Category Archives: Crime Fiction

The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood

I’ve never seen Death in Paradise, but I am a big fan of murder mystery novels, so I was excited to be review The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood, who originated the BBC series and the detective Richard Poole.

The second in a new series of Richard Poole novels published by MIRA Harlequin, it tracks back in the timeline of the original detective (spoiler for the TV series- Wikipedia tells me he was killed off so the actor could spend more time with his family) in Death in Paradise as he investigates the apparent suicide of world famous supermodel Polly Carter on Saint-Marie. Being a murder mystery, it naturally isn’t too long before foul play is suspected.

Murder mysteries are, by their very nature, pretty formulaic. Even when you’re not reading locked room mysteries, they have a fairly limited cast of characters, nearly all of whom are suspects, and the test of the author’s skill is to play the reader like a fish, throwing out red herrings and characterisation as bait. The problem with The Killing of Polly Carter, for me, was that it didn’t do either of these especially successfully.

It is a proud tradition for the lead detective in murder mystery novels to be quirky but brilliant, but while Richard Poole is quirky in a heavily stereotypical, Englishman-abroad sort of way, I was unconvinced of his brilliance. “Clues” were nodded to heavily, while red herrings, alongside detective insight. were in short supply. This was compounded by an unnecessarily large team of detectives (there was a ratio of about four detectives to seven suspects) swarmed over the novel making limited progress. Throw in an unengaging subplot involving the lead detective’s strained relationship with his parents, couple that with a summary of the murder which was very much at odds with the initial description, and  for me, any sparks of interest were lost.

I think that part of the problem in this respect was that the novel was written almost as a storyline for a TV episode which gave basic stage directions as to the layout of the scenery but which still needed the set designer and wardrobe department to come in and fill in the colour, then the actors to inject their own sense of personality from the limited description which had been provided. The Caribbean setting was certainly a novelty, but for me, the plot didn’t live up to the promise of the setting.

Maybe one to read on a Caribbean holiday, but I prefer my murder mysteries with a few more chills and thrills.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

the silkworm“Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

I realised that despite of my post about the furore around J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym to write The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book in her Cormoran Strike series, I haven’t actually written a review of the book, for which I apologise. I read it on my way home from New York last October and enjoyed it, so I was quite excited that Robert Galbraith’s latest offering was available just in time for my holiday in Malta- after all, there’s nothing like a mysterious and gruesome to distract you from the fact that you’re dangerously high in the air in an aluminium can.

Cormoran Strike finds himself compelled to take on the apparently straightforward case of a pretentious author who has performed a melodramatic vanishing act when his agent and publisher refuse to touch his latest novel, but it quickly becomes clear that the case is more complex than it seems. The publishing world has closed ranks about the libellous manuscript filled with vicious portraits of key figures in the literary establishment, revealing their darkest secrets, so when Strike finds the missing author murdered in exactly the same way as the hero of the author’s manuscript it becomes clear that a very dangerous person is willing to go to any lengths to hide their role in his death.

Rowling is a fantastic writer and if you’re a fan of crime fiction I’ve no doubt that you’d enjoy this book. I get the feeling that she must have had enormous fun writing it, there are several references in the novel to the catharsis that comes with writing and I’d imagine that there’s a lot that she’d like to vent about in terms of literary snobbery, bitter rivals and online critics. Cormoran Strike is a bit of an enigma, there are vast aspects of his character that I get the feeling are going to be drawn out in later novels in the series, though that was a little frustrating when in the “here and now” of the story- the frequent references to his ex for example…I’m assuming that she’s going to play a bigger role in a future novel and that explains why the ghost of her needs to be kept alive for now but at times it felt a little like overkill.

On the whole, I didn’t think that the plotting was as neatly managed as the first manuscript in the series, but I did find it far more enjoyable for the characterisation and sense of mischief that was carried throughout. I hope a third addition to the series is already in the works.

An Instance of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears

an instance of the fingerpost iain pears“God forbid that I should ever suffer the shame of publishing a book for money, or of having one of my family so demean themselves. How can one tell who might read it? No worthy book has ever been written for gain, I think.”

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

Set in 1663, twelve years after the end of the English Civil War, An Instance of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears is a bitingly clever murder mystery set in the streets and colleges of restoration Oxford. Narrated by four narrators, the reader is left to piece together the true course of events from highly unreliable narratives before discovering “the truth” in a final narrative which leaves you, despite your better judgement, unable to question the credibility of the self-proclaimed “objective” narrator.

This is simultaneously the most intelligent and most enjoyable novel that I’ve read in a very long time. It’s clearly been immaculately researched, but at no point do you feel as though you’re having a lecture on life in post-Civil War Oxford. What particularly impressed me was the way that historical characters are seamlessly woven with fictional players (in reality, most of the characters are historical characters, though the events of the novel are fictional) and familiar figures from history like John Locke and Robert Boyle drift in and out of the novel as minor players, their genius and personalities noted as incidentals in the more pressing stories the characters are telling.

I admit, that part of my fondness for this novel was the Oxford setting. The descriptions of areas that are now fairly gentrified within the city centre as filthy, run down hovels was amusing, but I especially enjoyed the description of a religious meeting in a warehouse on the quay at Abingdon (a hotbed of radicalism, apparently). I’m almost certain I know where the building the author describes must be.

If you’ve ever spent any significant time in Oxford, or are planning a little sightseeing, this is a wonderful read and one which will truly stand the test of time.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

BeforeIGoToSleepI bought Before I Go To Sleep on the recommendation of friend who read it for our workplace reading group. I haven’t joined the reading group (I go to the knitting/crochet/sewing group and prefer to select my books according to my mood) but I’ve had some good recommendations from them and this has to be the best so far.

If you one of the few people left in the world who hasn’t read this book do. Christine wakes up in a strange man’s bed and thinks she must have had a drunken one night stand. Mortified, she goes to the bathroom and sees a stranger’s face staring back at her. Christine learns that she has a very specific form of amnesia following an accident. Whenever she falls asleep, her memory resets itself. But if she can’t remember the people she loves, how can she know who to trust?

This brilliantly written book is a must for anyone who enjoys a thriller. The author’s debut novel it won The Crime Writer’s Association for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. Apparently a film is in the works with such names as Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff but I really recommend you read the book first. You will not be disappointed- I was squeaking in horror and anxiety at times.

Lucky Bunny- Jill Dawson

Lucky Bunny follows Queenie Dove from her birth in 1933 to her beautiful, neglectful mother Moll and chancer father “Lucky Boy Tommy” in 1933, through a life smeared with crime, passion and fear. Something of a modern buildungsroman, Queenie is a criminal Jane Eyre, though instead of witnessing her growth as a good Christian, we see refine her criminal craft and expertise in trickery Queenie through evacuation, borstal and prison. Formidably intelligent, hopelessly naive and touchingly brave she struggles for the better things in life.

Once again Jill Dawson’s characterisation is excellent, proving that the authentic voices in The Great Lover were no fluke. The spectrum of characters are colourful, yet credible and so recognisable you can feel an ache in your bones- I felt genuine pain for Queenie’s downtrodden Nan. Dawson is so in character as she writes you wonder whether she hasn’t trained as an actress, the only other explanation for such apparent ease in assuming a role being that she draws on past lives, which makes the dialogue authentic and pacey, though the characters names are slightly clichéd- why is it violent Italian lovers are often called Tony and tarts with hearts are almost exclusively Stellas?

Despite the characters names, the story is original. Why is it that in crime novels set during this period women are often the Molls and the Mamas of the piece? Inspired by the Green Bottles, a glamorous group of shoplifters who help raise her,  Queenie challenges this role using her brains to take herself from small time shop lifter to big time heister; though as the spoils grow bigger the risks grow higher, as we are reminded with a reference to the true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK.

I really enjoyed this book, the narrative voice was refreshing, Dawson has brought a gritty period of British history alive with sex appeal, glamour and flair. After the dazzling and original build up, I found the ending of this book a little trite, though I can appreciate that others might find it exciting and daring- a risk you take when rooting your novel so firmly and vibrantly in historical events.

I was very kindly sent a review copy of this novel, but should you wish to read it the book will be published in August 2011 and is currently available for pre-order. For more on Jill Dawson’s writing and her work with Gold Dust, the mentoring scheme for writers visit here.