Crime Wave

A couple of crime fiction novels that I was sent for review.

The Death Season – Kate Ellis

the death seasonAlthough I hadn’t heard of her before, Kate Ellis is a seasoned writer with a long list of D. I. Wesley Peterson novels to her name. This is a police procedural series, set in Devon and featuring Wesley as that rare thing, a black face in a predominantly white and rural setting. The novel opens with the death of a hotel guest, stabbed in the head (beneath the wig he was wearing) by something very thin and very sharp. Not only is the victim travelling under a false name, his DNA links him to an old, cold case, the death of a 10-year-old girl at a local holiday camp back in 1979. Why might the dead man have returned to the scene of his crime, and who would still be around to remember him? At the same time this investigation is taking place, one of Wesley’s friends, archeologist Neil Watson is working on two digs in the local area, one the stately Paradise Court, the other Sandrock, a ruined village from the Second World War. Before long, evidence of foul play is found, and even though it dates from long before the era of Wesley’s current cases, we know from the teasing juxtaposition that somehow the stories will be linked.

When I first began this novel, I found the writing very plain and I wasn’t sure I would get along with it. It also employed the device of beginning each chapter with a brief excerpt taken from a diary dated back to the turn of the century. These were slowly unfolding a tale that would eventually solve the enigma of the excavations. It’s a device that remains very popular in genre fiction although I am tired of it myself. And yet, despite these uncertainties, I was drawn into the story thanks to Kate Ellis’s clever juggling of her plotlines and clear, swift exposition. Before long, it had become the book I kept hurrying back to whenever I had a moment. The ending was highly satisfying; clever, twisty, plausible for once, and it provided a moment of lovely echoing between the story in the present day and the one in the past. I finished it with a lot of admiration for the author’s plotting skills, and the certainty that I would read her novel again.

 

The Replacement – Patrick Redmond

the replacementNow this one was a psychological thriller that was all about the schadenfreude. In the opening prologue, something dreadful has happened to Caroline Randall’s family, bad enough that the press are baying at her gates and she is receiving ugly anonymous letters in the post. When we pick up the story proper, the Randalls are the envy of their local set, wealthy, handsome, and seemingly devoted. Robert and Caroline have grown-up non-identical twin sons, James and Tom, who are now working in the City but have returned to the family home to attend a charity event their mother has organised. Caroline lords it over their friends and neighbours, showing off her enviable family and pretty much tempting hubris in a way we know will incite meltdown.

As soon as we meet the family alone, it’s clear there are ugly fracture lines. James has always been the favoured son, and it’s not surprising; he’s clever, brave and kind, a good loyal boy who has worked hard to please his parents and who has always protected his twin. But far from feeling gratitude, Tom is nursing a deep and bitter resentment, the envy of the permanently overlooked and the compacted rage of the never-good-enough. Robert is a father who cannot help but compete with his sons, and Caroline is worryingly possessive.

Meanwhile in the rougher part of London, Stuart is an estate agent doing his best to get by. Stuart’s parents and his sister died in a car crash when he was only 13, and the attempt his uncle made to foster him went badly wrong. These days, Stuart doesn’t ask much from life, except that he might lose a few pounds by some miracle, keep his job and maybe one day earn a promotion. But maybe his luck is picking up – visiting his elderly grandmother in her nursing home, he becomes involved with one of the carers, and things quickly become serious. And then taking clients to view a flat, he realises that one of them is reacting to him very strangely, and before long, he’s been given a revelation that will change his life.

I don’t want to give any more away because Patrick Redmond employs a very clever twist that catalyses an intriguing and engrossing story. Again, the writing is competent, don’t expect anything more than that, but it gets out of the way and the dialogue is believable. It’s a story of goodies and baddies, but that’s okay too; Redmond uses his characters intelligently and we readers are poised on the edge of the story, waiting to see who might be corrupted and who might escape with sympathy intact. On the whole, the psychological manoevring is well done, and it’s only towards the end that one of the characters behaves in a way that might make your average psychopath think twice. It’s a story about insecurity, at basis, and how over time it can become poisonous, resulting in envy, resentment and a terrible urge to possess people in order to feel secure. I enjoyed it, and if you want a thriller to take on holiday, I would recommend this over The Girl in the Train any day.

 

12 thoughts on “Crime Wave

    • Oh my friend, more rare in your life these days for sure, given your editorial work! Though Miss Pym Disposes would probably still be my no.1 choice for you in the crime fiction stakes.

  1. Great reviews, Victoria, really insightful. I love how you’ve articulated the strengths of each of these novels and what to expect (or not) from them. I’m trying to read a few vintage hardboiled novels at the moment, but contemporary crime is hugely popular at the local library, so I’ve made a note of these two. I volunteer there every now and again, and we’re often looking for recommendations in this area.

    • Ooh now the Kate Ellis would be a great recommendation because it’s a good story without anything graphic happening in the sex and violence department. One you could hand to your granny without a moment’s concern. But they are both good reads. I absolutely love figuring out the right recommendations for readers – if I could do it for a living, I would!

  2. My library has several of Kate Ellis’ earlier books which I’ve never been tempted to check out, but maybe now I will (that is if I ever finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…which might take me awhile. What a doorstop! Am loving it but..oh…carrying it around is a workout in itself. Thanks for these two nifty suggestions for down the road.

    • I’ve had Jonathan Strange sitting on my bookshelves for.. mumble mumble… years! I really must pick it up one of these days though you are so right, it is a daunting chunkster. Still, I’m very encouraged to hear that you are enjoying it.

  3. I haven’t read many of the Peterson series because I found that the early ones were all structured so similarly that I was getting bored with them. However, Ellis has another series set in York (unfortunately called Eborby – why not just stick to York) and featuring a detective by the name of Joe Plantagenet (!) which affects me in the way you describe here. I start out really irritated and then find myself hooked. If you want to try another of hers you might look for the first of these, ‘Seeking the Dead’.

    • Ah, thank you for that recommendation! Do those early novels follow the same sort of echoing storylines in past and present that the one I read did? But in any case, I’d be happy to try a different series by her and will look out for it.

  4. There are So Many mysteries out there these days, aren’t there? Of course this is a good thing, but it does make choosing almost impossible–especially with ‘unknown quantities’. I especially like the sound of the Kate Ellis book–I have heard of her but didn’t realize she had written so many books. Sometimes you just want something entertaining and distracting so competent is workable–especially when both sound well done. Will have to keep an eye out for both–good summer reads! I am just finally getting back to the newest Maisie Dobbs which is comforting in its way, too. Have you read any other really spectacularly good mysteries or crime novels of late? (Now there is a big order, eh? Spectacularly….).

    • I have several Maisie Dobbs novels still to read! I really must get back to her. I loved the early ones and then fell out of the habit of reading them, if you know what I mean. I have read some goodies of late – Benjamin Black’s Phillip Marlowe novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde was the best continuation novel I’ve ever read and a real tribute to Chandler. I also loved Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey.Other than that, if you’re in the mood for something a bit more gritty, I’m becoming a huge fan of Eva Dolan – you might not find her in the States yet, though. If I come across any others, I’ll definitely tell you!

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