TV Review – Vera

Okay I am late to the party on this one. The series “Vera” is on season 11.  Yes – 11! And I only started watching it this year.

IMDB has this to say about the series: “With her caustic wit and singular charm, DCI Vera Stanhope leads her team as they face a series of captivating murder mysteries set against the breathtaking Northumberland landscape.”

They aren’t wrong. I love the way that Vera relates to her colleagues, she works particularly closely with her sergeant, which is interesting. I’m not always comfortable with the way she talks to DC Kenny Lockhart. Sometimes it seems overly harsh, but I have no idea what the set up in on this as I’ve only been watching the recent series, so there could be history that I don’t know about. Brenda Blethyn is a tour de force as DCI Vera Stanhope. She’s just brilliant. Her hat and that raincoat seem to have a life of their own.

As I’ve been to Newcastle a few times, I really enjoy seeing landscapes that I recognise. It’s really funny when you know where places are and they don’t take the time to get between that the show shows. The episode I watched last night took place in what I think was Kielder Water and probably Kielder Forest. It was really beautiful.

“Vera” is based on the books written by Ann Cleeves, which in all honestly, I’ve never read. So I can’t have an opinion as to which works better, the series or the book. But I can tell you I thoroughly enjoy the show.

Book Review – Lost River by Stephen Booth

Blurb

A May Bank Holiday in the Peak District is ruined by the tragic drowning of an eight-year-old girl in picturesque Dovedale. For Detective Constable Ben Cooper, a helpless witness to the tragedy, the incident is not only traumatic, but leads him to become involved in the tangled lives of the Neilds, the dead girl’s family.

As he gets to know them, Cooper begins to suspect that one of them is harbouring a secret – a secret that the whole family might be willing to cover up.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Diane Fry has a journey of her own to make – a journey back to her roots. As she finds herself drawn into an investigation of her own among the inner-city streets of Birmingham, Fry realises there is only one person she can rely on to provide the help she needs.

But that man is Ben Cooper, and he’s back in Derbyshire, where his suspicions are leading him towards a shocking discovery on the banks of another Peak District river.

My Review

The landscape acts like a new character in this book. Two new characters, in fact, the Dales and Birmingham. Loved the evocative nature of the landscapes described here, both the natural beauty of the rugged world and the concrete jungle of the city.

This book is all about family. The one we grow up in, the ones we see, the ones we belong to whether we want to or not, and the ones we choose. It also shows that no matter what we think, we never know what really goes on behind closed doors, or want damage is wrought, or what price any of us will have to pay for those things.

Though Fry and Cooper are apart for most of this novel, they distinctly grow together, the importance of the relationship to each growing clearer.

Of all the Fry and Cooper novels I’ve read, this more than the others has drawn me into caring what is going to happen to the characters.

On My Shelves: Where Death Lies by Linsay Ashford

Blurb

A body is dragged from the water. It holds a deadly secret. Touch it and you might be next to die…

The small community of Borth is rocked by the discovery of a mutilated corpse in the treacherous wilderness bordering the sea.

The identity of the gruesome remains is a mystery but within days there is a second death to investigate. Then a third.

The police are baffled by the disparity in age, sex and manner of death of the victims. Psychological profiler Megan Rhys is supposed to be on holiday but as she is drawn into the murder inquiry her forensic skills are tested to the limit by a ruthless killer who will guard the secrets of the past no matter what the cost.

Reivew

Megan Rhys is staying with her sister in Borth when a murder crops and she gets called in to help the investigation. To be honest, can’t really rationalise that one. Her mate Jonathan getting the call kind of makes sense, but there again, wouldn’t have been much of a series inclusion if Megan hadn’t been there.

It was an interesting plot, with an appropriate number of red herrings, but some inappropriate forensics. Still, it kept me reading, and while I thought I knew who the murderer was reasonably early, there were enough twists for me not to be certain until the last few pages (I was right, but unsure, which is a good thing).

I read this years ago now, probably one of the first crime novels and I read that was set in Wales. It’s not the first in the Megan Rhys Crime Mystery Novels, but I didn’t suffer in the read for not having read the previous ones.

On My Shelves: Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride

Blurb

Taken from the Amazon Listing:

Winter in Aberdeen: murder, mayhem and terrible weather…

It s DS Logan McRae s first day back on the job after a year off on the sick, and it couldn t get much worse. Three-year-old David Reid s body is discovered in a ditch, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. And he s only the first. There s a serial killer stalking the Granite City and the local media are baying for blood.

Soon the dead are piling up in the morgue almost as fast as the snow on the streets, and Logan knows time is running out. More children are going missing. More are going to die. And if Logan isn t careful, he could end up joining them…

My Reveiw

The first of Stuart MacBride’s that I’ve tried and I really enjoyed it.

Logan is a typical damaged hero, rubbish love life, drinks a bit and doesn’t have a great relationship with all of his superior officers. This volume deals with the murder and mutilations of a number of young children (under-fives), and as such there were sections I found particularly hard to get through, but it was well worth the effort.

Logan and the team are vividly and realistically drawn, though there is still one question that came up at the start of the book I don’t think was entirely answered by the end, but Jackie doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

A great start to a series and I’ll be reading more.

Interview with Victoria Selman about new release “Truly Darkly Deeply”

I was fortunate to have met with Victoria thanks to an interview at CrimeTime FM about the Gwyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, and again at CrimeFest this year. I’m very pleased to bring you an interview with Victoria about her latest release.


Blurb

Twelve-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.

When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murders, questions remain as to his guilt – questions that ultimately destroy both women. Nearly 20 years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free – or bury her deeper?

©2022 Victoria Selman (P)2022 Quercus Editions Limited

Interview

Clearly “Truly Darkly Deeply” is a dark and psychological thriller that is going to take the reader through some intense emotions. And there’s a sense of uncertainty throughout the book as to what really happened. What took you to the place from which this story developed?

Those familiar with my work, will know all about my fascination with true crime and the criminal psyche- though what intrigues me just as much as the mentality of evil is how serialists are able to dupe those close to them. That it’s possible to share your life with one without ever suspecting it.

So, it’s fair to say I’m more than a little bit obsessed with serial killers! However, I was keen to approach what can feel like a well-worn genre from a fresh perspective.

Much has been written from the viewpoint of the serial killer’s wife, but it struck me that very little has been penned from the viewpoint of a child. I wanted to explore that relationship and its legacy whilst also as looking at what it means to be a monster – and to love one.

The book is told in dual timelines, the stories unfolding in parallel, what did you do to ensure it was clear to both yourself and the readers which timeline they are in at any one point?  Were there any tools you used to take you to the right timeframe, e.g. music or imagery?

Music, fashion references and nods to current events were all ways of signposting to the reader when we were in the past.

I grew up in the 80’s and so one of the highlights of writing Truly Darkly Deeply was tapping into my childhood memories and bringing them back to life on the page. Like Sophie, I listened to Madonna (who didn’t back then?!) made a Royal Wedding scrapbook and still remember vividly coming home from school to be told we were at war with Argentina.

The book remains in the first person throughout, so the reader can only know what Sophie knows.  While first person is one of the most intimate ways to write, drawing the reading up close and personal, for many writers it’s also one of the hardest stand points to do well. Why did you feel that this story was best told in this way, and were there stumbling blocks were you desperately wanted to show something Sophie couldn’t know?

The first person is actually the viewpoint I’m most comfortable with since it enables you to literally step inside your character’s skin. In this instance, it was the natural choice because of the personal nature of the narrative- particularly its reflective tone and retrospective elements. The fun part was allowing the reader glimpses of what ‘child’ Sophie couldn’t possibly know but what ‘adult’ Sophie had come to suspect!  

Given the levels of uncertainty that are examined in the book, do you know the truth about Matty’s guilty or innocence?  (Yes or No is a sufficient answer if you want it to be.)

We do find out in the end, yes! I couldn’t leave that question unanswered!!

Without spoilers, because we don’t want to harm a good read, what is the overriding message or emotion that you want your readers to take away from the read? What do you think they’ll be thinking about in the years after they’ve read Truly Darkly Deeply?

There are two sides to Truly, Darkly, Deeply: a coming of age narrative and a serial killer thriller. A tale of the triumph of hope over despair; of losing everything only to find what you really need is inside you all along.

You are a busy mum of two, you work on the Crime Time FM podcast, and now your second novel is out.  What’s next for you?

Writing is both my career and my passion so I’ll be writing until I’m told, ‘No more, thank you!’ As well as writing though, I’m also very much involved in building up Crime Time FM with my co-hosts, Paul Burke and Barry Forshaw and by the time Truly, Darkly, Deeply comes out, I’ll have just MC’d the Daggers and be getting ready for my book tour.

If there is anything else you want to highlight or let the readers know, feel free to add it here.

I have a newsletter in which I offer sneak previews of upcoming titles, run giveaways and give an insight into my life as an author. If you’re interested, you can sign up here: http://www.victoriaselmanauthor.com/

You can also follow me on Twitter @VictoriaSelman

To purchase the book, here’s the link “Truly Darkly Deeply”

Victoria Selman Biography

Victoria Selman is the author of the critically acclaimed Ziba MacKenzie series. Her debut novel, Blood for Blood, was shortlisted for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger and an Amazon Charts #1 bestseller for five weeks, selling over half a million copies.

Victoria has written for the Independent, co-hosts Crime Time FM with critics, Barry Forshaw and Paul Burke, compiles the Afraid of the Light charity anthology series and was shortlisted for the 2021 CWA Short Story Dagger.

Her first standalone thriller, Truly, Darkly, Deeply, is being published as Quercus’ flagship crime thriller title on July 7th 2022 and has been receiving praise from household names such as Patricia Cornwell, S.J. Watson and Alex Michaelides.

On My Shelves – Choke Hold by Christa Faust

Blurb

Angel Dare went into Witness Protection to escape her past – not as a porn star, but as a killer who took down the sex slavery ring that destroyed her life. But sometimes the past won’t stay buried. When a former co-star is gunned down, it’s up to Angel to get his son, a hotheaded MMA fighter, safely through the Arizona desert, shady Mexican bordertowns, and the neon mirage of Las Vegas…

My Review

Angle Dare is a woman with a past she had no choice but to run from (see Money Shot for details). Then an ex, Thich Vic, turns up and turns her life upside down. His son, Cody, isn’t much better.

“Choke Hold”, caught me on the first scene. This book is fast-paced and populated with colourful characters who could hold of my attention immediately and kept it. There are twists and turns that keep the characters on their toes and the reader turning pages.

Very evocative prose, good dialogue and clear characterisation of some twisted individuals who remain believable, characters not caricatures.

I enjoyed that these people were flaws, and ex-porn star, a wanna be cage fighter and a punch drunk, brain damaged ex-fighter. The fact that they are running from crooks who want to kill them and not always for the reason you think, makes for some interesting twists and turns. The end came a bit quickly and thankfully wasn’t one of those annoying ‘happy ever afters’ that often feel contrived, yet there remained something a little unsatisfying about the end all the same.

I like to try different types of crime fiction every now and then, and this one was way outside my usual read zone. I really enjoyed it. I don’t tend to go for American fiction, nor for real noir, which this is, definitely in the vein of older classics like Chandler et al. Worth a read.

Book Review – Dexter and Sinister Detecting Agents by Keith W Dickenson

BLURB

John Sinister is not having a good week.

Hired to look into some shady goings on at the airship factory, his investigation has barely begun before people start dying. Soon he’s on the wrong side of some fairly unpleasant people, and that’s before he meets Dexter, the world’s only walking, talking, mechanical cat. That’s when things get complicated.

With secret societies, arrogant aristocrats, and criminal chocolatiers to contend with, John and Dexter will have to keep their wits about them if they’re going to come out of this alive. And if John happens to fall in love with his employer’s daughter along the way, well nobody said catching a killer was going to be easy now did they?

Review

This book is a little different from the books I usually review here. It is a crime story, but it’s also a steampunk / urban fantasy story. It has airships, a whirlygig, mechanical horses that blow up, and a steam-driven self-regulating automaton running an experimental analytical engine, that just happens to be in the shape of a cat.

John Sinister is the scholarship boy who’s not doing so well. Then his one real friend from school, the wealthy Henry Chard, turns up and tells him that there’s ‘trouble at mill.’ In this case, the trouble is at Chard Mechanical, just about the largest engineering firm in the Empire, and seems to be a threat to the business. The next day, Henry is dead, and John is thrust into a world of intrigues he hadn’t expected.

Henry’s father is Donald Chard, an industrialist famed across the Britannic Empire, wealthy, powerful, and a touch strange. Paid by Donald, John starts investigating Henry’s death. With the assistance of a letter of authority from Donald Chard, and the reluctant assistance of the police, notably Detective Hardigan. Only to have the rug pulled from under his feet by Donald’s death. Then Dexter asks him to investigate, claiming John should finish the job he’s already been paid for. And so, together, that’s what they do.

Between the covers of this book, the reader finds the strange inventions of Nomko; the memory and repercussions of John beating the Chess Club (seven games in one); Strange goings on at Caesar’s Coffee and Chocolate club; Agnes Goodenough—who is way more than good enough; and the various other characters who are all well drawn for their purpose on the page.

It’s a romp. It’s an investigation. It’s life and death, loyalty and betrayal. But mostly, it’s the story of a man who doesn’t quite fit getting used to a talking mechanical cat.

Dexter, the cat, has almost all the best lines. Not to mention typical cat superiority and sarcasm.

I loved this book and would highly recommend if you’re looking for something a bit different. There is a second in the series, and I will be reading it sometime.

Book Review – The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

The Blurb

Just one spreadsheet away from chaos…

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

Warmly funny, rich with quirky characters and absurd situations, The Rabbit Factor is a triumph of a dark thriller, its tension matched only by its ability to make us rejoice in the beauty and random nature of life.

My Review

I picked this book up because I was in CrimeFest and I’d attended one panel with Antti Tuomainen. As soon as he mentioned beating someone to death with a giant rabbit ear, I thought “that book’s for me!” And I was right.

I loved this book from start to finish – Finnish even. No? Oh, okay then.

The very first scene is the beating a man to death with a rabbit ear, but you have no idea why. And then the why unfolds. Or maybe it unravels, because that is certainly the way Henri’s life feels, an unravelling.

I have a great deal of respect for Henri. He’s an actuary, he calculates everything. I love maths, and many years ago was accepted onto an actuarial degree course, then life happened, and I couldn’t go. But Henri did and he is very good at it. Also, Henri can’t stand touchy-feely emotionally connective management speak. Totally with you there Henri.

And he had a haughty cat, what cat owner doesn’t? This one is Schopenhauer. I love Schopenhauer. I just kind of wanted Schopenhauer to have had a more active role, but there again, cat, it’ll do what it wants.

Anyway, Henri loses his job, a job he loved – other than the management twaddle – and then he loses his brother. Who leaves him an adventure park. Note that it is an adventure park, not an amusement park, Henri is most particular about that. Then things really change for Henri.

As a fish out of water story, this one is a doozy. As the tale of an innocent caught up in a criminal world, it’s a cracker. It even works as a character sketch of a cat and a pessimist (the philosopher, not the cat, though, who knows…). There’s even a bit of a love story for the softer of heart, but not so much the harder of heart will sneer and put it aside. In other words the funny, the criminal, the ouch and the ahhs are all in perfect balance.

There were a couple of phrases that jumped out when I was reading as lost in translation, but that might be just me not getting it.

This book is just wonderful, and it should be read. Highly recommend.

On My Shelves – The Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre

Blurb

A robbery in Scotland might not seem like an unusual background for a crime novel-until it’s put into the hands of one of the U.K.’s leading satirists, Christopher Brookmyre. Now available for the first time in the U.S., The Sacred Art of Stealing is narrative catnip for fans of crime fiction laced with dark humour.

This is how the story goes: Their eyes met across a crowded room. She was just a poor servant girl and he was the son of a rich industrialist … Well, the eyes meeting across a crowded room part is true. Where it differs from the fairy tales is that the room in question was crowded with hostages and armed bank-robbers, and Zal Innez’s eyes were the only part of him that Angelique de Xavia could see behind his mask. Angelique had enough to be fed up about before the embarrassment of being a cop taken hostage by the most bizarrely unorthodox crooks ever to set foot in Glasgow. Disillusioned, disaffected and chronically single, she’s starting to take stock of the sacrifices she’s made for a job that’s given her back nothing but grief. So when her erstwhile captor has the chutzpah to phone her at work and ask her out on a date, Angelique finds herself in no great hurry to turn him in. She knows now that the cops will never love her back, but maybe one of the robbers will.

The above is the current blurb from Amazon. However, here’s the blurb from the back of the book from my shelves, the blurb that had me buying the book.

Let us prey…

The press tend to talk about back robberies as being daring, ingenious and audacious. They don’t describe many as Dadaist, even the ones who know what ‘Dadaist’ means. But how else does one explain choreographed dancing gunmen in Buchanan Street, or the surreal methods they use to stay one step ahead of the cops?

Angelique de Xavia is no art critic, but she is a connoisseur of crooks, and she’s sure that the heist she got caught up in wasn’t the work of the usual awn-off-and-black-tights practitioners. She knows she’s dealing with a unique species of thief, and it’s her job to hunt him to extinction – though the fact that is not just his MO that’s cute might prove a distraction.

My Thoughts

This was the first Christopher Brookmyre I ever read, and I loved it!

The robbery is daring, ingenious and audacious. I might even agree it was Dadaist if I understood what Dadaist was. What I do know is that it’s very funny, incredibly well written and not at all what I was expecting.

That robbery is the book’s inciting incident and from there it honestly just gets better. It definitely goes places that as a reader I started wondering ‘how on earth is all this going to tie together?’ But it does. And quite beautifully too.

This was one of the first crime novels I ever read that actually made me laugh for all the right reasons – I’d laughed at a few because they were that bad, but this book is meant to be mirthful and it is.

I highly recommend this book and many of his others. After this instalment, I went back and read Brookmyre’s earlier work, and became quite a devotee, turning to buying the hardbacks because I couldn’t wait for the books to come out, I read it all. Right up to Pandeamonium. Which I hated. I couldn’t even finish it, and I haven’t read anything he’s written since. If you like Pandeamonium and beyond, then fair enough, but I’ve not been able to get back into his work since.

However, I really would highly recommend The Sacred Art of Stealing and indeed all Brookmyre’s earlier works.

On My Shelves – High Citadel by Desmond Bagley

On My Shelves is a new thread I’m adding to this blog, where I’m going to work my way through my older books and share some love for the stories that have been out there for a while.

Blurb

When Tim O’Hara’s plane is hijacked and forced to crash land in the middle of the Andes, his troubles are only beginning. A heavily armed group of communist soldiers intent on killing one of his passengers – an influential political figure – have orders to leave no survivors. Isolated in the biting cold of the Andes, O’Hara’s party must fight for their lives with only the most primitive weapons…

Review

I first read this when I was 17 or 18, I borrowed it from a library, Kent Library Service. Not my local library, which was in the same area, but one from the next town over.  I enjoyed it so much I borrowed it several times, causing my sister to ask it all the books from that library were covered in the same way. In other words, I loved this book.

The copy I now own is old (a full paperback priced at £1.25) it’s falling apart, the last page has totally detached from the rest of the book – I still have it though. Just checked, this edition (which has the cover showed above) was printed in 1981.

It is still however, a very readable and enjoyable book.  What’s really nice about it, though the technology has moved on massively since the book was first written, the situation that the characters are put in wouldn’t be any different today.  Well not unless one of them had a Breitling Emergency watch (look it up, it’s got PLB).

The situation really shows the personalities of each of the characters in very different ways, and though it is a far from ideal situation, they are all under a huge amount of stress, they have to work together as a team if any of them are to get off the mountain alive.

Now I admit that I may well be bias by my early impressions of this book, but this was a great read, so well worth giving a shot if you’re into old style action and adventure.