Book Review – SIRENS (2017) by Joseph Knox

SIRENS by JOSEPH KNOX (2017, Doubleday, 374pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Blurb: Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?

This is a remarkably assured debut from Joseph Knox that explores the seedy criminal underworld of Manchester.  The book is a dark, modern take, on the noir-mystery genre. There are echoes of Chandler, MacDonald, et al, in Knox’s first-person narration, but more so this has an instinctive feel for time and place. It is also a depressing tale populated by characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Even Knox’s hero, Aidan Waits, has more than his fair share of troubles, including his own drug dependency. Despite this, Knox’s writing style keeps the reader gripped from start to finish as the mystery unravels. His use of short, one-scene chapters, and his sectioning of the book into effectively six acts, all carrying a single word title, gives the novel the structure of a TV mini-series, which this could well become. The book took Knox eight years to complete and his sense of perfection has resulted in one of the best debut crime novels in recent years. Where he will take his lead character in the promised series will be interesting, as there is a sense that Knox has put everything into this. Like his hero, I am hooked.

Book Review – THE DARKEST GOODBYE (2016) by Alex Gray

THE DARKEST GOODBYE by ALEX GRAY (2016, Sphere, 456pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: When newly fledged DC Kirsty Wilson is called to the house of an elderly woman, what appears to be a death by natural causes soon takes a sinister turn when it is revealed that the woman had a mysterious visitor in the early hours of that morning – someone dressed as a community nurse, but with much darker intentions. As Kirsty is called to another murder – this one the brutal execution of a well-known Glasgow drug dealer – she finds herself pulled into a complex case involving vulnerable people and a sinister service that offers them and their loved ones a ‘release’. Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is called in to help DC Wilson investigate and as the body count rises, the pair soon realise that this case is about to get more personal than either of them could have imagined . . .

This is the thirteenth book in Alex Gray’s William Lorimer series and is the first that I have read. Although Lorimer is the series’ primary character, this book focuses on newly appointed Detective Constable Kirsty Wilson. Her father is a well-respected DI who is about to retire and Kirsty is initially paired with troubled DS Len Murdoch – who has a gambling addiction and a wife suffering from MS – as her mentor. The mystery surrounds a secret organisation provided assisted death to terminally ill patients for money.  The mystery is well-plotted, but there is little depth to the characters and the lead, Lorimer, is somewhat lacking in charisma. The story, whilst familiar procedural fare, is never dull and is crafted by a writer comfortable in her game.

Book Review – THE HIGHWAYMAN (2016) by Craig Johnson

THE HIGHWAYMAN by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016, Viking, 194pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: When Wyoming highway patrolman Rosey Wayman is transferred to the beautiful and imposing landscape of the Wind River Canyon, an area the troopers refer to as no-man’s-land because of the lack of radio communication, she starts receiving officer needs assistance calls. The problem? They’re coming from Bobby Womack, a legendary Arapaho patrolman who met a fiery death in the canyon almost a half-century ago. With an investigation that spans this world and the next, Sheriff Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear take on a case that pits them against a legend: The Highwayman.

Craig Johnson continues his output of Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries – which has now stretched to twelve novels, two novellas and a collection of short stories – with this enjoyable novella. The “ghost story” elements give the story an sense of fun and mystery – although the mystery itself is straight-forward and doesn’t really produce any surprises and the scenario is never comedic. This is more about Johnson having fun with his characters with Walt supported by his long-time friend Henry Standing Bear. Their interplay is as witty and affectionate as ever. Whilst the book is never much more than a mild diversion until the next novel, An Obvious Fact published later the same year, it will satisfy fans of Johnson’s writing and characters.

Film Review – SCOOP (2006)

Scoop (2006; UK/USA; Technicolor; 96m) ∗∗∗  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Remi Adefarasin.  Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Woody Allen, Romola Garai, Kevin McNally, Jim Dunk, Geoff Bell, Christopher Fulford, Nigel Lindsay, Fenella Woolgar, Matt Day, Rupert Frazer. An American journalism student in London scoops a big story, and begins an affair with an aristocrat as the incident unfurls. Lightweight comedy mystery is one of Allen’s lesser works. Allen and Johansson spark well with Allen relishing his role as a cheesy magician. The mystery elements are less satisfying and not all the one-liners hit home, but it has just enough to make it an entertaining diversion. [12]

Book Review – RATHER BE THE DEVIL (2016) by Ian Rankin

RATHER BE THE DEVIL by IAN RANKIN (2016, Orion, 310pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found. Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

Rankin’s twenty-first Rebus novel is an entertaining read and one that shows Rankin is extremely comfortable with his characters. In this one the plot is fairly ordinary based around two cases that weave into one. Rebus is now long-retired, but investigating an old case and still sparring with gangster Big Ger Cafferty. The interplay between the main characters is what works best in this book. Rankin otherwise plays to more conventional crime fiction tropes and as such the book feels closer to his earlier work than his later, more complex novels. Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are on-board as is Cafferty’s challenger for the control of the Edinburgh crime scene – Darryl Christie. The book continues the gangland arc from Even Dogs in the Wild and sees it through to a satisfying conclusion, that sets up the series for the future. Rebus himself, is coming to terms with growing old and bronchial problems. He has, however, lost none of his acerbic wit and doggedness. Seeing him work with, but outside of, the police has given the series a new lease of life.

Book Review – EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD by Ian Rankin (2015)

EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD by IAN RANKIN (2015, Orion, 408pp) ∗∗∗∗

BlurbRetirement doesn’t suit John Rebus. He wasn’t made for hobbies, holidays or home improvements. Being a cop is in his blood. So when DI Siobhan Clarke asks for his help on a case, Rebus doesn’t need long to consider his options. Clarke’s been investigating the death of a senior lawyer whose body was found along with a threatening note. On the other side of Edinburgh, Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’s long-time nemesis – has received an identical note and a bullet through his window.

This is the twentieth novel in Ian Rankin’s highly successful Rebus series and he shows no signs of tiring of his creation. It is a punchy and absorbing crime novel, expertly plotted and populated with a strong cast of characters. The retired Rebus is now acting as a consultant to the police and his interplay with ex-colleagues and gangsters remains as sharp as ever. Freed from the shackles of paperwork and the need to answer for his actions, Rebus is re-energised with Rankin having fun with theses aspects. Clarke and Malcolm Fox are also given room to breathe with Fox determined to prove he is a good detective and often going off radar to do so and Clarke the control element to clue the investigation together. Two plot threads intertwine with current affairs, a trademark of Rankin’s novels. There is also a softening of the character of Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’ lifelong gangster nemesis – and whilst their scenes together contain the usual caustic banter, Rankin shows the men have a high level of respect for each other. Already Rebus 21 is in the works with Rather Be the Devil due out in hardback in November as the series continues to maintain its level of quality.

Film Review – GUMSHOE (1971)

Gumshoe (1971; UK; Eastmancolor; 86m) ∗∗∗½  d. Stephen Frears; w. Neville Smith; ph. Chris Menges; m. Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Cast: Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Janice Rule, Carolyn Seymour, Fulton Mackay, George Innes, George Silver, Bill Dean, Wendy Richard, Maureen Lipman. A nightclub bingo caller eager for a career change advertises himself as a private eye in the newspaper. Affectionate pastiche of classic private eye thrillers. Finney excels as the night club host who fantasises he is a PI in the Bogart mould. Convoluted plot populated by mysterious characters carried along by a witty script full of acerbic wisecracks. [12]

Film Review – FALLEN ANGEL (1945)

Fallen Angel (1945; USA; B&W; 94m) ∗∗∗½  d. Otto Preminger; w. Harry Kleiner; ph. Joseph LaShelle; m. David Riskin.  Cast: Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Bruce Cabot, John Carradine A slick con man arrives in a small town looking to make some money, but soon gets more than he bargained for. Well cast film-noir is solid entertainment despite the melodramatic and uneven nature of its script. Andrews is always a great rogue and there are some effective individual scenes. Darnell makes the most of her manipulative role, whilst Bickford adds a layered performance as a semi-retired cop. Based on the novel by Marty Holland. [PG]

Book Review – THE DARK INSIDE by Rod Reynolds (2015)

THE DARK INSIDE by ROD REYNOLDS (2015, Faber & Faber, 394pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: 1946, Texarkana: a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas. Disgraced New York reporter Charlie Yates has been sent to cover the story of a spate of brutal murders – young couples who’ve been slaughtered at a local date spot. Charlie finds himself drawn into the case by the beautiful and fiery Lizzie, sister to one of the victims, Alice – the only person to have survived the attacks and seen the killer up close. But Charlie has his own demons to fight, and as he starts to dig into the murders he discovers that the people of Texarkana have secrets that they want kept hidden at all costs. Before long, Charlie discovers that powerful forces might be protecting the killer, and as he investigates further his pursuit of the truth could cost him more than his job…

Apparently loosely based on actual events this is an assured debut from Reynolds, who creates a noir feel through his weaving mystery plot and use of the 1940s Texas setting. Charlie Yates is a haunted and flawed hero and Reynolds develops his character through his interactions as he looks to unravel the case surrounding three murdered couples. Reynolds relies to some extent on genre conventions – including the femme-fatale of Lizzie Anderson and the crooked cops. The tale also verges close to the melodramatic on a few occasions. Despite this there is a cinematic quality to the writing and dialogue that evokes movies of the period such as Out of the Past. Reynolds carefully introduces the main characters and plot elements through a slowish first-half, but as Yates closes in on the killer, the pace tightens significantly and the story hurtles to its inevitable showdown in page-turning fashion. Highly recommended.

Book Review – DRY BONES by Craig Johnson (2015)

DRY BONES by CRAIG JOHNSON (2015, Penguin, 306pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government. As Wyoming’s Acting Deputy Attorney and a cadre of FBI officers descend on the town, Walt is determined to find out who would benefit from Danny’s death, enlisting old friends Lucian Connolly and Omar Rhoades, along with Dog and best friend Henry Standing Bear, to trawl the vast Lone Elk ranch looking for answers to a sixty-five million year old cold case that’s heating up fast.

Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries, set in a fictional modern day Wyoming county, remain wonderfully entertaining. The main pleasure is not derived from the mysteries themselves, which although often quirky are nothing out of the ordinary, but in the rich cast of characters Johnson uses to populate his stories and their interaction with each other. Despite being written in the first person each character has depth, which is conveyed through Longmire’s wry and witty observation.

Although Dry Bones is the 11th novel in the series – as well as two novellas and a collection of short stories – Johnson shows no sign of tiring of his principal cast. The story itself mixes mystery, greed, mysticism and tragedy. The themes are familiar but it feels like returning to, and never tiring of, your favourite holiday destination.

Johnson’s writing has become more efficient as the series has progressed and he has lost none of his flair for dialogue. In Dry Bones he deftly mixes the tragic elements of the story with a sense of optimism and a warm feel good factor. I look forward greatly to my next vacation to Absaroka County.