Review: Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell

Seven novels deep into my Kay Scarpetta reading marathon I’m starting to feel like a broken record, because so much of what I feel works and does not work in “Cause of Death” has been enumerated previously.

This is my favourite kind of crime novel, which begins with one dead body, and explodes into something far more spectacular and far-reaching. The corpse is investigative reporter Ted Eddings, who died — or was killed — during an unauthorised dive in an inactive Naval shipyard. The opening pages are some of Cornwell’s most atmospheric, as Chief Medical Examiner Scarpetta dons a wetsuit, and dives into pitch-black waters alongside a Navy SEAL rescue squad to examine the body. 

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Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

As far as I’m concerned, there is no better writer of murder mysteries than Anthony Horowitz right now. He is in the form of his life, and the third novel in his Daniel Hawthorne series further ratifies that belief. “A Line to Kill” is an exceptional whodunnit, meticulously plotted, laden with red herrings and disguises, and populated with an eclectic cast of suspects and victims. It’s everything the armchair sleuth could possibly want. 

Once again narrated by a fictionalised Horowitz (who writes about Hawthorne’s murder investigations), “A Line to Kill” is set at a literary festival on the English island of Alderney. Horowitz and Hawthorne are just one of the festival’s highlights: other guests include a blind psychic, a French performance poet, a war historian, and a chef who specialises in (exceedingly) unhealthy meals. 

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Review: The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

With John Boyne, you never know what you’re going to get, which is exciting as a reader, given so many authors write to a particular theme or genre. It means some of his books hit, and some of them miss, but I’ll always pick up his latest, because at the very least it’s going to be interesting, or possibly a masterpiece. 

“The Echo Chamber” is unlike any other Boyne novel I’ve read, clearly inspired by the backlash he received during the publication of “My Brother’s Name is Jessica.” It is a blatant satire of our social media age, which follows a wealthy British family through a turbulent week, as their life of luxury disintegrates through a series of ill-informed decisions. 

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Review: From Potter’s Field by Patricia Cornwell

And so, with “From Potter’s Field,” the cat-and-mouse game between Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta and serial killer Temple Gault comes to a head. 

Gault debuted in “Cruel and Unusual,” and was a shadowy presence in “The Body Farm.” He is the first true nemesis Scarpetta — and her legion of readers — have encountered. 

He is, of course, dastardly ingenious. 

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Review: Dream Girl by Laura Lippman

At the start of this gripping standalone psychological thriller from Laura Lippman — who’s been on a real winning streak of late, with the brilliant beach noir “Sunburn” and historical mystery “The Lady in the Lake” — successful novelist Gerry Anderson takes a tumble down the staircase in his Baltimore penthouse, and finds himself laid up in bed while he recovers from his injuries, with only his personal assistant Victoria and night nurse Aileen for company.

There, marooned to his bed and doped up on painkillers, he’s forced to reflect on his life: the (relative) failings of his novels post his blockbuster “Dream Girl,” and recent writer’s block; a cavalcade of bad relationships; the death of his mother and the abandonment of his father; and a lifetime of (what he deems) trivial misdemeanors. 

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Review: Injury Time by Duncan Hamilton

There has been a football-size hole in my reading life for a long time now. 

The last great novels about football I read were both written by David Peace: “The Damned Utd” and “Red or Dead.” I’ve offered these to fellow football fans with mixed results. Peace’s prose is very stylised; not at all impenetrable, but melodic, maybe even outré, especially for those whose reading diet consists primarily of footballer memoirs. 

Duncan Hamilton seems to have no misconceptions about what he’s trying to accomplish with his debut novel “Injury Time.” This is a football novel for the masses. He has borrowed from his vast journalistic experience; taken real people and tweaked them for his fiction; and he has created a vastly entertaining yarn about the beautiful game. Narratively orthodox, certainly; but fashioned with pathos as well as the obligatory footballisms. 

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Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

“Sula” is my first Toni Morrison, chosen because Marlon James sings its praises constantly on his podcast ‘Marlon and Jake Read Dead People,’ and because it clocks in at fewer than 200 pages, and I admire brevity. 

Despite its tactile concision, “Sula” is epic in scope, encompassing the years between 1919 and 1965, and set in a black community that ‘stood in the hills above the valley town of Medallion.’ It depicts the close childhood friendship between Nel and Sula, until their paths diverge, and their friendship evaporates; only to be rekindled, in a different form ten years later, shaped by their experiences, and events that follow, when Sula returns as a staunch rejector of the conventional gender roles the community expects her to abide by.

There is much to admire about “Sula.” Morrison’s style is deceptively gentle, her nuanced prose never obfuscating, but also never too conspicuous. Where so many other novels might overstate or magnify their drama, Morrison’s is powerful because of its deftness. Every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter is precise, and possesses the perfect amount of weight and meaning. Sometimes the fewest words tell the most.

ISBN: 9780099760016
ISBN-10: 0099760010
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 174
Published: 7th May 2005
Publisher: RANDOM HOUSE UK

Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

If you disassembled “Billy Summers” and left its pieces scattered like detritus for another author to reconstruct, the result would likely be a fairly conventional thriller. But that’s the magic of Stephen King, isn’t it? Literary tropes are his playthings, there to be manipulated and contorted into something exceptional.

The titular Billy Summers is a former US marine turned contract killer, who is — wouldn’t you know it — also something of a white knight. We empathise with Billy because of his wartime experiences in Iraq, which we learn of through excerpts of the semi-fictional memoir he writes as part of his cover in the lead-up to his final hit. That’s right: “Billy Summers” is a classic ‘one last job’ story. And of course, that job goes horribly wrong.

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Review: The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell

Oh, Patricia. 

Oh, Kay. 

I had such grand plans to re-read (or read anew, in some cases) every single Scarpetta mystery this year, before the release of “Autopsy” at the end of November. That’s 25 books, by the way. And here I am, August already, and I have read ― oops ― five. But I’ll stay the course, friends. I made you a promise.

Anywho ― here we are with “The Body Farm,” in which Chief Medical Examiner and FBI consultant Kay Scarpetta (alongside series regulars, Detective Pete Merino and FBI agent Benton Wesley) investigate the murder of 11-year-old Emily Steiner, whose brutal maiming matches the modus operandi of escaped killer Temple Gault; who eagle-eyed readers will remember from “Cruel and Unusual.” 

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Review: The Cellist by Daniel Silva

The head of Israel’s intelligence service goes after the Russian President’s fortune in “The Cellist,” the 21st novel in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.

When former CIA agent Sarah Bancroft discovers the corpse of wealthy newspaper publisher and staunch Russian insurrectionist Viktor Orlov, the subsequent investigation headed by Allon exposes the Russian President’s financier, and thus the possibility of infiltrating this inner sanctum and wiping out a large chunk of the autocrat’s assets currently utilised to destabilize the west through vast disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks.

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