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Review - Born In A Burial Gown by Mike Craven

Born In A Burial Gown was longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award and it’s easy to see why. This is a consummate police procedural and for several very good reasons. First is the significant depth of detail into investigative processes rarely seen elsewhere. If you’re into the whys and wherefores, Burial Gown has it, although Craven manages not to bog the reader down in detail.

Second is the characterization, Fluke in particular is great. Suitably damaged, suitably driven he pushes the already fast-paced story along in his own way.

Third is the setting. Cumbria (aka The Lake District) is a beautiful (albeit wet) area in the North West of England more known for its tourist attractions than criminal fraternity. Craven offsets the two beautifully.

Finally there’s the plot itself. The woman’s murder and the mystery that ensues is compelling and Craven reveals just enough to keep pulling the reader through to the very satisfying end.

Simply superb.

Rating: 5 stars

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Review - The Girl Who Wouldn't Die by Marnie Riches

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Written by Marnie Riches — Georgina (George) McKenzie is a Cambridge University student on exchange in the lurid city of Amsterdam. When a bomb goes off outside the university where she is studying politics, no-one seems able to explain why it was targeted. George can’t help herself but get involved and pulls along her reluctant friend Ad. After she writes a blog post about the bomb the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Paul van den Bergen, enlists George in his investigative efforts. Very soon they realise that a person was part of the bomb. In a large box with the device was one of George’s classmates. Then another bomb goes off with a second of George’s class killed. Why are they being blown up, and by whom?

In South London, Ella Williams-May is a girl in trouble. She and her mother are being targeted by a local gang, led by Danny. When Ella is caught stealing handbags to make ends meet she’s forced to become an informant by the police. Ella inveigles her way into Danny’s gang, leading a dangerous double life.

As George, Ad and van den Bergen race against time to find the bomber they discover that George herself may be the target. Can van den Bergen save her?

This is a smart debut crime novel from Marnie Riches. It switches between gaudy Amsterdam, narrated by a suitably coarse George, and down at heel South London, in two seemingly unconnected story lines. The jump between the two is jarring at first. There’s no clear signposting when you step from one strand into the other. However, the plot is pacy and compelling enough to maintain the interest and when the link is finally made, it’s well worth it.

There are several major strengths in this novel. First and foremost is the sense of place. The majority of the plot occurs in Amsterdam, with a smattering of Cambridge gentility, some events in Germany along with a parallel plot in gritty south east London. The Dutch location comes through the strongest and suits George’s voice (another major plus) very well. It is clear Riches knows her stuff when it comes to Amsterdam, in fact she studied modern and medieval Dutch. George’s neighbours are prostitutes, everyone smokes drugs and when the story opens she’s been sleeping around. It seems she fits in well. But there’s a lot more to George than first meets the eye. She’s dogged and determined, happy to be involved in a brutal and dangerous case.

There are a lot of characters in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, from sleazy university lecturer Vin Fennemans, who manipulates and assaults his students and has an intense dislike of George, to each of the victims who we meet before their grisly ends. The author doesn’t hold back at all in her narrative. The descriptions as the killer goes to work are up close and personal. The pace is high and maintained throughout, if anything increasing as the conclusion is reached and the perpetrator is revealed in a very satisfying and intelligent conclusion. There are two further installments to follow. The next will be The Girl Who Broke the Rules, due to be published in August.

4 Stars

Originally written for Crime Fiction Lover.

Review - 22 Dead Little Bodies by Stuart MacBride

Written by Stuart MacBride — Stuart MacBride’s Aberdeen detective Logan MacRae isn’t a stranger here on the pages of Crime Fiction Lover. We’ve previously reviewed Shatter the Bones and Close to the Bone. Normally, however, he appears in books that are 400, 500 or 600 pages in length. In January, MacBride released a novella featuring MacRae – The 45% Hangover – and now we meet him once again in a short novel. 22 Dead Little Bodies is only 172 pages in length and it’s presented a bit like a week in the life of the detective. Perhaps the author is aiming for an audience wanting a gritty, gory cop story but who can’t quite commit to the longer read. Is it a good move?

Here, Logan MacRae is Acting DI and he’s having a difficult week. The action takes place in between novels eight and nine in the series – Close to the Bone and The Missing and The Dead – and things get going when MacRae has to go for lunch with his superior and nemesis, DCI Roberta Steel of the Major Investigations Team. She is able to take any case away from Aberdeen CID at the moment, which makes things slightly interesting. On his way back to the station he finds himself attempting to stop prospective suicide John Skinner from throwing himself off a building. But Skinner, despite MacRae’s efforts, is determined to die, making a cryptic comment before his plummet. It is down to MacRae’s team to deliver the grisly and unwelcome death message to his wife. Then the team find that she’s missing, along with the couple’s two young children.

At the same time MacRae is dealing with some other humdrum cases. There’s the irritating Mrs Black who’s reaching the apex of a dispute with her next door neighbour, Justin Robson, and has complained about every officer she’s dealt with. The woman is toxic. Apparently Robson is hanging bags of poo (her words) from her prized tree, but worse she is accusing him of being a drug dealer. In turn, Robson is fed up with the noise and smell resulting from 20 squawking birds in Black’s back garden. There is also the equally banal challenge of dealing with the tramp who has been causing difficulty in a middle class area… until the man drinks himself to death, that is. In his limited personal time MacRae is attempting to sell his flat to pay for the care of his girlfriend, Samantha, currently in a coma with no sign of resurfacing. A local gangster is offering to cover the costs, in return for certain favours, of course.

When the body of Mrs Skinner turns up and the children don’t, MacRae knows he’s in a race against time to find them, while also coping with the increasingly strange Mrs Black and aggressive Justin Robson. Even the death of the tramp is not all it seems; MacRae suspects foul play. All the while DCI Steel sits back and watches.

There are clearly events in 22 Dead Little Bodies that have their backgrounds elsewhere, such as Samantha’s bed ridden condition. The story works largely as a standalone though, and may even hook you into reading more of the series. The narrative style is brief and punchy, the dialogue is sharp and witty. It is worth noting that there is barely a single swear word within – quite unusual for crime novels these days. Despite the subject matter there is a vein of humour, usually black in colour, but present nevertheless. One minor negative is Steel herself. She’s irritating and somewhat over the top, although perhaps the author is having a little fun with the character. And the body count is actually higher than the title suggests – 25 in total. But who cares? Overall this is a tantalising taste of MacRae and Steel that leaves the desire for more…

4 Stars

Review originally written for Crime Fiction Lover.