Book Review – IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) by Ian Rankin

IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) ***½
by Ian Rankin
Published by Orion, 2018, 372pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7691-6

Blurb: Everyone has something to hide… A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched. Everyone has secrets… Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth. Nobody is innocent… Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

The 22nd book in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series sees the retired detective feeling his age as his deteriorating health leads him to quit smoking and limit his drinking. Bored, he grasps at the opportunity to help his former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, by re-investigating an old case. Meanwhile, Clarke herself is deeply embroiled in a murder investigation whilst fighting off an internal enquiry into her conduct.

Rankin steers away from any major political and social issues and concentrates on the mechanics of the two cases. The murder mystery involves a high-ranking businessman and a film producer as well as two corrupt cops, giving the novel a few narrative strands to weave together. Of course, there is a link between these threads and Rebus again locks horns with his nemesis Big “Ger” Cafferty who is tied to both.

Nothing too surprising here, just another well-written crime mystery by a writer who knows his craft. It’s difficult to see where Rankin will take his lead character as he ages in retirement and struggles with ill-health.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999)
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001)
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – KILLER IN THE RAIN (1964) by Raymond Chandler

KILLER IN THE RAIN (1964) ***½
by Raymond Chandler
First published by Hamish Hamilton, 1964
This edition: published by Penguin Books, 1979, 432pp.
ISBN: 0-14-00-2445-X

Image result for killer in the rain raymond chandlerBlurb: None of these eight stories features Philip Marlowe. He came later. But every one of them already has the deadly Chandler elan that made Philip Marlowe the coolest, toughest private eye ever.

These stories were written whilst Raymond Chandler was honing his craft in the pulp magazines of the 1930s. Seven of the eight were published before his fist novel, The Big Sleep (1939). The detective featured in each is a prototype for Philip Marlowe. Chandler’s detective was always used as an observer and a tool to move the plot, rather than a fully fledged character in his own right. As the books progressed Chandler finessed the Marlowe character to make him more rounded resulting in the masterpiece that was The Long Goodbye (1953). Whilst most of Chandler’s short stories were re-published (in collections such as The Simple Art of Murder and Trouble is My Business, these stories were held back until 1964, after Chandler’s death, as the plots had been re-used by Chandler in some of his novels.

The first story, Killer in the Rain (Black Mask, January 1935) **** is recognisable as the blackmail plot element used in The Big Sleep. Here the troubled young Carmen Dravec would become Carmen Sternwood and gain a sister. Dravec is a doting surrogate father and a heavy rather than the proud General Sternwood. Steiner would become Geiger, Joe Marty would become Joe Brody and Guy Slade would become Eddie Mars. The plot would be expanded for the novel, but many of the elements are here making the story a fascinating read. It lacks the rhythm of prose Chandler would bring to his novels, but the bones of his later style are evident here. The Man Who Liked Dogs (Black Mask, March 1936) ***½  is as hard-boiled and violent as Chandler gets. The story is a straight forward search for a missing woman instigated by in centring around a missing police dog. The  two are tied in with a notorious gangster and corrupt police force. There are scenes in a bogus medical institution and a finale on a gambling boat with a bloody shoot-out resolution. Scenes would be re-used in Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and themes in The Little Sister. The story has lots of twists and action, but it again lacks the poetic prose style of Chandler’s later work. Chandler’s detective is named here as Carmady, one of several name try-outs through his short prose. The Curtain (Black Mask, September 1936) **** became the Rusty Regan (here O’Mara) part of the plot for The Big Sleep. It features recognisable version of General Sternwood and his daughter Vivian. A psychotic 10-year old son for Vivian in this story would be replaced by a sister, Carmen, in the subsequent novel – fusing the character of the son with that of Carmen Dravec in Killer in the Rain. Additionally its opening, concerning a drunken acquaintance of Carmady, was to form the central relationship to his best novel, The Long Goodbye. This is an assured story, well-written and containing more obvious examples of Chandler’s prose style. An action-packed finale acted as a rehearsal for that in The Big SleepTry the Girl (Black Mask, January 1937) **** is a fast-paced and well-written warm-up for  the main plot of Farewell, My Lovely with an giant ex-con seeking his lost girl, whilst Mandarin’s Jade (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) ***½ does the same for its sub-plot of the attempted recovery of a stolen necklace. Both stories again feature John Dalmas. In the novel the two stories would be inter-related, showing how cleverly Chandler cannibalised his own plots.  Both show Chandler becoming increasingly confident with his prose style. Bay City Blues (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) *** is a little convoluted in its plotting of Dalmas investigating the apparent suicide of a doctor’s wife. Elements form the story were used in his novel Lady in the Lake. The next story would be the key basis for that novel and share the same title. Here, however, The Lady in the Lake (Dime Detective Magazine, January 1939) ***½ overly telegraphs the solution to its mystery plot of a man looking to track down his missing and unfaithful wife, but is otherwise a great vehicle for Chandler’s gift with dialogue. Chandler would rework elements of the plot, and characters (here given different names) as well as using the same mountain lake location for No Crime in the Mountains (Detective Story Magazine, September 1941) *** in which he uses the name of John Evans for his LA based PI, but the plot is less successfully developed than in the previous story.

Taken as a whole these stories are fascinating as embryonic versions of what were to become classic and highly influential  crime mystery novels.

TV Review – UNFORGOTTEN – SERIES 3 (2018)

Image result for unforgotten series 3Unforgotten – Series 3 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 47m) ****  pr. Guy de Glanville; d. Andy Wilson; w. Chris Lang; ph. Søren Bay; m. Michael Price.  Cast: Nicola Walker, Sanjeev Bhaskar, James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally, Neil Morrissey, Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ove, Amanda Root, Jordan Long, Lewis Reeves, Carolina Main, Peter Egan. Sara Stewart, Bronagh Waugh, Brid Brennan, Alastair MacKenzie, Tom Rhys Harries, Siobhan Redmond, Lucinda Dryzek, Jo Herbert.  When workmen carrying out carriageway repairs on the central reservation of the M1 uncover human remains, Cassie (Walker) and the team are called to investigate. The third series of Unforgotten maintains the high standard set by the first two. The formula is the same as before by setting up the discovery of a body and then lining up a number of inter-related suspects, all with their own secrets. In that respect it can perhaps be judged to be adding nothing new. However, the underlying story here has lots of resonance and a truly chilling finale. The cast is very strong and all deliver top-class performances, notably the quartet of suspects – Fleet, Jennings, McNally and Morrissey. Walker’s tics may be occasionally distracting, but she and Bhaskar continue to make for a likeable detective duo. Lang’s script is well balanced and maintains its mystery through to its dark finale and Wilson directs without needing to resort to the overly-stylised visuals so often used in  modern TV crime dramas. [15]

Book Review – BLACK AND BLUE (1997) by Ian Rankin

BLACK AND BLUE by IAN RANKIN (1997, Orion, 498pp) ****½

Blurb: In the 1960s, the infamous Bible John terrorised Scotland when he murdered three women, taking three souvenirs. Thirty years later, a copycat is at work, dubbed Johnny Bible. DI John Rebus’s unconventional methods have got him in trouble before – now he’s taken away from the inquiry and sent to investigate the killing of an off-duty oilman. But when his case clashes head-on with the Johnny Bible killings, he finds himself in the glare of a fearful media, whilst under the scrutiny of an internal enquiry. Just one mistake is likely to mean losing his job – and quite possibly his life.

Ian Rankin had written seven Rebus novels before Black and Blue and had become an established name in the crime-writing field, but was seen as more of a B-list writer. This book exploded him into the A-list, where he has stayed ever since. In his introduction to this 2016 edition, Rankin recalls the personal turmoil he was going through at the time of writing. Living in France with a son diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, the writer and his wife struggled with the bureaucracy of the French medical system. The family would eventually return to Scotland. The impression this left on Rankin fired his need to voice his concerns on a broader template. Also, around the time of writing the book, press interest in the historic Bible John killings had been heightened by new DNA evidence. Rankin had undertaken extensive research into the case and decided to incorporate a real life killer into his fictional story of a copy cat. Other elements incorporated into the story are police and corporate corruption, environmentalists protesting about pollution caused by the oil companies and a drug smuggling involving gangsters from Glasgow and Aberdeen. It was to become Rankin’s most complex and multi-layered book.

Rankin explores his protagonist in deep detail – his loyalty, his alcohol dependency, his inner-angst. What emerges is a very three-dimensional portrayal of a flawed man whose sole motivation in life is to see justice done. Saddled with a former colleague, whilst he is being investigated for malpractice in an old case, Rebus is as acerbic and dogged as ever. A loner tethered to a leash, which brings his anxieties to the surface. The book has a broad scope taking Rebus from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Aberdeen, the Shetlands and a North Sea oil rig. The separate plot strands are nicely interwoven revealing some surprising links along the way. Rankin’s research helps bring the locales and the police investigation to life in an enthralling way.

Black and Blue is a novel that shows a writer fully maturing and it would set the bar for the remainder of the series.

The Rebus Series:

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
  2. Hide and Seek (1991) ***
  3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993) ***
  6. Mortal Causes (1994) ***
  7. Let it Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997) ****½
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000) ****
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002) ****
  14. A Question of Blood (2003) ****
  15. Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
  17. Exit Music (2007) ****
  18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
  20. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
  21. Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
  22. In a House of Lies (2018)

Book Review – AN OBVIOUS FACT (2016) by Craig Johnson

AN OBVIOUS FACT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016; Penguin; 318pp) ***
An Obvious Fact by Craig JohnsonBlurbIn the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America’s first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt’s granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won’t stop quoting, ”There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is an entertaining read, but shows signs of complacency setting in. Johnson writes engaging characters and witty dialogue, but there is something a little blase about the way they go about their business in this story. The humour is turned up and the thrills turned down and everything feels a little comfortable. The mystery itself isn’t as engaging as the plots in earlier books either. and the whole thing is wrapped up rather conveniently in the epilogue. That said I was never bored and this is probably the fastest and easiest read in the series – the novellas and short stories excepted – just not very challenging. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a downward turn and The thirteenth novel, The Western Star, will be a return to form.

The Walt Longmire Series:

The Cold Dish (2004) ****
Death Without Company (2006) ****
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007) ****
Another Man’s Moccasins (2009) ****
The Dark Horse (2010) ****
Junkyard Dogs (2010) *****
Hell is Empty (2011) ****
As the Crow Flies (2012) ****
A Serpent’s Tooth (2013) ****
Spirit of Steamboat (2013 – novella) ****
Any Other Name (2014) ****½
Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories (2014 – short story collection) ****
Dry Bones (2015) ****
The Highwayman (2016 – novella) ***½
An Obvious Fact (2016) ***
The Western Star (2017)

Book Review – THE LATE SHOW (2017) by Michael Connelly

THE LATE SHOW by MICHAEL CONNELLY (2017; Orion; 424pp) ***½

Blurb: Detective Renée Ballard works ‘The Late Show’, the notorious graveyard shift at the LAPD. It’s thankless work for a once-promising detective, keeping strange hours in a twilight world of crime. Some nights are worse than others. And tonight is the worst yet. Two shocking cases, hours apart: a brutal assault, and a multiple murder with no suspects. Ballard knows it is always darkest before dawn. But what she doesn’t know – yet – is how deep her investigation will take her into the dark heart of her city, the police department and her own past…

Michael Connelly has established a reputation as one of the great modern crime thriller writers – notably for his series featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Here he introduces us to a new female detective hero in Renée Ballard. Ballard is a well-sketched character and a dedicated detective with emotional baggage – a seeming requisite for the modern detective. Her debut novel, The Late Show, is also set in LA and follows a similar police procedural pattern, mixing meticulous exposition of investigative techniques with the more conventional excitements of the modern-day thriller. The result is a solid mystery. The story is slow to get going, but picks up around the half-way mark as Connelly unravels the plot utilising techniques such as increasingly shortening chapters, to quicken the pace. Connelly’s experience as a former police reporter means he is very knowledgeable of police procedure and he displays that knowledge throughout the novel. But Connelly is also a craftsman, who deftly works in sufficient clues for the reader without giving the game away too early. The Late Show is therefore a satisfying, if familiar, read which serves to demonstrate Connelly’s skills without really stretching them.

TV Review – SHETLAND – SERIES 4 (2018)

Shetland Series 4 [DVD] [2018]Shetland – Series 4 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) ****  pr. Eric Coulter; d. Lee Haven Jones, Rebecca Gatward; w. David Kane, Louise Ironside, Paul Logue; ph. Ed Moore, Michael Coulter; m. John Lunn.  Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Julie Graham, Erin Armstrong, Lewis Howden, Stephen Walters, Neve McIntosh, Sean McGinley, Fiona Bell, Allison McKenzie, Amy Lennox, Sophie Stone, Gerard Miller, Eleanor Matsuura, Carolin Stoltz, Arnmundur Bjornsson.  Perez (Henshall) and the team are forced to re-open a twenty-three year old cold case when convicted murder, Thomas Malone (Walters), is released from prison. The case concerns teenager Lizzie Kilmuir, who was found strangled to death on a kiln. Upon returning to Shetland, Thomas tries to make amends with Lizzie’s elder sister, Kate (McIntosh). Meanwhile, local journalist Sally McColl (Lennox) attends the Shetland Folk Festival with a group of her friends, but doesn’t return home later that evening. The next day, she is found strangled to death on a kiln, in what looks like a copycat of Lizzie’s murder. Top-class mystery with a bleak, isolated setting adding to the atmosphere. A strong cast – notably Henshall as the dedicated detective and Walters as the psychologically damaged, but misunderstood, convict – deliver earnest performances. Despite the length of the drama there is little flab in the plotting, which winds its way to a satisfying and tense conclusion. Based on the characters created by Ann Cleeves. [12]

TV Review – STRIKE: CAREER OF EVIL (2018)

Image result for strike career of evil dvdStrike: Career of Evil (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 2 x 60m) ****  pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Charles Sturridge; w. Tom Edge; ph. Maja Zamojda; m. Adrian Johnston.  Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Ben Crompton, Andrew Brooke, Emmanuella Cole, Jessica Gunning, Matt King, Neil Maskell, Kierston Wareing.  At the office, Robin receives a package and is horrified to discover it contains a woman’s severed leg. Strike draws up a list of suspects who have vendettas against him.  Third in the Strike series is the most confident adaptation. Burke and Grainger (as Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott) have really settled into their roles and the plot allows room for development of the mystery alongside the progression of Robyn’s story. Loses a little bit of momentum in its second-part, but it is still a gorgeously shot and satisfying mystery.  Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith). [15]

Book Review – THE INNOCENTS (2016) by Ace Atkins

THE INNOCENTS  by ACE ATKINS (2016, Corasir, 372pp) ***½

Image result for ace atkins the innocentsBlurb: After being voted out of office and returning to the war zone he’d left behind, Quinn Colson is back in Jericho, trying to fix things with his still-married high school girlfriend and retired Hollywood stuntman father. Quinn knows he doesn’t owe his hometown a damn thing, but he can’t resist the pull of becoming a lawman again and accepts a badge from his former colleague, foul-mouthed acting Sheriff Lillie Virgil. Both officers have fought corruption in Tibbehah County before, but the case they must confront now is nothing like they’ve ever seen. When a former high school cheerleader is found walking a back road completely engulfed in flames, everyone in Jericho wants answers for the senseless act of violence. As Quinn and Lillie uncover old secrets and new lies, the entire town turns against them, and they soon learn that the most dangerous enemies may be the ones you trust most.

This is the sixth book in Ace Atkins’ series featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson set in the small county of Tibbehah. Atkins continues to produce quality writing, notably in character and dialogue echoing one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. The plot itself is familiar, but does introduce a shock element in its closing chapters. There is also the ongoing arc surrounding Quinn’s family and his love life. These sub-plots remain unresolved at the novel’s conclusion compelling the reader to return for the next volume. Also unresolved is the set up of a new adversary in the form of Fannie Hathcock, who has taken over as the owner of the strip bar from the imprisoned Johnny Stagg. She establishes an antagonistic relationship with Lillie Virgil from the off, as the similarities in their personalities initially cause a clash, but ultimately creates a way they can be of mutual benefit. Whilst this novel is familiar to those who have read earlier books in the series, it is still an entertaining read and the unresolved arcs leave a hook to pull you in to the next adventure.

The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017)
The Sinners (2018)

Film Review – BLOOD WORK (2002)

Image result for blood work blu-rayBlood Work (2002; USA; Technicolor; 110m) ***  d. Clint Eastwood; w. Brian Helgeland; ph. Tom Stern; m. Lennie Niehaus.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Wanda De Jesus, Tina Lifford, Paul Rodriguez, Dylan Walsh, Mason Lucero, Gerry Becker, Rick Hoffman, Alix Koromzay, Igor Jijikine, June Kyoto Lu, Dina Eastwood, Beverly Leech. Still recovering from a heart transplant, a retired FBI profiler returns to service when his own blood analysis offers clues to the identity of a serial killer. Interesting premise is occasionally undone by lapses in logic and the routine nature of the production. Eastwood is as charismatic as ever in the lead role, but as director fails to inject sufficient suspense. The strongest moments are the character conflicts. It remains an entertaining enough and serviceable mystery despite its flaws. Based on the novel by Michael Connelly. [15]