knows the characters of the boys when they become troublesome teenagers.  Here’s a quote about Bruno from Walker’s website. “Bruno handles cases with great discretion, circulating so quietly and tactfully among his neighbours that his interviews are more like friendly visits; it’s a wonderful detection method and even cannier literary strategy, allowing Walker to pursue the plot of his mystery while beguiling the reader with extended scenes of village market days, old-fashioned wine harvests, etc.”

Martin Walker comes to his novel writing with an impressive list of credentials. He is an Oxford scholar, accomplished in journalism, European history, politics, international relations, and economics. He owns a basset hound,  just like his character Bruno, and a house in the Dordogne region of France. This is the first in his Bruno series and he has written other books as well. His website is worth looking at.  I’m sure I’ll be making an armchair visit to France and this Bruno series again!
Martin Walker Website

Author Feature: Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen has been writing about Florida since his father gave him a typewriter at the age of 6. His books are light, sassy, humorous mystery/suspense novels.

Hiaasen’s books come in two categories. He has written award winning Young Adult novels  and adult novels.  All are set in Florida. ‘Skinny Dip’ opens with a husband throwing his wife overboard on a cruise ship. She survives, and instead of reporting the crime to the police, she decides to get her own revenge. The book is full of good humour but also alot of crude language and adult content.

Puzzled by the behaviour of an elusive barefoot boy, Roy who is the new kid in town, gets involved in a plot to stop greedy developers from harming the burrowing owls on a construction site. This is the kind of story Hiaasen tells well. You keep turning the pages and you delight in seeing the bully finally get what he deserves. Hiaasen has no adult content or language in his Young Adult books and they are well written. ‘Hoot’ won the Newberry Honour Award. Many of his stories have been adapted for movies or TV.  Two other hysterical mystery YA novels are ‘Flush’ and ‘Scat’.

Hiaasen writes a column for the Miami Herald where he has made as many enemies as friends.  He supports environmental causes and has won many honours for his investigative reporting.  Many of his novels have been made into films and his book topics include rants against big business. He roots for the underdog and his novels satisfy because the good guys win. Both of these books were delightful beach or travel reads. They kept me turning pages on a recent trip, or perhaps,  instead of saying ‘page turner’, it should now be called a ‘button pusher’ since I read them on my Kindle. 🙂

‘Case Histories’ by Kate Atkinson

Crime fiction is something I read occasionally. When the mystery is part of a series and the protagonist is familiar,  it becomes a great thing to pick up when headed for a lazy day in the sun and sand.  This one does feel very much like a beach read.

Case Histories is first of the Jackson Brodie books and takes place in Britain. It is also a popular TV series there. Atkinson has written several other mysteries that are not part of this series.

The book begins with three seemingly random cases at the beginning which set up the story. Of course they become inevitably intertwined by the end.  Atkinson did a good job of making me care about the people in the story as well as looking for the whodunits. There are lots of clues along the way but they get thrown in unexpectedly so you have to pay attention. There is some violence, and some rather blunt, rough language so if that bothers you, stick to Miss Marple.  The tone that was set by doing that though, seemed to fit the atmosphere of the novel which has a quirky, comic feel to it, despite some very serious circumstances.

Jackson Brodie, the private eye, has a haunting history of his own to deal with and his own problems to solve. His adventures continue in One Good Turn, When will There be Good News, and Started Early, Took my Dog.