Sunday, 20 November 2016


The weaving process is right at the heart of what an author does. We create the raw materials, spin yarns and throw our protagonists into complicated situations to see how they’ll cope. The trick, of course, is to make sure that the reader isn’t able to see the hand of the creator at work.

In No Safe House (US), Linwood Barclay didn’t quite manage to hide the stitching together of the plot. He’s an author who I’ve enjoyed in the past and have admired for the way he turns normal lives upside down in entirely believable and gripping ways.

What’s different about this one is that the succession of coincidences and unlikely events eventually wore too thin for me to suspend disbelief. This made the process of getting to the end somewhat mechanical. There was plenty I wanted to find out about and I was interested enough to persevere, it’s just that the magic spell was broken and so the impact was reduced.

No Safe House didn’t hit the mark for me. If you’re thinking about it, why not pick another Barclay from the shelf instead - play the safer bet and see how it shakes down.    

Friday, 11 November 2016


“Jesus, Lew. Sounds like you reached for your hat and got the chamberpot instead.”

The Long-Legged Fly (US) tells a series of stories about Lew Griffin. It spans four periods between the 1964 and 1990 and traces Lew’s life as he sinks into alcoholism and bounces between drunkenness and sobriety over the years.

It’s an interesting book in lots of ways. It opens as a private detective novel, but as it progresses the investigations take a back-seat as his reflections on life and his attempts to get his personal issues together come to the fore.

We meet him in New Orleans where he is hired by some political activists to find an important figurehead for their black-power movement. Corene Davis has disappeared on her way to an engagement. She boarded a plane for the city but didn’t appear when it landed. This story takes Lew into the bowels of the world where his size and reputation allow him to remain safe and to apply pressure when necessary.

Echoes of his first investigation appear in the further episodes in his life. His tough side is ever-present, but is counter-balanced by his warm heart and sense of justice that are shown in unlikely circumstances.

Though a book in four quarters, it’s also a story of two halves. My preference is for the opening half where his detective work is at the fore. The interplay between his life and work is very successful and there’s a dramatic edge to the cases concerned. The hard-boiled influence gave me a lot of pleasure and is a fine example of the genre. In the second part, the cases take a back seat as Lew shifts his world away from what he knows and attempts to forge a steady relationship and begin a life as a writer. Part two is much more focussed upon the philosophical thoughts of an ageing male as his mind moves upon silence. The musings are often poetic, thought-provoking and powerful and offer a huge amount that is worthy of appreciation, there’s just a very different energy to the plots as the cases are diluted.

The Long-Legged Fly is a book I enjoyed. Fans of the detective novel will find this a treat, as will those who are at home among the more literary pages of this world.  

Sunday, 6 November 2016


When I snuff you out I will cover the heavens and all the stars will darken said the priest. And that’ll learn you.

Beastings (US) is a mighty read. Even on a Kindle you can feel the weight of it in your hand. It tells the story of a chase across the Lake District as a priest and his poacher guide attempt to track down a young mute girl and the baby she has taken from its home.

The girl in question is escaping a history of pain and misery in the hands of her pursuer. Her life was destroyed by the priest and she was sent to work as a nanny to a family in a home packed with bitterness, disease and hate. When the baby’s well-being became threatened, the girl decided to take her away to safety. In doing so, she discovers a new meaning to the world and a finds a hope that is as bright and as fleeting as the sunrise. With no resources, she learns to live from the land and to accept the kindness of strangers.

Meanwhile, the priest enlists the help of a poacher and sets of in pursuit. The motives for the chase are entirely self-centred as the priest needs to keep his abuses in the home for girls quiet. He’s even scared to sleep in the presence of others as he talks in his sleep and can’t afford to let any clues about his life slip from his mouth.  He’s dark to the core and ranks up there with the most unpleasant characters I’ve ever met on the page. The fact that he is a man driven by his religious zest and who can articulate his philosophies to his own end make him even more frightening than even his actions suggest. His steady decline as he indulges in his addiction for the marching powder that fuels his zeal only adds further to his menace. His conversations with the poacher are intoxicating. The poacher is at one with the landscape and sees the world through practical eyes. He’s a great contrast to the priest and the pair’s arguments are extremely entertaining. They also highlight the bleak and sparse writing style of the book, one that echoes the rugged and stony terrain in which they travel. The humour is pointed as flint, the priest’s lack of emotion as cold as exposed Cumbrian rock.   

The material of the book makes it difficult at times and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. To me, the harrowing nature of many aspects of the story simply made it more enticing. The chase itself is gripping, but there’s so much more to hold your attention than that. The dialect is superb. The dialogue is a treat to experience. The description of the area and of the way humans interact with it is beautiful. The battle between the nascent hope and the poisonous power of the inevitable is compelling. The climax was a total surprise to me and tattooed itself on the inside of my brain when I reached the end.  

Beastings is a gem. It’s a book that deserves to be read and appreciated. There are many flavours to the writing and I suspect there are a host of literary and poetic influences which Myers collects  and shakes to create a cocktail that is all of his own.

Highly recommended.   

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


I Know Your Secret (US). I guess that we’d all be frightened to hear those words. It happens to be worse in this case as the blackmailer knows exactly what secret is been hidden and can offer up enough information to prove it.

In this novel, the Major Crimes Team are overwhelmed by work. There’s the brutal and peculiar murder of a priest, nailed to the ground in the way the man he worshipped was attached to the cross; a wealthy landowner who is well-connected wants to catch his employee who has ripped him off; and there’s a rape investigation linked to a model and a porn film to sort out.

There’s a lot of tension in the squad as they go about their work. Former boss DI Harry Evans is on the verge of retirement and is also following a court case relating to the death of his wife. When he’s not pursuing his personal quest, he’s buzzing around the investigations and trying to help out the new kid on the block, DI Campbell, with half an eye on manipulating some position as consultant to the police in the future. Campbell is busy trying to impress his new team and also to work under the pressure of an unsympathetic boss and a wife with a new baby who is in need of support and isn’t happy about the lack of it.

As each strand of the story is dealt with, the major thread of the priest’s murder picks up pace. As new points of view are introduced, the rich tapestry of it all is revealed in a teasing manner and it becomes compulsive reading as the end draws near. The basic premise of the story and the motive of the killer are really well conceived, providing both a strong spine to the work and a conclusion that is entirely satisfying.

The police and villains alike are all well-formed characters, with the main protagonists being particularly well-penned. The setting and influence of the region add a strong flavour to the investigations and the undulating emotions and doses of humour keep things interesting throughout.