Friday, February 16, 2018

Review: The Whitstable Pearl by Julie Wassmer

The Whitstable Pearl by Julie Wassmer, October 2015, 320 pages, Constable, ISBN: 1472118995

Reviewed by Michelle Peckham.
(Read more of Michelle's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

As might be expected from the title, this book is set in the seaside town of Whitstable, famous for its oysters, and for the rather strange constructions just visible out at sea, called the Maunsell Forts. These were built during the Second World War, and used to provide anti-aircraft fire. The heroine of the novel is Pearl Nolan. She runs a popular seafood restaurant in Whitstable, 'The Whitstable Pearl', with her somewhat eccentric mother, Dolly, but she would rather be a detective. Still only thirty-nine-years-old, she has a grown-up son Charlie at university a short distance away, and is now trying to start up her own private detective agency.

The book revolves around Pearl’s first proper case. A Mr Stroud contacts her and asks her to track down a local oyster fisherman called Vinnie Rowe. Stroud apparently lent Vinnie some money to help him lay down some new oyster beds, and is now looking for a return on his investment. But Vinnie is nowhere to be found. Pearl agrees to help, and in this case it should be easy, as Vinnie is an old friend. When he doesn't respond to her call either, she decides to go out and see if he is on his boat ‘The Native’ which she can see out at sea. And that’s when she finds his dead body, tied to the anchor rope in the water.

The police start to investigate, and it is DCI Mike McGuire from Canterbury who is in charge. Recently transferred from London, for his own personal and rather tragic reasons, he is starting to regret it. But the murder sparks his interest, as does Pearl herself. And then, when Mr Stroud also goes missing and is then found dead - once again, Pearl finds the body - Pearl finds herself in the middle of a mystery. One she is keen to solve herself.

THE WHISTABLE PEARL is a strange mixture of a book, which almost seems to be a murder mystery set in the middle of a tourist brochure for Whitstable. Alongside Pearl, her family and DCI McGuire’s search for the murderer, lie abundant descriptions of Whitstable, the people and the culture, with a bit of oyster politics thrown in for good measure. Pearl is a thwarted police detective and keen to help McGuire help solve his case, with her helpful local knowledge and personal connection an asset. And McGuire develops into an inevitable love interest. Having had a glorious holiday in Seasalter myself, and enjoyed the Whitstable oysters, I appreciated the setting. Pearl is a likeable if somewhat clichéd character, and the story is well paced, with some twists and turns along the way. I suppose I would have liked a bit less of the tourist brochure though, and a bit more character development. At one point Pearl tells McGuire ‘Clues to a crime are like ingredients for a meal, don’t you think? Put them together in the right way, and the result can be very satisfying’. An apt comment! I wouldn’t give this book a Michelin star, but it was a satisfying outing.

Michelle Peckham, February 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: Picture of Innocence by Bill Kitson

Picture of Innocence by Bill Kitson, November 2017, 196 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN: 1979492905

Reviewed by Terry Halligan.
(Read more of Terry's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

While visiting Madrid on a stag weekend, DI Mike Nash foils an attack on a young Spanish landscape painter. He returns home, puzzled by the fact there seems to be no motive behind the assault – unless it is connected to the recent murder of the girl’s father. After surviving two further attempts on her life the artist flees to England where she seeks shelter with Nash. As he attempts to uncover the truth behind the attacks and her mysterious past, Nash confronts a web of evil that is more potent now than in previous years – and as he unravels the mystery he is faced with a crime more sinister and horrible than he has ever encountered before.

Mike and his son Daniel get very close to the Spanish girl and bring her to stay at their isolated home in the North Yorkshire moors but unknown to them evil forces have them under surveillance and Mike and his son and the girl have several exciting adventures before the dramatic conclusion.

This book appears to be relatively short but don’t be deceived as Bill Kitson can pack more into a few pages than lesser writers can do in a few hundred.

As in previous books of his that I have reviewed namely DEPTH OF DESPAIR (2009), BACK-SLASH (2011), IDENTITY CRISIS (2012) and BURIED IN THE PAST (2014), once you start a Bill Kitson book they are extremely difficult to put down and I had great difficulty in closing this one also, until I reached the very exciting conclusion.

The author has published eight previous stories in the DI Mike Nash series but I understand he also writes historical fiction and lighter stories set in Greece under the pen-name 'William Gordon'. He has also many other books to his name, so you know that he brings a lot of experience to his writing. I will certainly look out for them in the future.

If you want to read a book that you should not read on public transport as you will be so absorbed that you will likely miss your stop then buy this one. I understand that he will be publishing another book in the Mike Nash series in the Spring and I look forward to reading it.

Very strongly recommended.

Terry Halligan, February 2017.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Quick Reads 2018

The 2018 Quick Reads have recently been published. These are £1 as a paperback or 99p in e-format.

Quoting from the Reading Agency's website about the Quick Reads scheme:
One in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and may never pick up a book. People's reasons for not reading are varied: some people say they find books intimidating, that they struggle to find the time or that books are difficult or boring.

Quick Reads sets out [ ] to show that books and reading can be for everyone. Each year we commission big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. They are the same as mainstream books in most respects but are simply shorter and easier to tackle for adults who are less confident in their reading skills.

This year's selection includes books from three crime writers: Mark Billingham, Tammy Cohen and Vaseem Khan, and I'm currently reading the latter's Inspector Chopra & the Million-Dollar Motor Car.

Descriptions from the Reading Agency's website.

Cut Off by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown): A punchy, taut urban thriller about that moment we all fear: losing our phone! For Louise, losing hers in a local café takes a sinister turn.

Clean Break by Tammy Cohen (Transworld): A dark and twisty portrait of a marriage coming to its bitter end, from the mistress of domestic noir. Can Kate rid herself of her jealous husband before it's too late?

Inspector Chopra & the Million-Dollar Motor Car by Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton): An enchanting Baby Ganesh Agency novella from the bestselling Khan set in the bustling back-streets of Mumbai. Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick have two days to solve the mystery of a missing - and very costly - car for its gangster owner, or there'll be a heavy price to pay.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Review: The Greek Wall by Nicolas Verdan tr. W Donald Wilson

The Greek Wall by Nicolas Verdan translated by W Donald Wilson, January 2018, 240 pages, Bitter Lemon Press, ISBN: 1908524855

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Prologue: It is moonless and dark. A pink neon sign, “Eros”, marks the brothel where the colonel has chosen to meet him. He parks, wondering if here, as well as meeting the colonel, he might be able to put the ghost of his lover to rest. But it is so dark that he cannot even find the building’s entrance. Blundering around he is tripped by, of all things, a line of washing. He stumbles back up onto his feet as a yard light goes on and he sees a young woman approaching. As she gets closer to him, he notices her blank stare. He also realises that she is hefting an axe upon her shoulder. He shouts out, “No! No!” as the axe falls.

Athens, December 2010: Agent Evangelos stands in front of his favourite jazz bar at two in the morning and wonders just what a severed head looks like. The case is his, according to the phone call, so he must leave Athens for the Thrace border – the Evros delta, the Schengen area. Evangelos had said into the phone: “A dead body? So what? They fish dead bodies out of the Evros all the time. Why us?” But it isn’t exactly a dead body. It’s just the head. And not that of a migrant, It’s a Westerner’s head – in Frontex patrolled border country. The job must go to Athens, to the National Intelligence Service.

Evangelos is tired. He is always tired these days. Three years off retirement but with the national debt crisis … what were the chances for his pension? Now he will be facing meetings, reports, dealing with the Turkish authorities, with Frontex. How do you deal with Frontex? They’re headquartered in Warsaw. Evangelos thinks this severed head bodes no good for him. He will be squeezed into a tight place. Told to keep a lid on it. So he heads not to his own home but to the empty house of his dead parents to rest before the flight to Thrace tomorrow afternoon. As he stretches out on the sofa his phone buzzes. His daughter’s child has been born, a girl. Evangelos is a grandfather.

Evangelos stops off to visit the newborn on the way to the airport. He knows that his old colleague and driver will not say anything about the unofficial stop. But today Evangelos cannot help recalling other drivers, silent ones; other meetings, meetings where he was as good as told to ignore the implications of a wealthy businessman, a powerful political donor with past links to the Communist bloc. Put a lid on it Evangelos. And this morning’s meeting? Go there, identify the dead man and … put a lid on it. The border is a problem. But Greece will be building a wall, a barbed wire fence, and then Europe will shut up about Greece’s “inability” to secure its borders. A nurse interrupts Evangelos and his preoccupations. The baby brings a smile to his face...

Set in 2010, THE GREEK WALL bursts into dramatic action in the marshy Evros river country of Greece’s north-eastern border with Turkey. It’s a landscape already patrolled by the European Union Frontex forces despite migration not yet having reached the crisis point that draws the eyes of the outside world. A gruesome murder outside a squalid brothel is the fuse which lights up a mess of corruption, sex-trafficking and politics. And the politics of money cannot be far away: 2010 is crisis time for Greece’s national debt and its struggle with “the Troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF.

Verdan draws on his own journalistic knowledge in lifting the lid off the corrupted stew-pot of contemporary events as seen through the eyes of both Evangelos, a weary intelligence officer, and Nikos, a German-Greek businessman looking to seal an important business deal. Verdan’s observant, fresh, descriptive powers paint the setting of contemporary Greece and its people vividly. If I have any doubts about the story it is in the detailed exploration of the relationship between Nikos and Christine which seems to distract almost from the direct thread of the plot. But as I have remarked before I am a bit of a hard-boiled girl. The plot definitely contains a strong punch of mystery and suspense and its hints of an ambiguous past for Evangelos also gives strong potential for more stories to come. If you like the flavour of contemporary politics in your crime reading (as I do), you will find at THE GREEK WALL a meeting of Europe and Greece seen through Greek eyes, a vantage point I haven’t come across before in a crime thriller. I’d certainly like to read more.

Swiss-Greek journalist and novelist Nicolas Verdan divides his time between Switzerland and Greece. His novels, of which THE GREEK WALL is the first to be published in English, have received awards in both France and Switzerland.

W. Donald Wilson is a Canadian translator several of whose translations have been published by Bitter Lemon Press.

Lynn Harvey, February 2018

Thursday, February 01, 2018

New Releases - February 2018

Here's a snapshot of what I think is published for the first time in February 2018 (and is usually a UK date but occasionally will be a US or Australian date). January and future months (and years) can be found on the Future Releases page. If I've missed anything do please leave a comment.
• Balen, Noel & Barrot, Vanessa - Minced, Marinated, and Murdered #1 Gourmet Crimes
• Beaton, M C - Death of an Honest Man #34 PC Hamish Macbeth, Lochdubh, Scotland
• Benedictus, Leo - Consent
• Binns, Stewart - Betrayal
• Blaedel, Sara - The Undertaker's Daughter #1 Ilka Nichols Jensen
• Bowen, Rhys - The Tuscan Child
• Bradley, Alan - The Grave's a Fine and Private Place: #9 Eleven year old Flavia de Luce, 1950s England
• Buckley, Fiona - The Reluctant Assassin #16 Ursula Blanchard, an Elizabethan lady
• Callaghan, Helen - Everything Is Lies
• Colize, Paul - Back Up
• Craig, James - This is Where I Say Goodbye #12 Inspector John Carlyle
• Cummins, Fiona - The Collector #2 DS Fitzroy
• Dalbuono, Nadia - The Extremist #4 Detective Leone Scamarcio, Rome
• Dams, Jeanne M - Crisis at the Cathedral #20 Dorothy Martin
• David, Saul - The Prince and the Whitechapel Murders #3 George 'Zulu' Hart
• Elliott, Lexie - The French Girl
• Ellis, Kate - The Mechanical Devil #22 Wesley Peterson (policeman) and Neil Watson (archaeologist), Tradmouth, Devon
• Enger, Thomas - Killed #5 Henning Juul, Reporter, Oslo
• Finch, Charles - The Woman in the Water #1 Charles Lenox (prequel)
• Griffiths, Elly - The Dark Angel #10 Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist and DCI Harry Nelson
• Herron, Mick - London Rules #5 Slough House
• Howard, Catherine Ryan - The Liar's Girl
• Hunter, Maddy - Say No Moor #11 Emily Andrews
• Kelly, Jim - The Great Darkness #1 Nighthawk series, Cambridge, 1939
• Khan, Vaseem - Inspector Chopra and the Million-Dollar Motor Car #1 A Baby Ganesh Agency short story (Quick Reads)
• Lackberg, Camilla - The Girl in the Woods #10 Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Fjallbacka
• Marrs, John - The One
• Masterton, Graham - Dead Men Whistling #9 Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire, Ireland
• Mendoza, Elmer - Name of the Dog #3 Detective Edgar "Lefty" Mendieta
• O'Connor, Carlene - Murder in an Irish Churchyard #3 Siobhan O'Sullivan, Kilbane, County Cork
• Ould, Chris - The Fire Pit #3 Detective Hjalti Hentze and DI Jan Reyna, Faroe Islands
• Quincy, D M - Murder in Bloomsbury
• Saadawi, Ahmed - Frankenstein in Bagdad
• Saylor, Steven - The Throne of Caesar #13 Gordanius the Finder
• Tallis, Frank - Mephisto Waltz #7 Dr Max Liebermann, 1900s Vienna
• Turton, Stuart - The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
• Yokoyama, Hideo - Seventeen
• Young, David - A Darker State #3 Oberleutnant Karin Müller

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Deadly Dance by Hilary Bonner

Deadly Dance by Hilary Bonner, August 2017, 256 pages, Severn House Publishers Ltd, ISBN: 0727887343

Reviewed by Geoff Jones.

(Read more of Geoff's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Bristol, Avon. DI David Vogel is called to the discovery of a young teenage girl's murdered body, found in the red light district. The fourteen-year-old - Melanie Cooke was dressed to appear older and had been reported missing by her mother, who thought she was staying at a friend's home. Vogel who has a daughter of a similar age is keen that they waste no time in catching the murderer. Together with his immediate team - DS John Willis and DC Dawn Saslow they interview the mother Sarah Fisher and her husband, Melanie's step-father, and also Melanie's father who has also remarried. Vogel reports as part of Avon and Somerset Major Crime Investigation team to DCI Reg Hemmings.

Sally Pearson, the friend that Melanie was supposed to be staying with, must know something but is not saying much. Vogel and his team find few clues but eventually two more murders provide some surprising answers. Throughout the investigation we hear from  three separate characters:

Saul - wants to get married but is wary of women and has problems.
Leo - a gay man but reluctant to let friends and work colleagues know his secret. He regularly visits London's gay scene and is particularly attracted to one man.
Al – a paedophile. He takes risks watching children at play.

The author has written several police procedural books and this one is well crafted. I was unsure of the style of Vogel referring to his team by their surnames and his boss also referring to him as Vogel. To me this didn't ring true, however this is a minor criticism. I would definitely recommend this book and will certainly read more from this author, an ex- journalist who lives in Somerset.

Geoff Jones, January 2018