Book Review: The Contract

The Contract, by JM Gulvin, is the second book in the author’s John Q series of crime thrillers. You may read my review of the first one here. Set in 1960s America, the protagonist, John Quarrie, is a fearless and determined Texas Ranger. He is a modern day cowboy with a strong sense of justice for all, in a country still divided by race.

The book opens with a robbery at a gunstore in small town Texas. This leads to a shoot out and car chase. To save his own life, Quarrie takes down an assailant. When he investigates the perpetrators he finds another dead body with links to New Orleans. Flying there to follow up on one of his few leads, Quarrie becomes embroiled in a secretive plan that involves many in the state’s law enforcement agencies. He struggles to work out what is going on and why. His presence and the methods he employs while out of his juridiction are resented by many. Quarrie suspects he is being manipulated but does not know by whom. There is nobody he can trust.

Although the reader is offered snapshots of all those involved, the extent and reasons are only slowly revealed. There is a large cast of characters with a variety of links. I struggled at times to follow the numerous threads.

Having said that, this is a compelling read. The action remains tense throughout and is rarely predictable. The story is written in a voice that is original and engaging. There are links to historical events of the time and to a variety of conspiracy theories. Given today’s political situation, the attitudes of many of the characters is chilling.

The reveals at the end provide a good mix of the unexpected, some satisfying if a tad dodgy come-uppances, and a few loose ends in keeping with the story arc created. Quarrie gets things done the old style Texas way, which is not always appreciated. His methods do, however, provide an entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber.

This post is a stop on The Contract Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Book Review: The Restless Dead

9780593063477

The Restless Dead, by Simon Beckett, is the fifth book in the author’s David Hunter series of crime thrillers. Dr Hunter is a forensic anthropologist working as a consultant to police forces throughout England. His is a specialist field and the details of how he studies human remains to ascertain how they lived and how they may have died are fascinating.

Set in the backwaters of Essex this instalment sees Hunter called to a remote and run down coastal town where two people have been reported missing and one body has been discovered floating to the surface in the tidal wetlands. A wealthy businessman and local landowner believes it is the remains of his son and is pressurising the police to confirm his suspicions. He has powerful contacts who make life difficult for those who do not bend to his will.

Hunter is asked to assist with the recovery of the bloated body. The cold and wet procedure takes its toll on his compromised health. When Hunter’s car is damaged he ends up requiring temporary accommodation and becomes caught up in a local feud. There are unforeseen links to missing persons.

This is a small community and grudges have festered. Hunter is aware that he must not compromise the police investigation, especially as his reputation is already fragile following a previous case. He cannot, however, resist the charms of Rachel, a beautiful young woman whose family owns the holiday let in which he stays.

The plot has many twists and turns as families are introduced and old hurts revealed. The writing is assured and competent although in places I would have preferred it to be a little less clichéd. A love interest seems such a predictable device to enable the protagonist to gain access to family history. I pondered why all key women must be regarded as conventionally attractive; a little diversity would be so refreshing.

Having said that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Many chapters ended with a little teaser that demanded one more be read. I had not guessed the key elements of the denouement and they were neatly presented. Here I had the thought provoking issues I relish.

An entertaining and engaging read that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the genre. The action would transfer well to a screen.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

This post is a stop on The Restless Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

the-restless-dead-blog-tour-banner

Book Review: Deadly Game

Deadly Game, by Matt Johnson, is the second book in the author’s Robert Finlay series of crime thrillers. I review its predecessor, Wicked Game, here. This latest instalment contains all the intrigue and adrenaline inducing action that made the first book so compelling. It is another ‘just one more chapter’ type of read.

There are a large cast of characters to get to know from the army, police, and intelligence services as well as the victims and bad guys central to the action that unfolds. The theme is one of international sex trafficking but includes an investigation into historical middle eastern terrorist activity, with a potential link to Finlay’s past.

The story opens in Romania where a cold and hungry young village woman is putting herself forward for a lucrative job in the city. This offers an explanation as to how traffickers obtain their human cargo. The action then jumps forward a couple of years to the aftermath of 9/11 and the final report into events recounted in Wicked Game. A job must be found for Finlay who is suffering PTSD. He has crossed the radar of both MI5 and MI6. The police consider him a liability.

To get him back to work Finlay is assigned to a new unit being set up by The Met to investigate European sex trafficking. With no experience in the CID he is not a popular recruit. When one of his first assignments results in the discovery of a murder victim he is able to demonstrate his particular talents. He is also recognised by a suspect which puts him in danger.

The early background and scene setting chapters felt bitty in places but this was soon overcome as the ongoing action and pace of progression ensured reader engagement was grasped and maintained. The twists and turns were masterfully presented engineering doubts over who could be trusted and what their end game might be.

Unlike many in this genre I warmed to the protagonist. There are also a slew of strong female characters, there for their skills rather than for the men to win or save.

A full-flavoured addition to a series that I look forward to following further. This was an immersive and entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Deadly Game Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Deadly Game is published by Orenda Books.

image001

Book Review: Six Stories

SIX STORIES BF AW.indd

Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski, is a murder mystery told in the form of transcripts from a series of podcasts. This original construction took some getting used to, perhaps because I do not choose to listen to the popular broadcast medium. I am not a fan of audio or visual discussion or reporting, also eschewing vlogs and their ilk. I prefer to savour the written word, which to be fair is exactly what is offered here.

The tale is told in the six broadcast episodes. To be more precise, the same tale is told from six differing perspectives. The concept for these podcasts is that the reader (listener) should be offered up the facts of a now forgotten, never fully explained controversial incident and then be left to make up their own mind as to what actually happened. In this way it is similar to recent TV programmes such as Making a Murderer – which I watched a few times before growing bored with the repetition. Six Stories also contains repetition but, despite this, the author has succeeded in maintaining the intrigue and tension. Its approach reminded me of local gossip, where behaviour is dissected and judged based on personal prejudices and ideals.

The incident being investigated is the unexplained death of a fifteen year old boy, Tom Jeffries, who disappeared twenty years ago whilst away from home on an informal outward bound type weekend. His badly decomposed body was discovered after a year by a group of twenty-something year old privileged young men, one of whose father still owns the land.

Tom had been one of a group of five teenagers who had been regular visitors to the area, Scarclaw Fell, which harbours the raft of spooky myths common for an isolated location. The young people are tracked down by the podcast maker and interviewed, along with family members, former teachers and local residents, to determine if the interactions and dynamics within the group could shed light on what happened so long ago.

What they relate of the trips away is that the adults believed they were enabling the supposedly sensible teenagers to enjoy healthy, outdoor pursuits while the youngsters took the freedom granted as an opportunity to ingest copious quantities of alcohol and other drugs. There were the usual plays for power and some all too typical bullying.

“You see, the thing is, unless you’ve been on the other end of bullying, you don’t really know how much these smaller things can affect you. People’s perception of bullying is still so archaic or cliched: the ‘give us your dinner money’ schoolyard stuff, or else the ‘OMG you’re so ugly’ stuff online. [] bullied [] in a professional way. […] It’s the little things – the name-calling, the comments, the giggles when your back’s turned. That’s how the professionals do it. Like water-torture, or death by a thousand cuts. ‘Professional’ bullies crush your soul a sliver at a time.”

The alphas were mimicked by those who admired them and had yet to find their own niche, something recognised and derided by their peers.

“He didn’t have any personality of his own. He borrowed everything.”

The background and exploits shared demonstrate how self-absorbed and fickle memory can be. I did wonder why these now settled thirty-five year olds, who no longer interact, would agree to talk to someone about their teenage high jinks – which are always likely to contain embarrassing details – knowing that they will then be publicly shared. However, the popular and enigmatic investigator has a reputation for presenting his findings without the usual edits and distortions. He creates a compelling story, although if other media outlets take an interest the risk of public judgement and condemnation for the participants is only likely to increase.

There is much to be said for presenting a murder mystery in an original format and I was quickly drawn into this tale. The denouement was unexpected with a few threads left for the reader to interpret. Just as the podcasts were designed to encourage discussion amongst listeners, so the tale raises issues it would be interesting to further consider. With this in mind, it would be a perfect choice for a Book Group.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Six Stories Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below. 

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books.

image001

Book Review: Say Nothing

Say Nothing, by Brad Parks, is a crime thriller written from the point of view of an unusual protagonist – an American federal judge. These powerful justices are appointed for life, unless deemed unfit for the role due to breaking their oath of impartiality and fairness under the law. They may sentence as they consider appropriate. Rulings may be grumbled about but are rarely questionned.

The Honorable Scott Sampson enjoys the privileges of his elevated position to the full. He can take time out every Wednesday afternoon to go swimming with his children, six year old twins, Sam and Emma. Their home is a secluded farmhouse on the banks of the Chesapeake river with a broad swathe of woodland protecting them from public roads. His beautiful wife, Alison, holds down a challenging and worthy job working with children too intellectually disabled to attend mainstream schools. A foreign student, Justina, provides childcare in exchange for accommodation in a cottage on their land.

The story opens on a swimming day. Scott receives a text from his wife to tell him the twins have a doctor’s appointment so she will collect them from school. That evening, when she returns home, she is alone. They get a call informing them that if they ever wish to see their children again they must follow instructions that will be sent regarding a case due before the judge the next day. They are to say nothing to anyone about what is happening. If the kidnappers even suspect that they have sought help they will start chopping off the children’s body parts.

Scott feels that he has no choice but to comply. He also understands that he is only useful to these criminals if he can retain his position. Thus begins an intricate web of deception during which he must convince his colleagues that he is fit for his role whilst obeying the diktats being sent to him. Always he is trying to work out who is behind this nightmare scenario, and how to reach an end game that will see his kids returned to him unscathed.

The pressure Scott is under throughout is well evoked. He scrutinises everyone he knows in a desperate attempt to uncover how the kidnappers acquired access to his family along with a wealth of private information. His marriage is put under strain as he and Alison each suspect the other of indiscretions. At work his unusual behaviour must be convincingly explained.

The reader is offered snippets of what is happening to the twins but the mystery is what final outcome the kidnappers desire and why. Seen through Scott’s eyes, trusting anyone becomes a challenge. The pace of this unusual crime thriller gradually increases towards a shocking denouement.

Although there are cliches within the story – a picture perfect wider family, male ‘banter’, a beautiful wife, a professionally successful man who still finds time for his young children – the strength of the writing took me beyond these and wound me in. This was an engaging and pacy thriller. A fine UK debut for an author I would happily read again.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber. 

Book Review: Cursed

CURSED AW.indd

Cursed, by Thomas Enger (translated by Kari Dickson), is the fourth book in the author’s Henning Juul series of crime thrillers. In this instalment the protagonist is still reeling from the death of his six year old son following an arson attack on his flat. Henning is on leave from his job as a journalist and is using the time to do what he can to track down the perpetrators. There is a lot of backstory here which I assume is covered in more detail in the earlier books.

Henning’s ex-partner, Nora Klemetsen, is approached by the husband of an old college friend who has gone missing. Helga Hellberg failed to return from a three week retreat in Italy which her husband subsequently discovered she didn’t attend. Nora, another journalist, agrees to investigate and is drawn into a web of intrigue surrounding the wealthy Hellberg family which goes back decades.

Nora has personal issues to contend with. Her new partner, Iver Gundersen, who is a colleague of Henning’s, has not responded well to recent revelations. Nora and Henning still have feelings for each other, not least an understanding of their shared grief. When Nora approaches Henning and then Iver for support she finds they both remain distant, struggling with what she has shared. As a result she opts to approach the Hellbergs alone.

Henning’s state of mind leads him to take serious risks in his quest for information. He discovers that his life is still threatened although he is unsure why. The widow of Tore Pulli, a supposed criminal who died in prison just as Henning proved he was not guilty of the crimes for which he was incarcerated, may be able to offer some clues. Tore may also have had links to the Hellbergs although the murky details are unlikely to be willingly shared by any of his acquaintances.

The action alternates between the investigations being carried out by Nora and Henning. When they eventually share findings, and potential overlaps are recognised, progress is made. This puts them both in danger leading to a dramatic denouement.

Unusually for such a taut thriller there are many detailed descriptions of people and street scenes which do not always appear relevent to the plot but do help place the reader in the various settings. Typically of Nordic Noir the characters’ personal lives are as changeable and dark as the weather. Partnerships are distant and children, even when loved, grow up feeling resentful.

The writing is engaging and the varied cast of characters well presented although I was somewhat surprised at how willing some were to talk to journalists who are more usually presented in fiction as vultures. There is good in the bad and bad in the good which adds to the intrigue and unprectability. The short chapters encouraged me to keep reading just one more.

A tightly written thriller that had me puzzling the clues throughout as the plot threads were untangled and then woven into place. This is an entertaining and supenseful read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Cursed Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

cursed-blog-tour

Cursed is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: Deep Down Dead

DEED DOWN DEAD BF AW.indd

Deep Down Dead, by Steph Broadribb, is the first in a proposed crime thriller series featuring Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson. In need of a high paying assignment that will enable her to clear the debts incurred gaining cancer treatment for her nine year old daughter, Dakota, Lori agrees to pick up a fugitive who has been found and held by a less than reliable associate. Lori is perturbed to discover that the fugitive is her old mentor, JT. When her usual child minder cannot be called on to help she is forced to take Dakota along for the ride.

From the off it is clear that there is more to this job than a simple pick up. Whatever JT had been trying to achieve had brought him to the attention of some high level and well connected criminal masterminds. They are as determined as Lori to bring him in, but have no qualms about killing any who get in their way. A shoot out at a gas station puts Dakota’s life on the line. Lori needs to use every lesson she has ever learned from JT in order to protect her daughter’s life. This includes delivering him in time to collect her fee.

The story is a road trip from hell. Just as it seems that Lori has overcome one obstacle another, more challenging one, is placed in her way. She is unsure who to trust and JT is unwilling to open up about who exactly is after him or why let alone how they are all connected. Lori is skilled and fearless, but her normally clear judgement is clouded by the knowledge that her daughter is in danger. She struggles to set aside the guilt she feels for allowing such a situation to occur.

This is a fast moving, adrenaline rush of a story with a relatable protagonist who it is hard not to cheer along. Lori is as feisty and independent as they come, refusing to rely on men who all her life have given her nothing but grief. Her past may be catching up with her but she is determined to do whatever it takes to provide for Dakota.

A hugely enjoyable, edge of your seat read. As you turn those pages, remember to breath.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Deep Down Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts detailed below.

ddd-blog-tour

Deep Down Dead is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001