A new day dawns in Sackwater, not that this sleepy backwater is taking much notice…
Inspector Betty Church – one of the few female officers on the force – has arrived from London to fill a vacancy at Sackwater police station. But Betty isn’t new here. This is the place she grew up. The place she thought she’d left behind for good.
Time ticks slowly in Sackwater, and crime is of a decidedly lighter shade. Having solved the case of the missing buttons, Betty’s called to the train station to investigate a missing bench. But though there’s no bench, there is a body. A smartly dressed man, murdered in broad daylight, with two distinctive puncture wounds in his throat.
While the locals gossip about the Suffolk Vampire, Betty Church readies herself to hunt a dangerous killer.
Cosy Mystery is a favourite genre, and this story fits neatly into it. By definition, these stories are quirky full of eccentric characters, a smart detective, often disguised as a bumbling fool and numerous gruesome, but not graphically described murders, or similarly heinous crimes.
To enjoy a cosy mystery the reader needs to connect with the detective and enjoy the cast of characters and setting. I instantly connected with ‘Betty Church’, and empathised with her, the discrimination she suffers is disturbing but historically correct. I enjoyed how she always came out on top despite working almost entirely with misogynous males. The cast of characters are undoubtedly eccentric, but they are too much. Their strangeness is returned to again and again until it becomes wearing and detracts from the sharpness of the detective’s character and the story’s pacing.
The plot is over the top but well-written and full of action and vivid description, unfortunately, it is hampered by the quirks of the supporting characters that make the story drag in parts.
So on balance, this one isn’t for me. With a different set of supporting characters, I would give this series another chance.
I received a copy of this book via Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
My Thoughts… ‘Watching You’ doesn’t have the menacing thread usually associated with psychological thrillers but it’s plentiful in suspense and mystery, and the ending has many twists before being revealed. The characters are believable and ordinary, no sinister serial killer looms in the background but something tragic occurs, and there are numerous suspects.
The ending is tragic and leaves its mark on the reader.
Fast-paced, there are multiple character points of views, but they’re easy to follow. Watch out for the twists because nothing is as it first appears. An absorbing read.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House UK – Cornerstone, Century via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The only thing worse than finding out that your husband is dead is discovering the secrets he left behind.
Annabel’s seemingly perfect ex-patriate life in Geneva is shattered when her banker husband Matthew’s plane crashes in the Alps. When Annabel finds clues that his death may not be all it seems, she puts herself in the crosshairs of powerful enemies and questions whether she really knew her husband at all.
Meanwhile, journalist Marina is investigating Swiss United, the bank where Matthew worked. But when she uncovers evidence of a shocking global financial scandal that implicates someone close to home, she is forced to make an impossible choice.
Authentic detail, fast-paced action, and spine-tingling suspense make this international thriller absorbing and unputdownable. Succinctly introduced the key players seem unconnected at the outset but as tragedy strikes, their roles align and give the reader a realistic, contemporary thriller to enjoy.
Told from two points of view; Annabel, ‘The Banker’s Wife’ and Marina the society journalist find themselves up against the establishment and might of the international financial sector. One is personally affected, the other an objective observer, but lines are blurred, and both women put themselves in danger to find and reveal the truth and stop international corruption and murder.
A detailed plot demands concentration but the clues to solve the mysteries posed are there. The menacing ethos simmers in the background before exploding in the final chapters, making you wonder if the truth will come out and if the protagonists will live to see it.
The perfect weekend read.
I received a copy of this book from Mulholland Books – Hodder and Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Vicki’s husband Daniel once promised to love her in sickness and in health. But after a brutal attack left her suffering from epilepsy, he ran away with his mistress.
So when Vicki gets a call one day to say that he’s missing, her first thought is ‘good riddance’. But then the police find evidence suggesting that Daniel is dead. And they think Vicki had something to do with it.
What really happened on the night of Daniel’s disappearance?
And how can Vicki prove her innocence, when she’s not even sure of it herself?
A suspenseful psychological thriller, whose complicated plot and characters keep you enthralled and guessing right to the end. Told from multi-points of view the story demands concentration, but it’s worth the effort.
Vicki lives on a precipice, her past continually haunts her, and her health makes normal life difficult. The reasons for her emotional damage become clear as the story progressed and coupled with her life-altering condition, make her an unreliable protagonist. Is she telling the truth? Does she know what really happened? Does she have an agenda the reader is unaware?
Scarlett is a tragic character, the catalogue of misfortunes that she suffers are heartrending and delivered with authenticity and sensitivity underpinned by careful and detailed research. Scarlett’s relationship with her mother is key to her plight.
Helen is a catalyst for the book’s final chapters, she is streetwise and driven, but her motives are not immediately apparent.
The plot has numerous twists, it’s like sailing on a ship in a rough sea, just when you think you know what’s happening, another piece of information is dropped in, and you lose your way. What makes this a compelling psychological thriller is that the female protagonists are ordinary, strong women who are faced with terrible choices and outcomes. They are easy to empathise, and you want them to find peace of mind and happiness.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK, Viking via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
1899, South Africa: As the Boer War rages, Captain Ingo Finch of the Royal Army Medical Corps pieces together casualties at the front. Then, recovering in Cape Town, he is woken by local police. A British officer has been murdered, and an RAMC signature is required for the post-mortem.
Shocked by the identity of the victim, the bizarre nature of the crime and what appears a too-convenient resolution, Finch turns detective. He is soon thrust into a perilous maze of espionage and murder.
Along with an Australian nurse, Annie, and an escaped diamond miner, Mbutu, Finch finds he has stumbled on a terrifying secret, one that will shake the Empire to its core…
The black shape of the field hospital eventually hove into view. Outside, two Indian porters – Hindus, skinny, barefoot – were waiting with a stretcher.
Finch eased himself over the splintered tailboard.
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t pass muster at the officers’ mess,” boomed a voice behind him.
“What the hell, sir? We went out there under a truce,” Finch spluttered. “A medical mission. White flag—”
Major Cox gave a discreet cough and bade Finch follow, his immaculate brown boots crunching a path across the gravelly dirt.
The Afrikaner cattle ranch had been stranded the wrong side of the border, a few miles west of the Free State. Requisitioned by the Royal Army Medical Corps, it was serving well in its new guise – modest but solid, preferable to canvas.
Finch hobbled after his superior, making heavy weather of catching up. From the barn, with its corrugated iron roof, he could hear the lowing – not of beasts but of men, casualties from the afternoon assault, their pain a constant, ambient dirge.
Cox ducked after the major under a dewy awning. In a jerry-rigged ante-chamber, an adjutant sat at an upturned orange crate, prodding at a battered typewriter in the halo of a hurricane lamp, a Morse tapper set to one side.
In the outhouse behind it, Cox stooped through a doorway, lit his own lantern and hung it from a hook in the beam of the low ceiling. A worn green baize card table served as his desk. A canvas cot, with regulation blanket, neatly folded, ran under the window.
“Brandy?” he offered.
Finch shrugged, feigning nonchalance.
Cox set two enamel mugs on the table all the same and, from somewhere, produced a dusty bottle of Santhagens.
He uncorked it, poured two generous measures, and tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially as to its provenance.
In one letter home, Finch had recorded his first impression – that on civvy street Cox would have made a slick businessman. He looked the part – the belly, the shining leather, the sleek hair, the oiled moustache.
Cox was going to make him wait – the theatre of superiority. There were two canvas chairs. Cox took the one behind the desk and gestured for Finch to sit before it.
There was a low distant rumble, like far-off thunder – the Royal Navy guns wheeled up from the south. The biggest, ‘Joe Chamberlain’, could send a shell five miles, or so they said.
Cox’s cup vibrated against the bottle, a high-pitched rasp that sounded like a bumble bee.
“Spent a whole day pounding the hills only to discover the blighters have dug themselves into the ground.”
“I’m no strategist, sir, but sending neat squares of men to march at a heavily armed trench in the middle of the day does not appear the most prudent fighting tactic.”
Some of the Highlanders he’d tended in the field were still clutching lengths of knotted rope, tied off at 6ft intervals, the means by which they could maintain perfect formation, right up to the last.
“You’re right,” came the touché. “You’re not a strategist.”
Until recently, medical personnel had not been given leave to dress up in khaki, still less trusted with a corps formed in their honour. That Cox, a cavalryman, had been seconded to oversee a bunch of fey medics seemed a lingering source of resentment.
“What the hell was the brass thinking, sir? Us, the Boers. We were treating the wounded. Together. They were helping us for God’s sake. Then the bloody artillery starts shelling, right in the middle of it. We’re stuck out there. No provisions, no weapons, nothing. Sitting ducks.”
“It was unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate? I was there for five hours. Shot at for fivehours …”
Finch slumped back. It was hard not to drift away. He ran his hands through his hair. It was thick for a man of 40, at least his Italian barber flattered him. He was in decent shape too, if maybe half a stone for the worse. But he was no soldier. That was for the kids; the obedient, unthinking kids – kids like Miles.
“The private … Lancashires. I’ll see that he gets commended. And you—”
“I’m not after a bloody medal.”
Cox shot Finch a look, then softened.
“Ingo,” he said. “I’m grateful.”
There followed a perfunctory raising of mugs, a clink and a silent, savouring sip.
Finch had never known tiredness like it. It gnawed at the muscles around his eyes and scrambled his thoughts such that the words that slurred out of his mouth did not necessarily correlate to the ones forming in his head.
“Your casualty … the lieutenant?” asked Cox.
“Bruised, battered. He’ll be okay.”
“Did he talk?” Cox added.
“You know, say anything?”
Laid out on the sacking on the floor of the cart, the lieutenant had groaned periodically, then began muttering in a delirium.
“A day’s worth of African sun can do terrible things to a man.”
“Nothing coherent? No names, orders?”
Finch shrugged. Logic had ceased to have any place in war.
“If he does …” said Cox.
There was a knock on the door – the adjutant brandishing a chit. He handed it to Cox and took a pace back. Cox absorbed the information. He held up an apologetic palm while he did so.
“Right away. Right away,” he muttered, then gave the slip back to the adjutant and dismissed him.
The major rose. Finch had had his moment.
“Good work, Captain. That will be all … Staff will arrange for a hot drink and some grub.”
Finch was about to protest that he was required in surgery.
“They’ll send it over.”
And, with that, the major was gone.
Finch took a minute or two to finish his drink. The guns rumbled on. He stood up and stretched his aching body. His left knee, in particular, would need disinfecting, patching up.
Outside, feathers of sleet swirled in the air. On the wind came the pop–pop–pop of small arms fire. The infantry assault was underway. At this distance, it sounded so ineffectual, so childish. He thought he heard the skirl of pipes.
The barefoot Indian stretcher bearers were congregating, hunched together. Very soon, the first of what would be an endless stream of ambulances would come rattling into the yard.
An RAMC sergeant with a clipboard and two staff nurses emerged and huddled under an overhang, ready to direct the wounded to the correct area – dressing, theatre or to be laid on the straw in the far end of the barn where the only attention they’d receive would come in the form of some trite ministrations from the chaplain.
Finch asked an orderly to fetch him the strongest mug of tea he could brew, with enough sugar in it to make a spoon stand up.
A realistic historical crime drama set against the background of the Boer war.
Captain Finch, a doctor, becomes an unlikely detective as he investigates the death of his superior officer. Told primarily from Finch and Mbutu( An escaped diamond miner) points of view, they describe different events that are cleverly linked as the story progresses. Annie, a nurse, joins the story later and she becomes a vital source of strength for Finch as the conspiracy deepens and their lives are endangered.
The historical detail is vivid and absorbing and illustrates the horror of war for civilians, soldiers and animals caught up in the mayhem. The racial prejudice of the time is realistically depicted and demonstrates how poorly the indigent population were treated by both sides in the war.
The characters are well drawn and fit perfectly into this sinister murder mystery scenario created at the end of the 19th-century in war-torn Africa. Finch is a courageous man, but his trusting nature leads him to make some questionable choices, which make his and Annie’s survival precarious. The antagonist takes many forms, but ultimately the real evil is more potent than Finch could envisage.
The story is detailed and lengthy but full of action, historical interest and a well thought out whodunnit.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Jeff Dawson is a journalist and author. He has been a long-standing contributor to The Sunday Times Culture section, writing regular A-list interview-led arts features (interviewees including the likes of Robert De Niro, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Grant, Angelina Jolie, Jerry Seinfeld and Nicole Kidman). He is also a former US Editor of Empire magazine.
Jeff is the author of three non-fiction books — Tarantino/Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool, Back Home: England And The 1970 World Cup, which The Times rated “truly outstanding”, and Dead Reckoning: The Dunedin Star Disaster, the latter nominated for the Mountbatten Maritime Prize.
Logan McRae’s personal history is hardly squeaky clean, but now that he works for Professional Standards he’s policing his fellow officers.
When Detective Inspector Bell turns up dead in the driver’s seat of a crashed car it’s a shock to everyone. Because Bell died two years ago, they buried him. Or they thought they did.
As an investigation is launched into Bell’s stabbing, Logan digs into his past. Where has he been all this time? Why did he disappear? And what’s so important that he felt the need to come back from the dead?
But the deeper Logan digs, the more bones he uncovers – and there are people out there who’ll kill to keep those skeletons buried. If Logan can’t stop them, DI Bell won’t be the only one to die…
Starting a series at book eleven is probably not the best way to become acquainted with the characters, but despite this being my first Logan McRae book I found the characters delightfully quirky and wholly authentic.
‘The Blood Road’, as the name suggests has a dark theme, not revealed in the blurb I read. ‘The concept of a child auction’ is truly horrific and readers should be prepared to be appalled by some of the events in this story. The scenes with the children are sensitively written but its not for everyone.
The plot is very detailed and includes the remarkable and the mundane, while this adds to the story’s authenticity, it did make specific areas drag for me. The dialogue is what makes this a five-star book; it’s believable, informative, and sometimes amusing. The plot has subtle twists and a suspenseful, adrenaline-inducing ending.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
They were Hollywood’s hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead, and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.
This is the celebrity murder trial of the century, and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn.
All the evidence points to Robert’s guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the courtroom start to raise doubts in Eddie’s mind.
What if there’s more than one actor in the courtroom?
What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?
For once a thriller lives up to its blurb.
The twisty nature of this thriller made it a must-read for me, and I wasn’t disappointed.
A celebrity trial, an unusual lawyer and a serial killer but is he the man on the stand? Well, he’s undoubtedly in the courtroom.
Told from two points of view this predominately courtroom based story lets the reader into the psyche of Eddie Flynn, a con-man turned lawyer and Kane, the serial killer. A fast-paced plot faithfully traces court procedure with essential insights into the lawyer and killer’s personality cleverly entwined with the on-going trial.
The extensive cast of characters is slickly used to add depth and authenticity to the plot. It’s easy to follow, but there are plenty of surprises, well-crafted suspense and a great twisty ending. The killings are not overly graphic, but they give you a chill down your spine. The fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series but the first one I’ve read. There is enough backstory on Eddie and his friends to make this easy reading as a standalone story.
A chilling, clever, courtroom thriller that enthrals the reader and gives you a definite adrenaline rush.
I received a copy of this book from Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
It was Beth’s fault we never had any birthday parties. Well, not since our first and last one, when we were five. We were so excited, I remember that much. It was our first proper party. We were running around the house, shrieking and laughing, jumping up and down and waiting for the guests to arrive. Beth had on her new frilly dress with fairy wings and a tutu skirt, and I was wearing one of Beth’s old pinafores that she’d grown out of. We’d done our hair up in lopsided bunches with our favourite scrunchies and butterfly clips. Mum had made party bags, blown up balloons. She’d even baked a cake with nine candles: five for Beth and four for me because one of them broke in the packet on the way back from the shop. The house was warm with the sweet smell of baking. It was a My Little Pony cake: vanilla buttercream, strawberry jam, hundreds of thousands of sprinkles. I didn’t like vanilla. Or buttercream. Or strawberry jam, to be honest. Beth was the one who was mad keen on horses. I preferred trolls. But I thought the cake looked pretty cool: the pink flying pony with sparkly wings and a blue mane that glistened and flowed in the wind. Horses could fly in those days; there was magic in the air. At least, that’s what I thought until the guests started to arrive. Then it all went downhill.
‘Happy birthday!’ The kids all burst in squealing. And then the party games began. Beth won Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Beth won Musical Statues and Musical Chairs. Mum always stopped the music when Beth had the present when we were playing Pass the Parcel. Beth was the one Mum let cut the cake and make a wish (and it was such a beautiful knife!).
That was it. I couldn’t take any more. I turned on my heel and sprinted upstairs, my head exploding with thundering rage, my eyes overflowing with tears. I spent the afternoon crying in a locked bathroom surrounded by tissues soggy with snot. I could hear the party in full swing below me, the ghetto blaster thumping Beth’s favourite song: ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ by Kylie Minogue. Mum said I could stay in there ‘Until you learn how to behave!’ Beth had a great time. I never tasted that cake. My sister kept trying to make me come out. Banging on the door. Begging me. Pleading. She twisted the doorknob so hard it came off. She offered me her presents, her cards and cake (she only did it to make herself feel better). But it wasn’t the same. Second-hand toys just don’t have that sparkle. I didn’t want to share. Sharing is bullshit. Whoever said ‘sharing is caring’ did not have a twin.
That was the year that the horses stopped flying.
We never had another party after that.
‘Mad’ the first book in the ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’ trilogy is a curious mix of bonkbuster and mystery. Alvie, the anti-heroine is an identical twin and in her words, the antithesis of her perfect sister, Beth.
Alvie’s recollection of her childhood is that she was always second- best, regardless of whether this was the case, it damaged Alvie emotionally and destroyed the twins emotional connection.
Alvie’s life is a mess, and she glorifies in it, projecting the bad girl, don’t care persona that people expect of her, she lives to shock and usually manages it. When her life implodes, she decides to accept her estranged sister’s invite to stay with her, to escape. A pawn in a dangerous game, she finds nothing is what it seems. Her life changes irreparably, but as usual, she embraces the horror rather than running from it.
Alvie is a complex character, who isn’t easy to empathise. She is foul-mouthed, takes drugs, drinks to excess and steals anything she desires, including men. Despite losing her moral compass, she is vulnerable, often naive, desperate for someone to love her and a natural comedian.
The story’s dark comedy will appeal to many, and all the characters’ vivacity and the settings’ vivid description draw you into the story, following the breathless action. I can’t wait to see what scrapes Alvie gets into next.
If you like your mysteries, set in paradise, with larger than life characters who exhibit all of the seven deadly sins, you’ll enjoy this.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK -Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
For nearly two decades, an unsolved murder case has haunted Sergeant Zheng Haoming of the Chengdu Police Department. Eighteen years ago, two victims were murdered after being served with ‘death notices’. In refined calligraphy, their perceived crimes were itemised, and they were sentenced to death. The date of execution was declared, as was the name of their executioner: Eumenides.
Now, a user on an internet forum has asked the public to submit names for judgement – judgement for those the law cannot touch. Those found guilty will be punished, and there is only one sentence: death. The user’s handle? Eumenides.
Does Zheng have a lead? Has a long-dormant serial killer resurfaced? Perhaps modern police techniques – criminal profiling, online surveillance and SWAT quick response teams – can catch a killer who previously evaded justice? Or perhaps the killer is more than a match for whatever the Chengdu Police Department can muster?
A fast-paced police procedural set in China with well-written suspense elements and an authentic setting. Translated into English this book, reads well. ‘Death Notice’ is a mixture of cold case investigation and the present day pursuit of a serial killer.
The plot is complex as are the characters. The writing style isn’t descriptive, but there is sufficient information for the reader to understand what’s going on and try to solve the clues. The procedures are bureaucratic and appear dated but presumably are reflective of police procedures within China.
I enjoyed the writing style and the author’s ability to create suspense. There is an overriding mystery to solve, which will span the series but this first book ties up the immediate loose ends while leaving the detectives and the reader further mysteries to solve.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…
Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.
Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?
Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.
Back at Central Police Station, the detectives’ room was empty save for Strachan and Danilov. The rest of the squad, or what remained of them after the Shanghai Volunteers had decimated the ranks, were at lunch, on patrol or simply avoiding work with all the professionalism of the accomplished loafer.
Strachan was hunched over the missing persons file, while Danilov was busy sending smoke rings up to the kippered ceiling, where they hung floating in the air before gradually dissipating like a wastrel’s fortune.
‘Why was the ear removed, Strachan?’
The detective sergeant knew better than to speak now. Danilov was only turning the problem over in his mind; he didn’t require a response.
‘And why slash the face but leave the birthmark? If anything identifies him, it is the mark.’ Another stream of smoke rose to the ceiling. ‘We need to go back to where the body was found.’
It was Danilov’s belief that a crime scene yielded as much information about the killer as the body itself.
‘There’s no time like the present.’ He stubbed the cigarette out in the empty ashtray and adjusted the lamp over his desk so it was at exactly forty-five degrees. Anything less or more would be a distraction. ‘Have you found him yet in missing persons?’
‘Nothing so far. He might not live in the International Settlement.’
‘From the French Concession?’
‘Or any of the Chinese areas along the border: Chapei, Siccawei, Nantao, Hung Tsung.’
‘Hmm, but why risk transporting him? With all the recent tensions, the Volunteers are manning roadblocks at all the major crossing points.’ Danilov shook his head. ‘No, he came from the International Settlement. Too risky to move him around. Keep looking; you might want to check the Criminal Intelligence files too.’
‘I always thought Criminal Intelligence was the wrong name for the division. Criminals lack intelligence. That is precisely why we are able to catch them.’
‘An oxymoron, sir.’
‘A what, Strachan?’
‘A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear next to each other, like “the young couple were alone together”.’
‘You’re spending too much time with my daughter, Strachan.’
The detective sergeant smiled at the thought. ‘I’m enjoying helping her with her English literature degree. We’re reading Jane Austen at the moment. I didn’t know a—’
He was interrupted by a knock on the glass that separated the detectives’ room from the rest of the station. A small, round woman entered.
‘Inspector Danilov, the chief will see you now.’ She lowered her voice. ‘He has five minutes, fitting you in between a committee on the uniforms of Sikh policemen and a meeting about the new filing system for criminal records. I’d hurry if I were you.’
‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. I’ll come right away.’
The inspector stood up from his chair, feeling the ache in his knees. Winters were the devil to him, bringing back old pains he thought he’d left behind.
‘The chief inspector is in a jolly good mood today. They’ve approved his proposal on overtime pay for ancillary staff.’
‘Does that mean you will receive more money, Miss Cavendish?’ asked Strachan.
‘Less, actually. He’s removing all allowances. No more overtime pay, no more travel expenses, no more meal allowances. I don’t know when these budget cuts are going to stop.’
‘It’s what President Hoover calls the Great Depression, Miss Cavendish.’
‘Another oxymoron, Strachan?’
Miss Cavendish’s right eyebrow rose. ‘An oxy what?’
‘Don’t ask. My detective sergeant will have you reading Jane Austen next.’ Danilov put on his jacket. ‘While I’m gone, Strachan, ask around the station, see if anybody has heard anything about any kidnappings recently.’
‘Kidnappings, sir? Why?’
Danilov tapped the side of his beak-like nose. ‘A hunch. Back in 1912, when I was in London… ’
‘And I was in school.’
‘Thank you, Strachan, for reminding me of your youth and inexperience. As I was saying, back in 1912, there was a gang of kidnappers operating in Poplar who encouraged the families of their victims to pay up by sending them a severed ear. It invariably concentrated their minds as they haggled over the price.’
He turned to go.
‘Did you catch them, sir?’
‘Of course. Like all criminals, they became greedy. Demanding money once too often and removing far too many ears.’
Miss Cavendish tapped her watch. ‘The chief inspector is waiting.’
‘I’ll ask around, sir.’
‘And don’t forget to chase the report. I want it on my desk by the time I’ve finished with the chief inspector.’
Danilov followed Miss Cavendish down the corridor to Chief Inspector Rock’s room.
‘I could ask around for you too, Inspector. People tell me things; I don’t know why,’ said the elderly woman over her shoulder.
‘People do it because you are an excellent listener, Miss Cavendish, with a capacity for gossip that puts Catherine the Great to shame.’
They both stopped in front of the chief inspector’s door.
Miss Cavendish played with the rope of pearls that surrounded a roll of fat on her neck. ‘You do say the nicest things, Inspector. But I’ll ask anyway.’
A loud ‘Come!’ from inside.
‘Into the dragon’s den. Good luck,’ she whispered, opening the door. ‘Inspector Danilov as you requested, Chief Inspector.’
‘Thank you, Miss Cavendish. Do come in, Danilov, and take a seat. I won’t be a moment.’
Shanghai in the 1930’s was a tinderbox, and this story captures this ethos perfectly. Japan’s annexation of Manchuria created additional tension between the Chinese and Japanese populations within Shanghai, and it’s against this setting the fourth Inspector Danilov tale takes place.
Dark and tragic crimes are the central theme of this story, and the child murders are difficult to read. Trying to solve them forces Inspector Danilov to confront his demons and personal tragedies. As this is the fourth book in the series, undoubtedly the reader has already learnt a great deal about Danilov and his colleagues and family in the previous books.
Authentic Danilov’s idiosyncrasies make him easy to like, he is the typical smart, driven detective, whose career is his life often to the detriment of his family and health. The plot has twists, and the pacing varies with the action. A little slow in the first few chapters, it gains motivation as the plot becomes convoluted.
As a standalone, read it is good, but it would be even better if you’d read the previous books in the series. This disturbing story has an evocative setting, enigmatic detective and exciting political theme, making it an absorbing read.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
M J Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a university researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the north of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he was George Clooney.