Writing, music, cycling, history, politics, saving the planet
The Dark Side by D B Kennison
This story explores the dark side of small-town America and does it brilliantly. It has drugs, murder, and prostitution, but these are secondary to vendetta, tangled relationships and family history. When murder hits town, the town gets fearful. The writing conveys the fear and makes it personal, as the emotional impact tests the relationship between Randi, the private detective and her boyfriend Jon, the police chief. It allowed me, as a Londoner, to get it. When I lived in Hackney and sent my eldest daughter off to school on the ‘murder mile’ (as the media liked to call it), I felt almost anaesthetised to the regular tales of murder. This story allows the reader to I understand what a big event like murder means in a small town, where everything gets personal.
The pacing is good as the reader is introduced to the world of suburban killers, drug dealers, and suppliers. It is a surprising and unexpected world, described through the lens of long-term friendships, divorces, and broken family bonds. I always love books where you have a sense of how the motivations of the adults reflect who they were as teenagers. Be they private detectives, or wanna-be drug barons.
The central relationship is the love affair between Randi and Jon, which becomes strained to breaking point as the investigation heats up. They are engaging, nice people, both trying to do the right thing, as they see it, even if that brings them into conflict. Unlike many crime books where the personal life of the main detective is running on a separate track to the central investigation, the relationship in this book is inseparable to solving the crime. This is exactly as it should be in a story about the how crime and passion get mixed up in a small town.
The book is full of insight and understanding. The story delivers a large cast of interesting people but introduces them slowly, so I was never flicking back, wondering who was who.
The action rolls along nicely and escalates well as we approach the finale. Unlike other crime stories where the investigation widens at the start but narrows as we home in on the killer. This story seems to widen and collect more depth as we near the end.
Finally, the heroine even jumps on her bike at one point, just like Roxanne in my novel Feel.it. I loved it.
Dead of Spring by Sherry Knowlton
This is a first-rate political thriller with plenty of action involving Alexa Williams, the heroine of Sherry Knowlton’s previous two books. Alexa is a lawyer, not a cop, which gives her more scope for social and political commentary on the unfolding events. However, there are also lots of cops around, including the lovely guy who is her current boyfriend. This is a useful link to the inside track of the investigation into the death of a senator, which Alexa witnesses at the start of the story. There are plenty more deaths before we reach the end and I felt constantly on my toes the moment Alexa is put in the firing line.
The story has everything I like and is the kind of story I want to write. It has a worthy cause, some plausible bad guys and enough twists to make you suspicious of everyone’s motives. It also has a lot of heart and isn’t afraid of spelling out the detail of why fracking is bad for the environment and people’s health.
It is mostly set in the mountains of South Central Pennsylvania where the author lives and the story has that wonderful sense of place which many readers love and enjoy.
The insertion of the flashbacks to the world of 1979 and Three Mile Island nuclear accident is a brave attempt to link the impact of different energy technologies on human health. This initially felt like a bit of an unnecessary intrusion. It becomes more connected to the main story the more you read and I think that it works okay in the end. It adds, more than it distracts.
I really like Alexa. You get her background and links to the previous two books. I didn’t find this a spoiler and they are now on my reading list. Alexia gets dragged reluctantly into a dangerous situation because of her desire to do right by an old friend. She is also smart, which has the downside of getting her deeper into trouble as she figures out what is really going on, but the upside of giving her the ability to think her way out of danger.
Having spent sixteen years working at London’s City Hall, I understand the system of committees, the importance of who chairs them and the role of lobbyists. It felt a familiar workplace, which helps add impact when the main action sequence begins to kick off. Some readers may stifle a yawn at the speeches, or the tactical debates about committee chairs, but that is how this bit of the world works. Don’t worry if you feel tempted to skip, these sections are brief, relevant and a burst of action will soon have you gripped again.
The personal relationships feel genuine; whether they involve flirtation, family banter, or the comfortable closeness of a steady relationship. The whole story is told from Alexa’s point of view, which adds immediacy, but it avoids the clunky ‘info dumping’ you can often get with such story telling. The mystery unfolds nicely, with the pace and the stakes, building up towards the end. It becomes an exciting page turner with a strong social message.
Naked in death – JD Robb
The descriptions of the characters have both accuracy and flavour. The romance/relationship seems sudden, but they are well matched. It’s a great and easy to read start to the long and successful partnership.
I like the way it is set in the future, but the technology never overwhelms the characters or the story. That is definitely something I aim for with my own detective books: Dead Poor and Feel.it. However, on the flip side, if you are looking for something sci-fi, then move right along.
The actual crime story is strong enough, but it is the easy writing style and descriptions that really make it work.
Blood on the tongue by Stephen Booth
If you love soaking up the atmosphere, the people and the countryside, then this is a great book – especially if that countryside is the peak district. If you love a bit of local history and character, then this is a really good book. If you love a slowly paced detective story that walks you through the complexities of apparently unrelated events and weaves them all together – then you will have a good journey in the hands of a wonderful writer. There are cliff-hanging moments and deceptions. There are unexpected twists. People who you kind of like, turn out not very nice, but that just adds depth to it all. The characters are all 3D and all of them belong to the life amongst the frozen peaks.
If you don’t like digressions and chapters were nothing much appears to have happened, then this book might be less rewarding. I wasn’t turning the pages because I was hooked on a fast paced mystery. I was turning the page because I enjoyed the writing and the vibe. There were one or two moments where the action heated up and I wanted to shout at the editor to step in and cut stuff, but apart from that, it was a book I relaxed into.