books monthly october 2017 crime & thrillers

With the first two Cormoran Strike novels smashing Sunday night TV, it's time to look at the first book...

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Paul Finch: Shadows

Published by Avon 19th October 2017


The SUNDAY TIMES bestseller returns with the second book in the PC Lucy Clayburn series - a must for all fans of Happy Valley and M.J. Arlidge. As a female cop walking the mean streets of Manchester, life can be tough for PC Lucy Clayburn. But when one of the North West’s toughest gangsters is your father, things can be particularly difficult. When Lucy's patch is gripped by a spate of murder-robberies, the police are quick to action. Yet when it transpires that the targets are Manchester’s criminal underworld, attitudes change. Lucy is soon faced with one of the toughest cases of her life – and one which will prove once and for all whether blood really is thicker than water…

Tense thriller involving a lowly police constable - my kind of tale!


David Mark: Cruel Mercy

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 5th October 2017


The DS Aector McAvoy's brother-in-law Valentine is missing. In New York City, half the world away. And the two men he travelled with have just been found in an open grave upstate: one dead, one as good as. McAvoy doesn't believe Valentine killed them. He does believe he's in trouble. And so he follows him to New York, determined to find out what happened. But Valentine is in more danger than McAvoy could have imagined. And McAvoy's walking into it right after him: into the darkness of murder, revenge, and a forty-year-old crime...

The sixth (I think) in the Aector McAvoy series sees him on the trail of his brother-in-law in New York - I must admit I prefer British cops to be in action in Britain but this doesn't really detract from the brilliance of David Mark's writing, and the thrills and tension just come tumbling off the page one after the other. Superb entertainment.





Crime Book of the month #1

Robert Galbraith: The Cuckoo's Calling

Published by Sphere (TV Tie-in) 2017

In 2010, Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who is an ex-SIB investigator who lost part of a leg in a bombing in Afghanistan, and also is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star (by an affair with a notorious groupie), is broke, and his birth father's business agent is calling in the loan that he gave to Strike to open his office. At that point, Strike is hired by John Bristow, the adoptive brother of supermodel Lula Landry who had fallen from her balcony three months previously. Bristow wants Strike to investigate his sister's supposed suicide. Bristow's other sibling, a brother named Charlie, had been a schoolmate of Strike before his death, which came when he fell into a quarry while riding on his bicycle. Strike also meets Robin Ellacott, who has been sent to be his temporary secretary despite the fact he can barely afford her. Robin has just become engaged to her longtime boyfriend Matthew, with a wedding set for December. Although Strike only hires her for one week, she turns out to be much more competent than he expected, and they end up extending her stay. Strike is initially sceptical about John Bristow's claims, having read extensive media coverage following the case, and he is unwilling to reopen such a thoroughly investigated case. However, because he needs the money, he proceeds with the investigation, interviewing Lula Landry's security guard, personal driver, uncle, friends and designer. Each character recounts their recollections of Lula as Strike comes to realise that the circumstances of her death are more ambiguous than he had imagined. Strike is especially intrigued by the statement of Tansy Bestigui, Lula's downstairs neighbour, who says she heard Lula fighting with a man and then falling from her balcony. It is clear she could not have heard it from two floors below through the triple glazed windows, so her statement had initially been dismissed. However, in reality, her husband had found her with cocaine and then pushed her out onto the balcony and locked her there, where she overheard the attack on Lula Landry. Tansy did not reveal her true location to the investigating officers, because it was -10 °C outside when her husband had pushed her onto the balcony, and her husband had demanded she remain silent, as he was fearful of being arrested for abusing Tansy and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Later, Rochelle Onifade is found dead, killed hours after leaving a meeting with Strike. Strike realises that she must have been in contact with Lula's murderer, though he doubts that she knew the person to be the killer. Lula, as a mixed-race girl adopted into a wealthy white family, took a special interest in investigating her biological roots before her death. Strike discovers that Lula was murdered for the ten million pounds she possessed, although the police ignore his discoveries. Strike then figures out that John, his client, is in fact the murderer, hoping to get Lula's money, and that he was also responsible for Charlie's death years before. John was using Strike in an attempt to frame Lula's biological brother Jonah for her murder, suspecting (correctly) that Lula had made a will leaving her fortune to Jonah. John planned that if the will, which he had been unable to locate, eventually surfaced, Jonah would be unable to inherit if he had been convicted of Lula's murder. He had hoped that Strike's friendship with Charlie would endear him to him. When Strike presents the truth to John, John attempts to stab him, resulting in a physical altercation. Strike is saved when Robin returns to the office during the struggle. Near the book's end, before Robin leaves for her next job, Strike gives Robin a green silk dress she had tried on and loved when they had gone searching for information at a dress shop that Lula had frequented. Finally, the two decide that Robin will stay on; both are happy about the decision, though Strike reflects that Matthew, Robin's fiancé, would not be happy about the fact that he had purchased the gown for her. The novel closes with Strike at a doctor's appointment for his injured leg. (Source: Wikipedia)


With social media ringing with the fury of fans at the BBC's decision to make them wait until 2018 for the final dramatisation of the third book in the original series (there are rumours that Jo Rowling has plans for several further Strike novels), my task today is to say why we should all read the books even if we've seen and loved the TV series. And the answer is simple. The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm are both over 500 pages long, and contain far more material than the producers of the TV shows could ever hope to include in a TV series. The characters and the plot are inevitably more complex and rich in detail, and as with almost all TV adaptations of great books, huge chunks of material are missing. I watched and loved The Cuckoo's Calling before my review copy arrived, and yet I was overjoyed to slip back into Jo Rowling's Strike world instantly. I wasn't that interested in whodunnit, after all, I already knew; but the book is something else, something bigger, something altogether more intimate, more revealing than the TV series. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger are simply perfect in their respective roles, but the TV series only scratched the surfaces of their lives and their personalities. I don't think it matters whether you read the books first or see the TV series first - they compliment each other perfectly. I'm happy to wait for the third in this series until 2018 just as I'm happy to wait for series 5 of Endeavour and series 4 of Poldark, and series 8 of Call The Midwife - it's something to look forward to. I loved the Harry Potter books, and bought each of the final four novels in the series the day they were published. But at the back of my mind there was always the thought that they were primarily intended for children, and that we adults were privileged to be allowed to immerse ourselves in children's literature for a short while. I have always enjoyed reading children's books and still have loads of Enid Blytons etc., on my shelves. I recently read Black Beauty for the very first time... but Jo Rowling always had so much more to offer a demanding and affectionate public, and her foray into crime literature has produced something of the very finest quality. I love what Sphere have done with the covers - they are reminiscent of 1930s/40s pulp fiction, and pulp fiction is the mainstay of the working classes. The Strike novels are fine examples of brilliant writing by a master storyteller, whose nearest rival for consistency in being able to write stuff that people really want to read, is Stephen King. Strike is superb. I shan't get to read the third book, Career of Evil, until next year, unless I find a decent copy at a boot sale or in a charity shop. I don't mind waiting. I have all the time in the world... and I know it will be worth the wait!

Crime Book of the month #2

Lynda La Plante: Good Friday (Young Jane Tennison #3)

Published by Zaffre 24th August 2017


Every legend has a beginning . . .

During 1974 and 1975 the IRA subjected London to a terrifying bombing campaign. In one day alone, they planted seven bombs at locations across central London. Some were defused - some were not.

Jane Tennison is now a fully-fledged detective. On the way to court one morning, Jane passes through Covent Garden Underground station and is caught up in a bomb blast that leaves several people dead, and many horribly injured. Jane is a key witness, but is adamant that she can't identify the bomber. When a photograph appears in the newspapers, showing Jane assisting the injured at the scene, it puts her and her family at risk from IRA retaliation.

'Good Friday' is the eagerly awaited date of the annual formal CID dinner, due to take place at St Ermin's Hotel. Hundreds of detectives and their wives will be there. It's the perfect target. As Jane arrives for the evening, she realises that she recognises the parking attendant as the bomber from Covent Garden. Can she convince her senior officers in time, or will another bomb destroy London's entire detective force?


The third volume in Lynda's brilliant Young Jane Tennison series is published by Zaffre, a new publisher. I loved the TV series, which starred Stephanie Martini, but unfortunately the powers that be decided not to continue with the series. To say that I am content to fall back on the books would be something of an understatement - my first love has always been books, and I could happily exist without the TV adaptations as long as I had these wonderful books to read. Lynda remains one of my all-time favourite authors, and whilst I love Anna Travis and the grown up Jane Tennison, when I discovered that she was writing about Jane's earlier life, her early days in the police force during the 1970s, I was absolutely thrilled. I honestly believe that Endeavour is the finest of the three incarnations of Colin Dexter's magnificent Morse series, mainly from a nostalgic point of view; and I honestly believe that the young Jane Tennison is Lynda's finest achievement in crime literature to date. We lived through the hell of IRA and we have friends who were caught up in the Ideal Home exhibition bombing and were scarred for life because of it. Lynda captures the mood of the time perfectly, and Jane's progression through the trials and tribulations of finding her feet in an overwhelmingly dominant man's world make for a supremely entertaining read. This is brilliant stuff, perfect in every sense, and one of the most enjoyable crime fiction titles I've read this year - a strong contender for crime book of the year (but it's up against Strike, of course!). I hope there are many more young Jane Tennisons to come, but even if there aren't, I have the first three on the shelf, and as with all of the books that I treasure, I am happy to re-read them again and again! Sublime!


Robert Galbraith: The Silkworm

Published by Sphere September 2017

The second book in the highly acclaimed crime fiction series by JK Rowling writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith When novelist Owen Quine goes missing his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike At first she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days as he has done before and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home But as Strike investigates it becomes clear that there is more to Quines disappearance than his wife realises The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous penportraits of almost everyone he knows If the novel were published it would ruin lives so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer a killer unlike any he has encountered before A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn The Silkworm is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant Robin Ellacott


I was amused to read about viewers being "up in arms" with the BBC for making them wait until next year for the third Cormoran Strike adventure - when a series ends, like Poldark, or Endeavou, we wait with baited breath for an announcement that there is going to be another series. Endeavour series 5 is filming now, as isPoldark series 4, and both are well worth waiting for. Maybe it's because the fans already knew that the third adventure had been filmed? Anyway, the first two books have been serialised to sensational reviews, and I, as always, wanted to read the books even though I'd just watched the series. And I'm so glad that I did. I have huge respect for J K Rowling as a writer - she deserves all the success she has had with Harry Potter and now Strike; she is a botn storyteller. The style in Strike is as far removed from the Harry Potter style as is possible. I don't think anyone would have guessed it was her hand behind this stunning foray into crime fiction. The Silkworm is as enjoyable as The Cuckoo's Calling, and once again there is so much extra material in the book (again over 500 pages long) that reading the book is a totally different experience to watching the TV adaptation. There are subtle differences, but they don't really matter. I was able to forget the TV show whilst I concentrated on reading the book. Absolutely superb. A real triumph.


Chris Nickson: The Holywell Dead

Published by The History Press 5th October 2017

1364: The plague has returned and fear fills the air as the pestilence claims its first victims in Chesterfield. When the local priest vanishes, John the Carpenter believes the man is simply scared – until he discovers a body left in an empty house. Charged with finding the murderer by the coroner, John must dig deep into the past to discover who in the present has enough hatred to kill. But as the roll of the dead grows longer, can he keep his family safe from malign forces outside of his control? The third title in a gripping series following the best-selling titles The Crooked Spire and The Saltergate Psalter.


Historical crime fiction has taken something of a back seat for quite a while now, with police procedurals and those dreary, dark Scandinavian set pieces taking centre stage. Chris Nickson's The Holywell Dead may, hopefully, be the start of a revival of fortune for a sub-genre that was always fascinating and enjoyable. Chris creates a late 14th century Britain that is wholly believable - it seems I may have missed his two previous books in the series, which is a shame - in this case set in Chesterfield. The characters are spot on, and the plot would tax even Inspector Morse! Thoroughly enjoyable medieval crime caper that entertains royally and deserves a wide audience.


Annabel Kantaria: The One That Got Away

Published by Harper Collins 21st September 2017

Everyone has one. An ex you still think about. The one who makes you ask ‘what if’? Fifteen years have passed since Stella and George last saw each other. But something makes Stella click ‘yes’ to the invite to her school reunion. There’s still a spark between them, and although their relationship ended badly, they begin an affair. But once someone gets you back, sometimes they’re never going to let you go again…


Plenty of tension in this cool psycho-drama - one of the best psychological thrillers I've read for a long time.



Peter Laws: Unleashed

Published by Allison & Busby 20th July 2017

Fifteen years ago, 29 Barley Street in Menham, South London, became notorious as the scene of alleged poltergeist activity which led to the death of young Holly Wasson. The shadow cast by this episode is still felt in the town, and among the gang of friends who were caught up in the tragic events. That shadow looms larger than ever when one of the group dies in horrific and strange circumstances. Matt Hunter, former minister and now professor of sociology, is called in to advise the police on the possible ritualistic elements of the death. And he is forced to ask himself, are forces beyond the grave at work or is a flesh-and-blood killer at large?


This is one of those novels that has an undercurrent of trying to persuade people that this life isn't all there is, that there is an afterlife, and that therefore there are forces of evil at work sometimes, and it makes a pretty decent fist of it. The murders are stock in trade for a decent thriller writer, but the supernatural aspect is overriding and that's what makes it such an excellent read. You will start to question your own beliefs as you delve deeper and deeper into this brilliant second Matt Hunter adventure. I enjoyed it immensely.

Stephen Burke: The Reluctant Contact

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 7th September 2017


The Svalbard archipelago, 1977, Norwegian territory, yet closer to the north pole. Russian engineer Yuri arrives on the last boat to the Soviet mining outpost of Pyramiden, as the Arctic sun disappears for the winter. Yuri still plays by Stalin-era rules: Don't trust anyone; Keep your head down; Look after number one. Yet when a co-worker is found dead deep in the mine, the circumstances appear strange. Against his better judgement, Yuri breaks his own rules, and decides to investigate. At the same time, he begins a stormy love affair with the volatile, brooding Anya. She has come to Pyramiden to meet someone who has not shown himself in three months, if he exists at all. While the whole island is frozen in twenty-four-hour darkness, Yuri enters a dangerous world of secrets and conflicting agendas, where even the people closest to you are not always what they seem.


IYou can almost feel the chill in this latest brilliant offering from Stephen Burke... The remoteness of the Svalbard archipelago is the real star in this book - just reading it made me feel cold! A real chiller...



Chris Holm: Red Right Hand

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 5th October 2017


When the good guys can't save you, call a bad guy. A family's holiday video goes viral when it captures the moment of a terrorist attack...In the background, it reveals a witness long thought dead. The organisation the man agreed to testify against will stop at nothing to silence him, but Special Agent Charlie Thompson won't let that happen. Charlie turns to Michael Hendricks. He has history with those threatening the witness's life and getting involved will lead him right to them. All he has to do is enter an active crime scene and find someone with good reason to hide. With his skills, he figures it'll be easy. But nothing about this story is what it seems...


Enter the shady underworld of contract killers and hired assassins in this terrific piece of pulp fiction... perfect for these darker autumn evenings when there's nothing on telly...




The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.