Friday, 8 October 2021

Bad Apples by Will Dean


The 4th in the Tuva Moodyson series, and Tuva is back in Gavrick, but her beat now extends to a town up the road, the hill town of Visberg. In fact, the story opens with Tuva visiting the town and after hearing a cry for help in the woods, discovering a headless corpse.

Will Dean’s strength is in his conjuring of eccentric characters. In the previous three novels he’s filled Gavrik and the surrounding woods with such people, and now he populates Visberg with more. And his best creation of all returns in this novel: the wood carving sisters, complete with their gruesome trolls.

Visberg is a town of secrets, not least its sinister festival of Pan Night, where the townsfolk all get together to engage in cult-like behaviours. And then there’s the no-questions asked storage facility. Indeed, while the plot of the novel is compelling, it’s this characterisation and environment which places Dean’s books a cut above the rest. There’s plenty here for future novels too, and I imagine Visberg will return to fill the pages of a good few Tuva Moodyson books yet.

4 out of 5 stars 

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Bloody Foreigners by Neil Humphreys


Inspector Stanley Low is a Singaporean Detective in London to give a lecture at the London School of Economics. When a Singaporean man is stabbed to death, he’s asked to consult. Graffiti for the xenophobic group Make England Great Again was daubed above the body, which complicates things. Low is something of a loose canon, and so he needs to be kept in check by DI Ramilla Mistry, who also so happens to be his ex-lover.

Bloody Foreigners is apparently part of a series, though most of the books don’t appear to have been published in the UK, at least not be a publisher who markets them properly. I had seen the author’s work before but not read any of his novels, so this was my first introduction to his writing. Despite being part of a series, the book can be read as a standalone, as I did.

This is an enjoyable read, it has clear social commentary on the state and decline of the UK, without layering it on too thick. It’s one-part police procedural, one-part action thriller. There are parts of the narrative which stretch credulity a little, but nothing too extreme to spoil the enjoyment of the narrative. Low is an enjoyable misanthropic character, who despite his obvious flaws, is committed to justice and doing the right thing. the other characters are also well drawn out and I particularly liked the villains of the piece, especially a character who has more than a passing resemblance to Nigel farage.

This is a really enjoyable read and I’d recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars 

Monday, 2 August 2021

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox


Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus stands in a ditch outside a deserted Lincolnshire farmhouse. It’s being used by a gang of countylines drug dealers to store drugs. It's a gang he’s been working hard to bring down and he’s conducting a solo surveillance of the house. But then a teenage girl walks up to his hideout and asks what he’s doing. She seems to know about the operation and so he assumes she’s undercover police or an informant. She accompanies him into the house and there he finds a couple of dead drug dealers and his own dead body. Because Lazarus has himself been murdered and is now a spirit.

So start’s his quest to solve his own murder. The girl, Daisy May, takes him to a bleak purgatory and The Duchess, the woman in charge of this halfway house of the afterlife, tells him if he wants to move on from there and to a better place (or perhaps worse) he needs to return to earth and find out who killed him and why. But there are complications. The air on earth is toxic and rots his memories, and if he doesn’t solve the crime quickly, he will lose his mind completely and be condemned to walk the earth, a mindless ghost.

The Dying Squad is the author’s debut and is a supernatural crime thriller. The book has two strands running through it - Joe’s attempt to solve his murder, which is the crime thriller bit, and the supernatural strand which brings in heaven and hell, and a sinister beast, the Xylophone Man, who snatches souls to carry down to eternal damnation. 

This is a well-plotted novel, and the characters are compelling. Daisy May in particular is an interesting character. It also has a surprising twist, and I thought I knew who was behind Joe’s murder until near the end when the surprise was sprung. The narrative resolved itself well and is left open for a sequel, though it equally could remain as a self-contained story if the author wanted to write something else.

An impressive debut by a novelist to watch. 

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Rule by David Jackson


When we first meet Daniel we think he’s a child. He acts like a child and speaks like a child and his inner monologue is that of a child. But we soon learn he is in fact about to turn 23 and is looking forward to his birthday. 

But Daniel also has a rule which his parents insist he must follow, and The Rule is not to touch anyone. We soon discover why: Daniel is uncannily strong and can cause harm without meaning to. 

Daniel lives with his mum and dad in a block of flats and one day they encounter a man in the lift, a drug dealer, and things go awry.

I won’t divulge spoilers but needless to say, Daniel’s strength now leads the family into great peril. Because the drug dealer’s associates want to know what has happened to him, as do the police, and it isn’t long before they’re all closing in

The Rule is the second novel by David Jackson that I’ve read, after his excellent novel The Resident. This isn’t a sequel, but it’s similar in that it takes a surprising premise and runs with it. Like The Resident, The Rule is well worth a read.

The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques

This is an intriguing novel set in an alternate universe Lisbon where a small percentage of the population have psychic powers and are treated with mistrust by the rest. When a man inside a train carriage is lifted by invisible forces and slammed against the carriage walls until he’s dead, psychically gifted Inspector Isabel Reis is put on the case. 

This is a good and original sci-fi which touches on various issues, not least the prejudice minorities face. The gifted community are treated with suspicion by most, and hatred by more than a few, especially after an event in the past where a powerfully gifted girl caused a disaster. In this way their treatment is reminiscent of how Muslims are treated today: a tiny minority commit atrocities and yet the majority suffer intolerance because of it. The victim is linked to the head of a powerful anti-gifted party and this too has strong similarities to the anti-immigrant nationalist parties we have today. 

There’s a slight oddity to the narrative in that we never learn the wider context - how the gifted came into existence (it’s a relatively new phenomenon) and whether they exist anywhere else in the world. Indeed, the wider world outside of Portugal is never mentioned. That said, this doesn’t spoil the story at all, it just leaves the reader with some unanswered questions.

A great read this, and presumably there’ll be a sequel. If so there’s plenty of space for the author to flesh out the world she’s created.


The Basel Killings by Hansjörg Schneider


It’s the end of October, though it could be December, as it’s unseasonably cold and wet. The setting is Basel, a city in northwestern Switzerland. It’s late at night and Inspector Humkeler is walking home, a little worse for wear, when he spots someone he knows, old man Hardy. He stops, hoping to beg a cigarette from the old man. But Hardy is dead, his throat slit ear to ear. The police and media assume it is the work of Albanian drug traffickers, but Inspector Humkeler remembers an earlier case, that of Barbara Amsler, who was murdered in a similar fashion. He investigates and visits Basel’s seedier side - the red-light district and underworld - and soon finds a conspiracy which leads to the political and industrial elite.

This is the first novel in a new series and it’s the first book by the author that I’ve read. It’s a solid noir, reminiscent of the Private Investigator novels of old, in that Inspector Humkeler is very much doing his own thing. He’s part of the police, but because the force he belongs to is pursuing the Albanian drug trafficker angle with which he disagrees, he’s conducting his own investigation.

Switzerland is a rich, industrial nation, but it has its darker side. Well known for laundering dodgy money through the its banking system, but the country also has its fair share of illegal migrants and the people who prey on them, prostitution and drug trafficking. In a past life I worked as a journalist for Channel 4. I worked on a documentary filming in Switzerland which touched on some of these issues. The author does a good job of portraying this scene, the desperation of those who fall victim, and the unsavoury characters who ply their trade.

The Basel Killings is an excellent book and a strong start to a series.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Passenger List by J.S. Dryden


When Kaitlin Li’s twin brother, Conor, disappears after Atlantic Airlines Flight 702 vanishes while flying across the Atlantic, with all passengers and crew presumed dead, she becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. She sets up a Facebook page for tips and is soon investigating. Inevitably this leads to a whole heap of conspiracies and various people who might be kooks, spies, or various shades of baduns.

The tragic, and downright weird, tale of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared without a trace over the Pacific in 2014, clearly inspired Passenger List. MH370 has inspired many conspiracy theories and these are clearly also an inspiration for Passenger List. In real life I have no time for conspiracy theories, but in fiction I love a conspiracy thriller. For example, personally I suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin of JFK, but I love a JFK conspiracy novel or film and Oliver Stone’s movie might be hokum but was great fun.

That said, as I read Passenger List I wondered whether this was going to be just a rehash of MH370 conspiracies, all pushed along by cardboard cutout genre fiction tropes and two-dimensional characters. This is a novel inspired by a podcast (a drama podcast, obviously. Not a true crime one). It feels cardboard cutout and there is little depth to the characters. That said, the plot moves along at pace and when the final denouement occurs it is believable, even for someone like me who doubts conspiracy theories in real life. The author doesn’t go with the most outlandish theory, but ends with something much more realistic, knowing as we do how governments have a tendency to cover their backs.