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Murderous Reviews: A Reason To Kill – Michael Kerr (2013)

A Reason To Kill (DI Matt Barnes #1)

DI Matt Barnes is part of a team assigned to protect a witness scheduled to testify against one Frank Sartini, a mob boss. Little do they know that a schizophrenic hitman is holding a couple next door hostage and in no short time shoots them, poses as the husband taking the dog for a walk and then slaughters everyone in the safe house apart from Matt, who is left for dead with a shot up leg.
The hunt is on for the killer who soon realises that Matt and the wife from the neighbouring house have survived and need to be eliminated as witnesses.
If one did not know one would hardly guess that this is set in London. There’s very little background atmosphere and not much to suggest where Matt’s police station is. His love interest, Beth, a forensic psychologist, lives in Roehampton. I used to live there myself. It’s a distinctive and somewhat leafy area, but as far as the reader is concerned it might just as well have been Kilburn or Oxford Circus.
My other issue with this is the dialogue which is stilted and unrealistic.
It’s a quick and easy read but ultimately unsatisfying. The killer, Gary, is almost superhuman in his ability to evade detection. This is a common trait of serial killers but is usually offset by a depth of characterisation which gives them a level of credibility. Hannibal Lektor for instance gets away with umpteen unbelievable things before a breakfast of human liver, but there is so much more going on with him that we are able to suspend our disbelief. That extra dimension is missing here.
There’s a higher than average body count, some of them being quite surplus to requirements, as if Kerr felt he was being paid by the murder.
It’s a decent enough read, having said all that, but reads more like a first draft where the author has not really got to know his characters all that well yet.

Murderous Reviews: The Mummy Case (Jim Knighthorse #2) – JR Rain (2010)

The Mummy Case (Jim Knighthorse, #2)

I like Jim Knighthorse. I’d follow him round Waitrose if he lived in Shepherds Bush. Jim is a musclebound ex (American) football player turned Private Eye.
He’s got his angst, having not yet been able to solve his mother’s murder and has a drink problem which he is struggling to keep a handle on.
Balancing that is a ready wit, a sparkling personality and a tolerant attitude. Although it’s not PD James, Rain has created a fascinating world with believable characters and a strong sense of place.
In this second volume Knighthorse is called to the desert to investigate the death of a young researcher who was looking into the mystery of a 100 year old mummy; a body found with shotgun wounds but preserved by the desert’s heat and mineral properties.
As side stories, Knighthorse is helping his friend’s son Jesus (Knighthorse insists on pronouncing this in the Western Christian way rather than the proper Hey-Zeus, much to the annoyance of the boy’s father) track down the individual members of a gang of bullies who beat him up and allow Jesus to exact revenge.
Additionally, his girlfriend, an evolutionist biology lecturer whose name happens to be Darwin, has become the subject of vandalistic attacks by Fundamentalist Christians.
It’s a bit of dichotomy in perspective from the first volume where Knighthorse apparently regularly had coffee with God in McDonalds. I read that long before American Gods was on TV, a fact I only mention because I imagined Rain’s God to be Ian McShane.
God doesn’t appear in this one and Rain, perhaps purposefully, shows no sympathy to the Fundamentalist cause. It’s a shrewd touch, since too much God can be a little wearing, particularly for an atheist like me. I’d rather not have it in my escapism, but with Knighthorse I’ll make the occasional exception. Ian McShane does God very well and I’m looking forward to reading him again.
It’s a short and fast paced piece and quite addictive. It leaves me feeling better about the world and that can only be a good thing.
Will I read more? Oh definitely.

Murderous Reviews: Rope Enough – Oliver Tidy (2012)

Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files #1)

Romney and Marsh? It’s a little contrived, although as DI Romney and Sergeant Marsh are based in Dover it’s a nod to the location. Totteridge and Whetstone? Lemington and Spa? Newcastle and Upontyne?
To be fair I once invented an Algerian Detective called Theydon Bois, but as he hasn’t solved any cases yet, the less said about that the better. All I can say is that it’s distracting. You’d think, to add a touch of reality to the piece that some villain might snort during an interview and say ‘Romney and Marsh? You’re having a laugh governor!’ but nobody does.
However, Romney and Marsh are summoned to a garage where an employee has been assaulted and his female colleague tied to a table and raped. The rapist was described as having an Eastern European accent and was wearing a balaclava.
The case is complicated by the fact that the victim is the girlfriend of local villain Simon Avery.
The narrative is very much focused on Romney. He is renovating a property, collects first edition books and is having a not too serious relationship with a woman called Julie. Of Marsh we know very little, although she features in the action just as much.
There’s not a lot of character exploration elsewhere to be honest. Tidy has some interesting characters to work with but here they’re a little two dimensional. There’s also a lack of tension between characters. It’s good to have someone working against your hero, or a bad apple at the police station, or a nasty boss. There’s none of that in Dover. All the police are very nice and a trifle dull as a result.
It’s a short and satisfying read though, and kept me enthralled. I would have liked to have seen some resolution to a related case of suspected murder, and although it is suggested that this would be resolved due to evidence discovered in the finale we don’t get complete closure.
Will I read further novels? Yes, probably. Tidy needs to work on his characters but I’m happy to read the next one.


Murderous Reviews: A Taste For Malice – Michael J Malone (2013)

A Taste for Malice (DI Ray McBain, #2)

DI Ray McBain is confined to desk duty following the incidents of the first volume, but is clandestinely working on a cold case involving a woman who calls herself Audrey Hepburn and insinuates her way into the lives of traumatised families only to inflict mental and physical abuse on them.
In this he is assisted by two colleagues who attempt to keep his involvement from being discovered by others higher in the hierarchy.
This is another of the splendid range of Scotland based detective novels I’ve stumbled across of late. Here we are in the Glasgow of a very likeable protagonist, Ray McBain, somewhat in denial about recent traumatic events and their subsequent effect on him.
McBain’s sections are first person narrative, alternating with the third person narrative of Jim, whose life is in turmoil. Following an accident his estranged wife, Angela, has contracted amnesia and he is forced to move back into the marital home to care for her and their young son. She does not yet know that she left him because of an affair he had with her best friend. Then, a woman called Moira enters their life.
One can’t help liking McBain. He is very deftly portrayed as an ordinary man who battles life’s problems with a mordant wit and a weakness for food. He is fiercely observant and intelligent while being honestly and amusingly self-deprecating about his life, his looks and his eating habits. He comes over as a real person, which is often not the case in these sort of novels.
The other characters, although not as lovingly fleshed out, are a nice mixture.
It has a bit of a twist too which took me by surprise and that’s always a good thing.
I need to go check out the first book now. Certainly keen on reading more.

Murderous Reviews: The Red Thumb Mark – R Austin Freeman (1907)

The Red Thumb Mark

It’s a bit of a retrofest this. One can purchase Freeman’s 21 Doctor Thorndyke novels and the entire short stories for Kindle on Amazon for £1.49. It’s a bit of a bargain.
Thorndyke is a kind of post-Holmes forensic detective who is employed in the main as proactive expert witness, using science and the technology of the day to deduce and demonstrate how certain crimes were committed.
In this instance Thorndyke gets involved when the nephew of a jeweller is charged with the theft of diamonds from his uncle’s safe. His bloody thumbprint was found on a slip of paper inside the empty safe.
Thorndyke, convinced of the man’s innocence, sets out to set up a case for the defence based on his scientific investigation.
It becomes clear that Thorndyke is on the right track when attempts on his life are made.
This book is truly fascinating, since it is in its own way an example of steampunk written at the appropriate time. (I accept that these works are Georgian rather than Victorian, but society and technology are not markedly changed.)
At one point a walking stick is revealed as a pump action gun that fires hypodermic bullets. Freeman describes the mechanics of the bullet (which uses its momentum to thrust out a needle and inject the victim) so well that if I had the equipment I could make it myself.
The novel is perhaps hampered by an overemphasis on the narrator’s growing ardour for Miss Gibson, a friend of the accused. Indeed the denouement abandons any details of what happened to the guilty party in favour of allowing the happy couple to gush at each other breathlessly and declare their deathless love. I hope there’s less of this sort of thing in successive volumes. It’s slightly sickening.
On the whole though it’s cracking stuff. In the foreword Freeman tells us that he made Thorndyke tall and handsome because there’s far too many ugly detectives about.
Thorndyke, Jervis (the narrator, employed to help Thorndyke with the case) and Thorndyke’s ‘man’ Polton, speak fluidly and poetically. I’m wondering if people actually spoke to each other this way back then. I’d like to think so.

‘My dear Jervis,’ he exclaimed. as we clasped hands warmly. ‘this is a great and delightful surprise. How often have I thought of my old comrade and wondered if I should ever see him again, and lo! here he is, thrown up on the sounding beach of the Inner Temple, like the proverbial bread cast upon the waters.’
‘Your surprise, Thorndyke, is nothing to mine,’ I relied, ‘for your bread has at least returned as bread; whereas i am in the position of a man who, having cast his bread upon the waters, sees it return in the form of a buttered muffin or as a Bath bun. I left a respectable medical practitioner and I find him transformed into a bewigged and begowned limb of the law.’

(Chapter 1)

Polton, quite apart from cooking and making tea, is also a bit of a whiz in the laboratory and the engineering shed, and can take, develop and print amazing photographs.
It’s not difficult to work out who the evil genius is but that’s not the point. Some of these concepts must have bordered on Science Fiction at the time to his readership. Could J Austin Freeman be considered one of the forefathers of Steampunk?

Murderous Reviews: Depraved Difference – J Robert Kennedy (2011)

Depraved Difference (Detective Shakespeare Mysteries, #1)

Detective Eldridge is on the trail of a serial killer targeting passengers of a subway carriage who did not help when a young woman was murdered in front of them. The passengers are being filmed as they are killed and the footage sent to Aynslee Kai, a young female TV presenter.
Eldridge’s partner, Detective Shakespeare, is mostly absent, being a rather portly diabetic who was once a great detective but who is now thought of as being a little past it. But perhaps now is the time for Shakespeare to regain some of his former prowess.
Concurrently, another killer is stalking blonde women and keeping them hostage in a cellar, something which is only now coming to the notice of the police.
This isn’t a bad piece of work at all. There’s a varied selection of interesting characters and the pace is maintained throughout the novel. My only qualm may be that the subway killer’s IT skills are rather too advanced and that there might have been at least one more occasion when he was thwarted, as his miraculous ability to evade the police and gain access to his prey has the downside of reducing reader suspense.
One final issue I had with this is the title. I’m still at a loss as to what it means or how it relates to the narrative.
Would I read another in this series? Yes, I’m thinking I will. This was rather good.

Murderous Reviews: Murder in Steeple Martin – Lesley Cookman (2012)

Murder in Steeple Martin.

Oh dear.
Libby Sarjeant, a divorced older woman, has moved to the village of Steeple Martin, where she is directing a play in the village’s new theatre, written by her friend Peter and based on events related to his family during World War II. After a series of acts of sabotage involving the theatre and cast, the lead actress is found dead.
Can this murder be linked to events in the past that Peter’s family would rather keep secret?
Let’s get the good points out of the way first.
It’s not a bad read and the author appears to have researched the subject of hop pickers during the war fairly thoroughly.
So, what is wrong with this novel?
1. Characters. Cookman throws us straight into a bewildering array of characters, some of whom are difficult to distinguish from each other. I got about 17% in and had to return to the start to work out who Ben was and how he relates to the rest of the family.
There seems little attempt to give anyone a personality. We know that Peter and Harry are gay because they call everyone ‘Ducks’ or ‘Dear Heart’ and Harry wears pink shirts and runs a vegetarian restaurant called The Pink Geranium. I tend to see Cookman with a tickbox list of gay cliches pinned up on the wall next to her laptop. If this had been written twenty years ago I would have been only slightly less concerned. This is 1970s sitcom stereotyping of the laziest sort and honestly, it shouldn’t exist in the 21st Century.
If you’re going to include gay characters then I’d suggest you ask some gay people to have a read through and suggest any changes. Clearly this wasn’t done on this occasion.
A psychic is thrown into the mix halfway through. Apparently, in Middle England, builders and estate agents employ psychics to check out buildings for them. Who knew?
The police appear to be based in the 1950s and evidently have no idea of procedural issues.
Are there any memorable characters in this book? Just the one, in fact. It’s Libby’s cat, Sidney, who displays far more personality than any of the humans without having to say a single word and additionally has a pivotal role to play in the finale.

2. Dialogue

No one seems capable of having an ordinary conversation without it turning into an awkward argument or a misunderstanding. This happens all the time, but particularly with the psychic, Fran, who quite honestly has no real reason for being invited, either into the village or the novel.

3. Realistic stuff

Could an English village, in 2012, possibly support a successful theatre and a vegetarian restaurant? Most villages are having trouble hanging on to a Post Office and a local shop. The Pink Geranium always seems to have lots of bookings though. I find this quite unrealistic.

I’ve already mentioned the psychic. I’ve nothing against psychic investigators in novels. There’s a whole subgenre of supernatural detective stories. The problem lies in bringing in a psychic in an otherwise ‘rational world’ novel, whose powers appear to be real. It’s a fact which seems to phase no one. Had she had some role to play within the novel it might go some way to explaining her presence, but she doesn’t. She just keeps turning up and apologising for knowing things she shouldn’t because of her X-Men powers.

4. The Plot

I am reminded of the marvellous Margaret Rutherford film ‘Murder Most Foul’ which, strangely enough, features a murder related to a theatre company. Ron Moody – perfectly cast as the irascible director is found in one scene frantically riffling through the pages of the play Margaret Rutherford has submitted.
‘What are you looking for?’ asks Margaret Rutherford.
‘The plot, Madam. The plot!!’ He replies (or words to that effect), frantically riffling on. I felt a little like this during the course of the novel.
None of it makes a great deal of sense when it’s all finally explained. One tends to feel that the author herself wasn’t sure of the identity of the murderer until quite late in the day and found a way of squeezing in an explanation.
The denouement is very rushed, particularly disappointing and defies logic, although I can’t go into any detail without some major spoilers.
I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of these.

Murderous Reviews: The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade – MJ Trow (1985)

The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade

This could have worked quite well if the author had taken the time to think through what he wanted the novel to be. It has other serious flaws but in the main one is confused as to whether this is a comic novel, a pastiche or a complex murder mystery.
As a comic novel it fails since the comedy is sporadic and reliant for effect on Carry On style ‘double entendre’ and cheap puns. It is draining to read since – for one thing – the style of the comedy is far too modern and sits uneasily in a late Victorian setting. Sometimes it hits the nail but most of the time it is just not funny or severely laboured. There is a section where Lestrade meets Oscar Wilde which is particularly painful to read, brief though it is, as it seems it was only included for its comic value.
The basic premise is that Inspector Lestrade (of the Sherlock Holmes tales) is in fact a real Inspector and exists in the real world alongside Holmes, Watson and Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson are reduced to one-dimensional buffoonish stereotypes, while the rest of the cast struggle to get beyond two dimensions.
Lestrade is tasked with investigating a series of peculiar murders which are based around Hoffman’s cautionary verses of Struwellpeter, or Shock Headed Peter.
Lestrade – for no good reason – comes into contact with various famous Victorians, such as Tennyson, Swinburne, The Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor (whose presumed homosexuality, like that of Oscar Wilde, is presented to us for no other reason than the author knows all about it and presumes he is telling us things we never knew… Oh, and it gives him the excuse to use the derogatory term for gay men ‘cottage loaf’ several times) and various others.
The murders themselves are quite preposterous and would be impossible to put into practice in real terms. Had the author taken some time to construct more credible scenarios it might have saved this novel from ruin.
It’s not that difficult to work out who the murderer is either, but I’ll leave that for you to determine.

Murderous Reviews: Cold Granite – Stuart MacBride (2005)

Cold Granite (Logan McRae, #1)

This is a highly enjoyable romp around Aberdeen, a city painted as being beset with relentless rain and snow. DS Logan McRae is part of a team investigating a child killer. Logan is nicknamed Lazarus as he has only just returned to active duty having been stabbed almost fatally by a murderer he recently apprehended.
When another dead child is found the police are under pressure to find the killer, beset by a reporter who has a mole within the investigation as well as the rank and file of angry Aberdonians.
It’s a non-stop adventure which maintains pace throughout and is peppered with colourful characters.
Despite the depressing central theme it’s an uplifting read with some sprinklings of humour here and there, and a nice balance between action and character development.
Logan is, if I have to poke a critical finger at anything, perhaps a little too nice. It might have been interesting to know more of the history between him and Isobel the Ice Queen pathologist. They were once an item, but it ended badly. This certainly adds an extra element to their working relationship but it might have expanded Logan’s character a little to know what went wrong. Detectives generally need some kind of flaw, and his pining for Isobel doesn’t really cut deeply enough.
The deciding question on this is ‘Will I read the next one?’
Absolutely. It’s always a good sign when a book makes me miss my stop. It doesn’t happen a great deal.
MacBride is kind enough to point out in a afterword that Aberdeen really isn’t that bad, and I am presuming he is referring to both the weather and the residents.
I’m hoping that’s true.

Murderous Reviews – Never Sorry (Leigh Koslow #02) – Edie Claire (1999)

Never Sorry (Leigh Koslow Mystery #2)

Leigh Koslow returns in the second of Claire’s delightful series. To earn some extra cash Leigh has taken a part time job at the zoo with an old crush, zoo vet Mike Tanner. Having worked late to help Tanner perform an operation, Leigh is drawn to a light in the tiger keeper’s hut and finds the place awash with blood and foolishly picks up a bloodstained knife. Venturing out she notices something in the tiger enclosure; some severed limbs, one of which is an arm sporting several familiar rings. They belong to Leigh’s childhood nemesis Carmen Koslow.
Leigh becomes the chief suspect in the murder and needs to call on her friends to help her investigate and clear her name.
It’s a very enjoyable and somewhat cosy murder mystery, boasting an array of great characters, some of whom will be familiar from volume one, ‘Never Buried’.
Pleasingly it also features a refreshingly surprising ending. I’m very much looking forward to reading more.
Times change so fast. I had not realised while reading that this book was published in 1999. My main thought at several points was ‘Does no one have a mobile phone?’
The policeman in charge of the case has one but everyone else seems reliant on landlines, answering machines and payphones.
I think I preferred it when life was like that, but without the murders.