Review: Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

9781781258965 (1).jpgTense, powerful and considerably less crass than its contemporaries, Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird is a deftly plotted whodunit that examines contemporary black life in rural America. It begins with a double homicide in the small town of Lark, off Highway 59: the first victim, a black man from Chicago; the second, a local white woman. Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger on the drink of losing his job because of his involvement in a race-related murder in another part of the state, is drawn into the investigation, which unravels with devastating consequences for all involved: this is, after all, a place in America where a black man asking hard questions to the wrong kind of people guarantees blowback.

Bluebird, Bluebird is a mystery that works because of the strengths of its characters, both its protagonist and its substantial supporting cast, which includes the requisite hostile sheriff, the white supremacist husband of the dead woman, and the dead lawyer’s angry widow, who has her own suspicions about what her husband was doing in the town. Ranger Matthews is both endearing and infuriating: dedicated to the badge and his mission, but unable to hold his family life together, and finds himself reaching for the bottle as a substitute.

The mystery unfolds rapidly, racial tensions intensifying as Matthews gets closer to the truth. This is an unfettered snapshot of rural America, a place where blood runs deep and nothing is more important than family. Locke’s uncanny gift is her ability to humanise the killers and monsters that populate her novel, which adds a special kind of repulsiveness and authenticity.This is a wonderfully taut whodunit, complicated by race and familial history. Readers will delight in the knowledge that Bluebird, Bluebird is the start of a series set along Highway 59. With its stirring ending, they’ll be on tenterhooks until the sequel arrives. I certainly am.

ISBN: 9781781258965
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

9781760630782Michael Connelly’s last Harry Bosch novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, was another in a long line of masterful police procedurals. Make no mistake: Connelly’s work is the standard to which all crime fiction should be held. It would be easy for the author, with his 30th book, to rest on his laurels: another Bosch novel; maybe another Lincoln Lawyer legal thriller. Instead, he’s gone and created a brilliant new protagonist, LAPD detective Renée Ballard, who has worked the night shift ever since her failed sexual harassment claim against Lt. Robert Olivas, her supervisor at the Robbery Homicide Division. And while there are plenty of similarities between Ballard and Bosch — a thirst for justice, and penchant for going rogue, to name just a couple — Renée’s no female carbon copy of the now-retired Harry. She’s fresh and distinct, inhabiting the same world of torment, fear and danger as Bosch, but providing a very different perspective. Please, Mr. Connelly, sir: don’t let The Late Show be Ballard’s first and last appearance.

Ballard works the night shift at the LAPD’s Hollywood Division alongside her partner, Jenkins, accustomed to initiating investigations, but finishing none, as each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives. When she catches two cases on the same night, she can’t part with either. One is the brutal beating of a prostitute; the other is the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting.  Despite orders from her superiors and her partner to back off, leave it alone, and let the assigned day shift detectives handle both cases, Ballard launches dual unsanctioned investigations, both of which could lead to her losing her badge, or even worse, her life.

The landscape and themes Connelly explores in The Late Show will be familiar to readers who’ve followed Harry Bosch’s exploits since the beginning, but there’s something refreshing about this young, driven detective’s perspective. When we met Harry in The Black Echo, he was already a seasoned detective with a ton of baggage; it’s very cool to see Connelly try his hand at a less experienced, but no less determined investigator. Long-time readers will also notice characters (or their  kin) from previous novels popping up, either as key players or just in the background. It’s easy to forget, we’ve been reading about Harry Bosch since 1992, more than 20 years, and the world’s continuity remains remarkably intact.

As is his hallmark, Michael Connelly wonderfully combines a mass of procedural detail, a speeding, Byzantine plot, and a flawed hero. The Late Show engages from the first page and never lets go, and Renée Ballard is a character I want to be reunited with as soon as possible. Smartly put together, expertly paced and unpredictable. Just great stuff. To use an oft-repeated word when reviewing Connelly’s work: masterful.

ISBN: 9781760630782
ISBN-10: 1760630780
Number Of Pages: 320
Available: 12th July 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU

Review: Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

9781781256923.jpgIf the previous Sean Duffy novels earned Adrian McKinty the right to belly up to the bar alongside Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and the other contemporary crime writing greats, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly guarantees his place at the table forevermore. This is a sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thriller, which rips along at a cracking pace, and packs more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast. Not to mention the heart-stopping climax…

Belfast 1988: a drug dealer is found murdered in front of his house, killed with a bolt from a crossbow. Sean Duffy, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is called to investigate. Now a family man – girlfriend and baby daughter living at home – Duffy is initially grateful to be working a homicide; something a tad spicier than his recent fare. But solving this case leads Duffy to a confrontation with the dangerous villains he’s ever faced; the kind who won’t just be satisfied ending his life, but those he cares for most deeply. Duffy remains a superbly drawn character, sardonic yet assured, and now struggling to cope with his new responsibilities as a father. 

McKinty writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers, and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is his most refined novel yet. Some authors make you laugh; others make you gasp. McKinty can do both, usually in the space of a couple of paragraphs. His latest is multifaceted, layered, and intense – the kind of novel you’ll blow through in one sitting.

In the past, when interrogated on my favourite crime writers by friends, family, and indeed customers at Pages & Pages, I’ve always said McKinty is up there with the best writers in the business. With Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly he has set down a potentially unsurpassable marker.

Check out Jon Page’s Review!

My thanks to Seventh Street Books for providing a digital proof copy for review.

ISBN: 9781781256923
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Wrong Side of Goodbye Michael Connelly.jpgHarry Bosch’s journey with the LAPD came to a fittingly acrimonious ending in the final pages of The Burning Room a couple of years back. But while his departure made sense from a character perspective, I had my concerns for the future of Michael Connelly’s long-running series. We’ve seen Harry leave the LAPD before (which produced one of my favourites Bosch novels, Lost Light) but the blue religion and department politics play such a key role in Connelly’s work. How could Bosch possibly endure?

We got a partial answer with last year’s The Crossing; a rollicking team-up with the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. It set up the obvious question: who is Harry Bosch without the badge? And how can he carry on his mission without it? Because working for Haller wasn’t sustainable; not in the long-term. The Wrong Side of Goodbye provides all the answers we need, and sets the series up for the foreseeable future. Bosch’s LAPD years are over, but the character’s best years might still be ahead of him.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye follows two distinct investigations, which unravel around each other but never intersect. One involves mega-wealthy industrialist Whitney Vance, who hires Bosch as a private investigator to locate a potential heir. His other case involves a serial-rapist dubbed the Screen Cutter, which Bosch is working as a part-time reservist for the San Fernando Police Department. Although it’s an unpaid position, it allows Harry the chance to once again wield a badge and carry on his mission, which is all the payment he needs.

The novel delves into Bosch’s Vietnam years, and his early years in an LAPD uniform. While Connelly has touched on these background details in the past, it’s never been to this extent, and he leaves a ton left over to excavate in future instalments. I always wondered whether Connelly might produce a novel set in the Vietnam or just after, focused entirely on Bosch’s war years or his early years with the LAPD; The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a far more nuanced approach, and I hope we see more information drip-fed to us in future books.

Michael Connelly’s latest is another masterpiece of crime fiction. Some authors get to a point where you run out of superlatives for their fiction; Mr Connelly reached that point long ago. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is the standard to which police procedurals should be held. No doubt the author will raise the bar even higher with his next release.

ISBN: 9781760293833
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Nov-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward

9780571321032.jpgSarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw has the perfect elevator pitch:

In 2004 Lena Fisher was arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew. A decade later, a year after her release from prison, Andrew is found murdered in a disused mortuary.

You’re intrigued, right? Piqued, even, because you’ve got a few months to wait for its release. Which is precisely how I felt, reading the blurb, having dug A Deadly Thaw out from our shared reading copy pile at Pages & Pages. I wasn’t looking for a new book to read. I was just killing time, waiting to close up shop. But there was no way I could let it back into the wild after that tease. No way. So I dropped what I was reading, and on my way home from work, began reading Sarah Ward’s second novel. And kept reading, non-stop, until the mystery unravelled. When I was done, still a little breathless, one thing was clear: I’ve discovered a new master of the police procedural. And I urgently need to track down her first book.

Set in Bampton, Derbyshire, I am tempted to describe A Deadly Thaw as Midsomer Murders with a harder edge. Which, depending on your opinion of the show, will either be greatly enticing, or a complete turn-off. So, perhaps a more literary reference would be appropriate; A Deadly Thaw reminded me of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, specifically when Siobhan Clarke began playing a vital role in investigations, and had entire chapters dedicated to her inquiries, and her personal life, too.

Ward’s novel has a large cast – both police officers, and civilians – but never risks drowning in them. The novel remains firmly on track, building momentum, thanks to the twists and turns and red-herrings thrust at the reader with expert aplomb. It begins when Andrew’s body is discovered in the disused mortuary, and ends when the case wraps up; no rambling prologues or epilogues. It’s a police procedural, with characterisation intermingled with the investigation. Too often, such novels donate chapters to casework, then halt that momentum for a chapter on a detective’s personal life, or deep reflection. In A Deadly Thaw, Sarah Ward layers her characters with substance, but never at the cost of narrative impetus.

The location – Derbyshire – is refreshing, too – away from the familiar urban landscape of London or Manchester. The novel has a small-town feel without coming across as overly quaint, and Ward showcases the benefits and negatives of policing a close-knit community.

With A Deadly Thaw, Sarah Ward has stepped forward as a writer of commanding gifts, and poised to mark her name on the genre. Jump on the bandwagon early!

Category: Crime & Mystery
ISBN: 9780571321032
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Fiction
Pub Date: October 2016
Page Extent: 384
Format: Paperback – C format
Subject: Crime & mystery