Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen trs Don Bartlett @OrendaBooks

Source: Review copy:
Publication: ebook out now; p/back 20 jan 2022
PP: 276
ISBN-13: 978-1913193089

Fresh from rehab, Norwegian PI Varg Veum faces his most complex investigation yet, when a man is found drowned, a young woman disappears, and the case of a missing child is revived. The classic Nordic Noir series continues…

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk.

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool and a young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

This is the 9th in the Varg Veum series, though each can be read as a stand-alone. Translated into English for the first time, this is Veum in slightly more vulnerable mode. Fresh out of rehab with an anti-alcohol implant, Varg is looking forward to an easy job, taken so that he can recuperate at leisure. He’s going to caretake an architect’s house; a job he’s got through his massage therapist in rehab – a woman with whom he has struck up a platonic friendship – though he’d prefer more.

But as he’s touring the house with her for the first time, when they find a dead body – and then she disappears.

At the best of times Varg has an edgy relationship with the police, and this time is no exception, not least because he’s initially considered a suspect. Forging ahead on his own, he discovers information that leads to past crimes.

As always, Staalesen’s settings are gloriously distinctive. You revel in the cold air; feel the chilled waters of the fjords soak into your skin and enjoy the fantastic vistas from the mountains. As Veum investigates his questions lead him to environmental campaigners and a deadly cover up and his life is put in the line as he gets closer to the truth.

Varg Veum is a dogged, determined detective and at times you can’t help but feel sorry for him; at others you question his attitudes, especially towards women. But you can’t help but admire his steadfast refusal to settle for anything other than the truth; whatever the cost.

Verdict: A complex, layered plot in which human tragedy and mystery combine to play out beautifully in a classic Nordic noir with a touch of Christie to finish.

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Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty-three titles, which have been published in twenty-six countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is currently being filmed. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.

Opal Country by Chris Hammer @hammerNow @WildfireBks @Bookywookydooda

Source: Purchased audible copy
Publication: 28 September 2021 from Wildfire; Hardback  6 Jan 2022
Narration: Lockie Chapman
Listening Time: 14 hrs 37 mins
ASIN : B09DZ2PG3C

Opals…

In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.

Bodies…

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide Detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?

Secrets…

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.

Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.

I have taken to reading Chris Hammer on audiobook, ever since I worried that their size would slow down my ability to get to the ever burgeoning TBR list! It’s not a decision I regret as they make fantastic listening.

Opal Country is a stand-alone thriller (though there are references here to his series character, journalist Martin Scarsdale), and it has everything I look for in a strong crime thriller. The sense of place is tangible. You can feel the blistering heat of this dry and dusty mining community in the Australian outback.

Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic and a young local investigator, Narelle (Nell) Buchanan, are tasked with working together to solve this murder which takes place in opal country and specifically in the small town of Finnegan’s Gap. Opal mines offer dry, dusty and often unrewarding work, but when opals are found, the wins can be big.  And where there is gain to be had, there are people ready to take advantage. Opal thieves roam this land – called ratters by the locals; they come out at night ready to see what they can poach from others’ mines.

Opal Country is brutal. As the book opens we are confronted by the most gruesome of murders – so striking it looks like it may have been staged. The victim is miner Jonas McGee . His backstory is one of tragedy. He is estranged from his daughter, Elsie, as a result of an accident for which he was responsible and has served his time in prison as a result.

DS Ivan Lucic has a sterling record with the Sydney Homicide team, but he and his erstwhile partner, DI Morris Montifiore, have not achieved their reputation without upsetting the apple cart. Now Montefiore is being investigated by Professional Standards and Lucic knows he, too, is in their sights. Away from his home base, there’s a lot at stake for Lucic as he works with Buchanan to solve this crime.

Lucic has his own demons, not least a gambling habit and he finds that as a stranger, he is not welcomed into Finnegan’s Gap and has his own reasons for playing his cards close to his chest.  Nell Buchanan is young and inexperienced but she is tenacious and her local knowledge will prove invaluable to Ivan.

As they slowly find a way to work together in partnership, the number of potential motives and suspects grows. Opals are big business and with that comes all the usual motives for crime. Power in opal mining in this area is concentrated in the hands of two very rich men: Robert ‘Bullshit Bob’ Inglis, and, Delaney Bullwinkel, the owner of Cattamulla Coal. The men are longstanding bitter rivals. Alongside these big mining beasts there is ‘The Rapture’ a religious cult led by a despotic man known as ‘The Seer’.

Big business, politics, local secrets and revenge all play into this black, haunting crime. There’s corruption, dark forces at work and blackmail playing into what rapidly becomes an intense and enthralling mystery which will have you glued to the pages.

Hammer writes vividly with characters that leap from the page and a plot that has so many twists and turns you’ll get dizzy as you read. The partnership between Lucic and Buchanan is excellent as it moves from tentative to mutual respect, back to mistrust but always utilising a great skills match in pursuit of the truth.

Verdict: Gritty, intense with an outstanding sense of place and that dry, dusty heat permeating everything. This is fantastic writing that grips the imagination and enriches the genre. Highly recommended.

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Chris Hammer is a leading Australian crime fiction novelist, author of international bestsellers Scrublands, Silver and Trust. His new standalone novel, Opal Country, is published in January 2022. Scrublands was an instant bestseller upon publication in 2018, topping the Australian fiction charts. It was shortlisted for major writing awards in Australia, the UK and the United States. In the UK it was named the Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Year 2019 and won the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.Scrublands, Silver and Trust all feature troubled journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay Blonde, while Opal Country follows Homicide detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan. All four books are notable for their atmospheric Australian settings, range of colourful characters, intricate plots, descriptive language and emotional depth.Before turning to fiction, Chris was a journalist for more than thirty years. He reported from more than 30 countries on six continents for SBS TV. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, senior writer for The Age and Online Political Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Chris has written two non-fiction books The River (2010) – winner of the ACT Book of the Year – and The Coast (2012), published by Melbourne University Press.He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra, Australia.

COVER REVEAL: KEEP HER SWEET by Helen Fitzgerald @FitzHelen @OrendaBooks

Publication Date : All formats – May 2022
Publisher : Orenda Books

I am absolutely thrilled to bring you news of the brand new Helen Fitzgerald novel, Keep Her Sweet. Helen’s books are never less than enthralling, with vivid, authentic characters, laced with dark humour, thought provoking situations and stunning plotting.

So what’s Keep Her Sweet all about? I bet you are buzzing with anticipation! Here’s the information:

One Last Time

When a middle-aged couple downsizes to the countryside for an easier life, their two daughters become isolated, argumentative and violent … A chilling, vicious and darkly funny psychological thriller from bestselling author Helen FitzGerald.

Desperate to enjoy their empty nest, Jen and Andeep downsize to the countryside, to forage, upcycle and fall in love again, only to be joined by their two twenty-something daughters, Asha and Camille.

Living on top of each other in a tiny house, with no way to make money, tensions simmer, and as Jen and Andeep focus increasingly on themselves, the girls become isolated, argumentative and violent.

When Asha injures Camille, a family therapist is called in, but she shrugs off the escalating violence between the sisters as a classic case of sibling rivalry … and the stress of the family move.

But this is not sibling rivalry. The sisters are in far too deep for that.

This is a murder, just waiting to happen…

Chilling, vicious and darkly funny, Keep Her Sweet is not just a tense, sinister psychological thriller, but also a startling look at sister relationships and the bonds they share … or shatter.

If you’re anything like me you’ll be desperate to read this. Pre- purchase links below:

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Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and adapted for a major BBC drama. Her 2019 dark-comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in the Literary Review, Herald Scotland, Guardian and Daily Telegraph, shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and won the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband. Follow Helen on Twitter @FitzHelen.

Darkness Falls (Kate Marshall #3) by Robert Bryndza   @RobertBryndza @BooksSphere @TheCrimeVault

Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 December 2021 from Sphere
PP: 368
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0751572780

Kate Marshall’s detective agency takes off when she and her partner Tristan are hired to investigate a cold case from over a decade ago. Twelve years previously, a determined young journalist called Joanna Duncan exposed a political scandal that had major repercussions. In the fallout she disappeared without trace and was never found.

When Kate and Tristan examine the case files, they find the trail long cold, but they discover the names of two young men who also vanished at that time. As she begins to connect their last days, Kate realizes that Joanna may have been onto something far more sinister than anyone first believed: the identity of a serial killer preying on the people who few will ever miss.

But the closer Kate comes to finding the killer, the darker things become . . .

I do enjoy this series, the more so now that Kate is starting to get into her stride as a private detective. She’s by no means well off since giving up her lecturing job as a criminologist, so she’s combining running a caravan park in Devon – inherited from her AA sponsor, Myra – with her detective agency. Her colleague, Tristan also has to continue to work in the University, but both are committed to making the agency work, whatever it takes.

The pair are hired to work on a cold case by Bev Ellis, the distraught mother of a missing journalist, Joanna Duncan. Joanna’s been gone 12 years, but Bev, who knows she is more than likely dead, wants to be able to put her daughter to rest and achieve closure. Joanna’s car was found abandoned in the multi-storey car park she used daily and the reader knows from the beginning that foul play was indeed involved.

Now Bev’s partner Bill, a well off builder, has used his money and influence to get copies of the long inactive police files from the time and Joanna’s mum wants Kate to use these to find out what happened to her daughter. It’s a case that pays well – and so Kate and Tristan have no hesitation in accepting.

Bryndza’s ability to make his central characters incredibly empathetic and likeable immediately make you warm to both Kate and Tristan. His facility to draw the reader quickly into a story and to invest them with a stake in the outcome is indicative of a writer who really understands his audience. Part of the joy of this series is the interplay between Kate, her son Jake and Tristan. They are each very different personalities but they are all warm and interesting people with independent lives and you can’t help but like them. Kate and Tristan are a good team and this time Tristan contacts are very helpful in finding a way forward for the investigation.

Of course their attention first focusses on the stories that Joanna was pursuing and a few promising leads look to be full of potential, but these dissipate until a discovery made by Kate opens up a new avenue of exploration.

Robert Bryndza knows how to spin a good storyline and his mastery of the art of deception and misleading is excellent, so there are always surprises in store for his readers. I actually worked out fairly early on who was responsible, but for me the surprise and tension still existed because I did not know why and what had led to a chain of events that culminated in Joanna’s murder, but also pointed to other deaths.

Bryndza helps build tension by giving us chapters from the antagonists perspective. So we as readers know how the killing is done and what happens to each victim. This is a splendidly chilling way to help you realise the very real danger that Kate and Tristan are in, as well as upping the anteo on the urgency of stopping a terrible, brutal killer.

Bryndza doesn’t overegg Kate’s past and her addiction issues, but he allows it to hover in the background, gently reminding us both of what she has been through and also of how easy it would be for her to regress in times of stress.

The sense of place is fabulous, too with lovely coastal and rural settings all perfect for hiding bodies and of course a large patch for a thinly stretched police team who are not slow to demand that Kate hands over all her information when it seems that she has uncovered information from their files that their teams missed altogether.

Verdict: Great sense of place, rich and warm characterisation and some lovely twisty plot points all combine to make this a riveting and enthralling read. This is a great series that makes you want to race through every chapter ‘til you get to the truth.

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Robert Bryndza is the author of the international #1 bestselling Detective Erika Foster series and the Kate Marshall series. Robert’s books have sold over 4 million copies and have been translated into 29 languages. He is British and lives in Slovakia.

A Toast to the Old Stones by Denzil Meyrick @lochlomonden @PolygonBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 November 2021
PP: 144
ISBN-13: 978-1846975943

My thanks to Polygon and Denzil Meyrick for an advance copy for review

It’s 1968, and the fishermen of Kinloch are preparing to celebrate the old New Year on the twelfth of January. The annual pilgrimage to the Auld Stones is a tradition that goes back beyond memory, and young Hamish, first mate on the Girl Maggie, is chuffed that he’s been invited to this exclusive gathering – usually reserved for the most senior members of Kinloch’s fishing community.

Meanwhile, it appears that the new owners of the Firdale Hotel are intent upon turning their customers teetotal, such is the exorbitant price they are charging for whisky. Wily skipper Sandy Hoynes comes up with a plan to deliver the spirit to the thirsty villagers at a price they can afford through his connections with a local still-man.

But when the Revenue are tipped off, it looks as though Hoynes and Hamish’s mercy mission might run aground. Can the power of the Auld Stones come to their rescue, and is the reappearance of a face from Hoynes’ past a sign for good or ill?

This, for me, is the perfect Christmas present. A trip back in time to wonderful Kinloch, A Toast to the Old Stones is warm, full of humour and has all the fantastic characterisation that makes the Kinloch series so special. The novellas have carved out their own space, allowing the reader to travel back in time and meet characters who appear in the DCI Daley books, but these characters are young and naïve and learning their trade as the fishermen they are to become.

Rich and redolent of the sea, Meyrick creates a warm and wonderfully atmospheric scenario where his characters delight and entertain. This Kinloch is full on storytelling mode, where the folk tales of the past blend with the couthy characters of today to create a special warmth.

Here we are in 1968 and young Hamish is much taken with that new band, The Beatles. Neither his mother nor Skipper Sandy Hoynes can really understand it and they worry about Hamish’s proclivities. It’s not long since the events detailed in A Large Measure of Snow but it’s clear that the Girl Maggie and her crew have suffered no long lasting effects. Young Hamish is first mate and this year he is feeling very chuffed indeed to have been invited along for the very first time to celebrate the Old New Year with the established fishermen of Kinloch. It’s a singular honour, though of course he has no way of knowing it’s all part of Sandy Hoynes devilish plan….

Meyrick combines traditional storytelling including local myths and legends with a 1960’s capricious escapade that made me chuckle all the way through. This is most distinctly cosy crime; crimes in which loss of dignity is the biggest outcome, but it’s also storytelling that treats its subjects with respect. There’s something about the old traditions that fastens itself to these stories and makes you want to believe. That West Coast charm; the beautiful geographic location and history that speaks to what has gone before tells you that rites and traditions should have their rightful place in contemporary Kinloch.

Verdict: Meyrick conjures all this and more in a tale that is both heart-warming and entertaining and just perfect for reading on a cold winter’s night while you’re tucked up warm. As I said, a perfect Christmas present, this is a beautifully presented story in a fabulously attractive package.

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Denzil Meyrick was educated in Argyll, then after studying politics, joined Strathclyde Police, serving in Glasgow. After being injured and developing back problems, he entered the business world, and has operated in many diverse roles, including director of a large engineering company and distillery manager, as well as owning a number of his own companies, such as a public bar and sales and marketing company. D. A. Meyrick has also worked as a freelance journalist in both print and on radio. His first novel, Whisky from Small Glasses, was published in 2012.

Past Life by David Mark  (DS McAvoy #9) @davidmarkwriter @severnhouse

Source: Review copy
Publication: 30 September 2021 (h/back) 1 Nov 2021 Ebook
PP: 249
ISBN-13: 978-0727890924

My thanks to Severn House for a review copy

DS Aector McAvoy must face the dark, disturbing secrets of his past if he’s to keep his family safe.

The clairvoyant is found with her tongue crudely carved out, a shard of blue crystal buried deep within her mangled ribcage.

The crime scene plunges DS Aector McAvoy back twelve years, to a case from when he was starting out. An investigation that proved a turning point in his life – but one he’s tried desperately to forget.

To catch the killer, he must face his past. Face the terrible thing he did. But doing so also means facing the truth about his beloved wife Roisin, and the dark secrets she’s keeping have the power to destroy them both completely.

If like me, you like to read a series from the beginning, then this book is actually a rather good place to begin. It goes back to the beginning of Aector McAvoy’s relationship with his now wife, Roisin and straddles a dual timeline between those days 12 years ago and the present day.

McAvoy is such a brilliant character; you can’t, as a reader, help but love him. Big, beefy, ginger, prone to blushing and as irretrievable in love with his Irish traveller wife Roisin as he ever was. Now they have two children, Fin and Lilah and already Lilah is exhibiting signs that she may be more of a seer than Roisin.  McAvoy is a DS in Hull. Working with his boss, the irascible, chain-smoking Trish Pharoah.

I’m a huge fan of Mark’s writing. He is dark and visceral; his descriptions zing with the bloody authenticity of a crime scene and there’s a sense of repressed violence bubbling under the surface that erupts from time to time, never failing to make you wince. At the same time he writes about love and tenderness in a way that makes you long to experience it and that’s how he gets you to care quite so much for his characters.

In Past Life, McAvoy is troubled. Troubled because he knows Roisin is keeping secrets from him. He’s almost afraid to ask; wants to give her time to tell him herself, but is afraid she is not going to do so. Then Dymphna Lowell is murdered in her cottage on the Humber – a forlorn place that offers little comfort to the sightseer. She was giving a reading to a new client and something clearly displeased them about her interpretation of the future because she has been savagely attacked.

This death is reminiscent of another event in McAvoy’s past and it connects Roisin to this crime. As we discover more about how Roisin and McAvoy met , we also learn more about Roisin and her Traveller family and history – and an age old feud between two long standing tribes that has never dissipated.

Roisin’s aunt, also a fortune teller, was savagely murdered and there are prickles on the back of Roisin’s neck when she hears about this murder. Something wicked is coming and Roisin knows it’s coming for her.

The interplay between Roisin and Trish Pharoah is delightful to watch. Two women vying for the affection and loyalty of one man – in different ways, for sure,  but each wanting to be the stabilising centre of his world. We learn more about Trish Pharoah’s backstory, too, in this book and it helps to better understand her.

David Mark’s books are redolent with atmosphere and the bleakness of the Humber estuary and Sink Island stand out. His murders are bloody and viscous, but his capacity to illustrate and capture love and tenderness as a contrast is second to none.

The strands of 12 years ago are woven into the strands of the present day and cannot be undone. There is an inevitability to this battle that you know is going to be violent and cruel; the only question is who will survive and at what cost?

Verdict: This is writing that grabs you by the throat and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s tense, thrilling and sometimes makes your heart thump a bit too hard as you await the outcome of a battle you know is going to end in death. If you’ve not read any of this series, I’d strongly recommend you start. By all means start with the first in the series, but this, too is a good entry point. Whatever you decide, I recommend this series very highly. Writing like this is superb and does not come along often enough.

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David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy

The Midnight Lock (Lincoln Rhyme #15) by Jeffery Deaver @JefferyDeaver @HarperFiction @FictionPubTeam

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 November from Harper Collins
PP: 448
ISBN-13: 978-0008303846

My thanks to Harper Collins for an advance copy for review

A killer without limits
He comes into your home at night. He watches you as you sleep. He waits.

A city in turmoil
He calls himself ‘The Locksmith’. No door can keep him out. No security system can catch him. And now he’s about to kill.

 A race against time to stop him
Nobody in New York is safe. Now it’s up to Lincoln Rhyme to untangle the web of evidence and catch him.
But with Lincoln under investigation himself, and tension in the city at boiling point, time is running out…

Ah, Lincoln Rhyme I have missed you! I’ve read every book in this series and each new one brings something extra to the mix.  This time we have a new antagonist. And this one is speaking to us directly in a first person voice. We may not know his/her identity, but we do get  chilling glimpse into someone obsessed with locks and opening them; someone with a growing deadly intent; someone who enjoys opening those locks, bypassing the alarms and watching you as you sleep…

Jeffery Deaver returns with a bang as quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme, NYPD consultant and his wife (!) NYPD Detective Amelia Sachs come up against a formidable adversary in ‘The Locksmith’.

Their job in tracking down this adversary is made significantly more difficult because Rhyme has been frozen out of working for NYPD by the Mayor. After his testimony in the  trial of  crime boss Victor Buryak is trashed by a defence attorney, allowing the defendant to go free, an edict has come down that Rhyme is no longer to be used by NYPD and any police or city official caught working with him will suffer serious consequences.  

This leaves Amelia, Lon Sellitto and Ron Pulaski in some difficulty. Rhyme’s lab, situated in his brownstone,  is exceptionally good and analysing crime scene information is both fast and accurate – that – combined with Rhyme’s extensive knowledge of NYC and it’s chemical and soil make-up has resulted in many crimes being satisfactorily resolved. Now they’re own their own against a formidable adversary.

One of the really enjoyable elements of Deaver’s books is the way that he incorporates current affairs and sociological undercurrents into his books. In The Midnight Lock he gives us Verum, a fake news vlogger, whose claims that a vast conspiracy is underway and that America is being run and subverted by ‘The Hidden’, a conspiracy run by the elite – and that includes Rhyme whose lack of success in the Buryak case is seen as part of that conspiracy.

In ‘The Locksmith’ Deaver has created a very unsettling antagonist. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs search for a criminal whose fascination with breaking locks terrorizes New York City. Unsettling in part because it is the methods used that really will creep you out. This is someone who waits and watches. Who analyses your social media and determines your patterns of behaviour. Someone who gets to know your daily routine, who watches, waits and follows and then enters your life in a way that ensures you will never feel safe again. Annabelle Talese is a fashion influencer who wakes up one morning to find that someone has broken into her apartment, eaten her food and left a message written in lipstick on a page of a trashy tabloid saying simply ‘Reckoning’. This is the handiwork of ‘The Locksmith’ who enters silently and eaves no trace.

Using many threads and tying together different plot lines, Deaver’s warp and weft createsan accomplished, beautiful pattern which is not fully revealed until the final chapter. I really enjoyed the introduction of a new character, Lyle Spencer, who has plenty of grit and looks to become an interesting addition to this much beloved team.

Verdict: Jeffery Deaver has created another unmissable book in the Rhyme and Sachs series. Full of twists and turns, it keeps surprising to the last chapter. It is well-plotted, beautifully structured, full of mystery and suspense and thoroughly engrossing. This is a return to be hailed and I can’t wait for more.

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Picture of author Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His books are sold in 150 countries and have been translated into over twenty-five languages. He has sold 50 million books worldwide.

The Commandments by  Óskar Guðmundsson  trs Quentin Bates  @oskargudmunds @CorylusB @graskeggur

Source: Review copy
Publication: 29 October 2021 from Corylus Books
PP: 253
ISBN-13: 9781916379770

My thanks to Corylus Books for a review copy

Former detective Salka Steinsdóttir finds herself unwillingly pitched into the toughest investigation of her life, just as she returns to the tranquil north of Iceland to recover from a personal trauma. The victim is someone she had pursued earlier in her career – and had never been able to pin down. Now a killer has taken the law into their own hands and meted out brutal retribution for ancient crimes. Salka is faced with tracking down the murderer of a stalwart of the church and the community, a man whose reputation stretches deep into the past, and even into the police team tasked with solving the case. As the killer prepares to strike again, Salka and her team search for the band of old friends who could be either killers or victims – or both…

I first met Óskar Guðmundsson  at Iceland Noir in 2019 when he read in Icelandic from one of his works, Hilma, at a Noir at the Bar event. It’s therefore a delight that I am now able to read one of his books in English and I am grateful to Corylus Books and Quentin Bates for enabling this.

In The Commandments, Guðmundsson has encapsulated all the elements that make for a chilling Nordic Noir. It is a dark and sometimes surprisingly emotional story; that emotion catching you unawares at points. He also manages to show us what it is like to live in a small country. It’s not so much that everyone knows everyone else; that’s patently not the case, but still there are so many connections that make it difficult to pass entirely under the radar, especially when you are part of a police force.

Salka Steinsdóttir had been working for the Met in London as a crime analyst and has now come home to Akureyi, to take a break following the breakdown of her marriage. But fate has other plans for Salka and the local Superintendent of Police needs Salka’s expertise after a gruesome murder. He especially wants Salka because she was involved in an earlier case involving the murdered man, Hrobjartur back in 2010. So somewhat reluctantly, Salka ditches her plans to spend her days in contemplation over some deep fly fishing and prepares to go back to work.

I liked Salka. Her history and the reasons for the break-up of her marriage are slowly drip fed throughout the book, but what you get from a sense of her is of an organised woman, used to being in charge who, without any sense of arrogance, knows who she is and what she wants. Any vulnerabilities are tucked down deep and she comes across as tough and independently minded.

The case Salka has been asked to investigate harks back to 1995. Anton has been involved with an amateur dramatics company led by Helgi, a local religious community leader who has created a theatre group to give focus to a group of troubled teens. But behind the façade of religion and good works lies an evil that is so dark it really disturbs Anton. His relationship with the church is shattered and he lashes out at the local protest, after which he is never seen again.

Now that same local priest has been found murdered in his own church, displayed in front of the altar for all to find. It is a vicious and deeply violent murder and Salka quickly establishes that several years ago the dead man, Hrobjartur together with a number of other priests were acquitted after claims of sexual abuse against a number of young boys could not be substantiated.  

This story of abuse is not new to crime readers, but here Guðmundsson allows us to feel the full terrible impact of such on the life of at least one of these men, while showing us how positions of trust and privilege get in the way of a thorough and unbiased police investigation. Such is part of the problem of living in a small country with close knit communities.

Guðmundsson shows only too well how easy it is for power to be abused, how simple for those in positions of trust to manipulate and take advantage. The Commandments gives just enough detail for us to realise how horrific these crimes were without becoming too graphic, though the actual murders are pretty horrific. What is of more interest though is the way that he homes in on the mental impact over many years of this type of crime and how that leaves its victims feeling both betrayed and seriously diminished.

The Commandments often makes for grim reading. It’s dark and forceful and the story reaches out and grips you round the heart, squeezing tight as the awful crimes have a terrible impact on the victims. This is a tale of complicity, corruption and retribution that hits hard and spares no-one. I found it sad and sometimes very emotional and that makes for a very powerful read indeed.

The sense of place is strong and well-rooted and Quentin Bates translation is sensitive and portrays the darkness in these souls all too well.

Verdict: I liked this novel, not least because, as I said earlier, this kind of crime is not new, but right up until the end Guðmundsson offers the reader surprises and jaw dropping moments, even as he reveals more about Salka and what led her to try and take a break. Highly recommended.

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One of the rising stars of Icelandic crime fiction, Óskar Guðmundsson has been writing since he was a youngster, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that his novel Hilma was published – and was an immediate success, winning the Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic crime novel of 2015. This was followed by a sequel, Blood Angels, in 2018. The first of his books to be published in an English translation, The Commandments is a standalone novel which appeared in Iceland in 2019.All of Óskar’s books have been bestsellers and rewarded with outstanding
reviews. The TV rights to Hilma have been acquired by Sagafilm. His latest book is The Dancer, which has been published simultaneously as an ebook, audiobook and paperback – accompanied by an original song in which Óskar’s words have been put to music featuring some of Iceland’s leading musicians. Óskar’s talents don’t end there, as he’s also an artist and has held a number of exhibitions of his work.

Dead Mercy by Noelle Holten (DC MaggieJamieson#5) @NHolten40 @OneMoreChapter_ @BOTBSPublicity

Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 November (ebook) 22 January p/back from One More Chapter
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-0008383701

A brutal murder…

When a burned body is found with its teeth missing, DC Maggie Jamieson discovers that the victim may be the husband of one of her probation colleagues.

A dark history…

As the body count rises, the team becomes increasingly baffled by how the victims could possibly be connected until a clue leads them to a historical case that was never prosecuted.

A terrible secret…

In order to catch the killer, Maggie must piece together what happened all those years ago before it’s too late.

I do enjoy this series because it has a multi-layered approach to policing, mirroring what happens in practice and allowing Noelle Holten to spread the load of a big case between agencies, with detection, probation, social services and violent offending all playing a part in her books and giving scope for a range of different characters to dip in and out of the books.

This time Maggie is working closely with the probation service. All the time I was reading this book I was getting a prickling up and down the back of my neck. There’s a layer of authenticity here that feels so real and so it was not a great surprise to me when I googled and found that the book is rooted in real cases that occurred in Holten’s bailiwick.

And that’s why these books work quite so well. You get great characters – impetuous Maggie; Nathan showing that he can handle the role of Maggie’s boss with calm and equanimity; Kat, who’s settling in to her role but is brusque and impatient. Dr Kate Moloney, consultant psychiatrist is also back now and it’s just as well, for the team have a serial killer on their hands and profiling is going to be important to pin down this perpetrator’s identity.

It’s also good to see Maggie at home, seeing how her job and her home life overlap as she worries about her brother, has a difficult relationship with her parents and is trying to work out her feelings towards the local crime reporter, Julie Noble.

But why they work is because although the actual cases in the book are fictional, there’s more than enough reality around both the policing methods and the crimes to make them feel authentic.

Dead Mercy is a dark book, dealing with some very grim crimes and it’s one of those areas where, though there’s no justification for the levels of violence and for murder, nevertheless you can’t help feeling sorry for those who were victims even if that led to more violence and further criminality.

Verdict: Dead Mercy is a sad tale of revenge, deadly intent and little mercy, despite the title. It is a tense and thrilling read. Often emotive, well-paced and incredibly intense, it combines great characters with powerful drama, but mostly it is a tale of broken people and how little we do to help them. That’s what stays with me as I think about it now.

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Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk. She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of risk cases as well as working in a multi agency setting. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog. Dead Inside – her debut novel with One More Chapter/Harper Collins UK is an international kindle bestseller and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

Mercy ( Atlee Pine #4) by David Baldacci @panmacmillan

Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 November 2021 from MacMillan
PP: 416
ISBN-13: 978-1529061710

My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review

THE HUNT IS FINALLY OVER.

FBI agent Atlee Pine is at the end of her long journey to discover what happened to her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted when the girls were just six years old – an incident which destroyed her family and left Atlee physically and mentally scarred.

She knew her sister and parents were out there somewhere. And she had to find them. Dead or alive. Atlee and her assistant, Carol Blum, discover the truth. But the truth hurts. And hurt makes you tough. So how tough do you have to be to forgive?

As they uncover a shocking trail of lies, greed, fear and revenge, they must face one final challenge. A challenge more deadly and dangerous than they could ever have imagined.

And so we come to the end of the Atlee and Mercy Pine saga – at least for the moment. Reflecting on this series, which I have enjoyed immensely, I realise that it is the women – four of them, who have been pretty much front and centre of this series.

Initially driven by FBI Agent Atlee Pine and her assistant, Carol Blum, the final book expands into telling the story of Ellie Cain, although another woman also takes on a prominent role. That’s pretty excellent as I love reading about hard-core women who can be both protagonist and antagonist.

Mercy is the book where FBI Agent Atlee Pine finally gets enough intelligence to track down her twin sister Mercy, abducted when they were six. In this thrilling and entertaining read, we understand how much damage has been done to these twin sisters – so much so that the real question has to be if there is any way back for Mercy?

The bad guy this time is rather different and I liked that. A man who has learned to clothe himself in a veneer of wealth and sophistication; making his abhorrent behaviour all more surprising and repellent.

Baldacci has given us a fast paced and exciting all-action thriller. It’s often brutal and deals with psychological as well as physical damage. Some scars never heal. Parts were predictable and I felt there was a rush to conclusion which did not serve the book as well as it might, but I loved the interplay between all of the women and especially the way that Carol Blum, older, not usually in the field, manages to play a pivotal role and go on the road with Attlee while she is on leave, on a mission that risks life and limb, all the while still referring to her as Agent Pine and never by her first name!

There’s a lot of serious action, described in excellent detail with guns blazing and much damage inflicted and an ending that shows you that believing in fairy tales is probably still OK.

Verdict: I have enjoyed this series and I can see that there may yet be more potential, but for the time being I’m pretty content to leave things as they are.

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David Baldacci is one of the world’s bestselling and favourite thriller writers. With over 130 million copies in print, his books are published in over eighty territories and forty-five languages, and have been adapted for both feature-film and television. David is also the co-founder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the US.

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