Dead Man's Grave by Neil Lancaster

Dead Mans Grave by Neil Lancaster

Dead Man’s Grave is a fast-paced and tense crime thriller, about revenge and a feud dating back to the nineteenth century, where corruption is discovered at the highest levels of Police Scotland. A former soldier, and officer with the Met, DS Max Craigie is now based at Gartcosh working for the Serious Organised Crime team. Although a native Scot, he does not quite fit in. DC Janie Calder, a privately educated graduate on the fast-track to promotion, is also having a hard time being accepted. Perhaps this is why they work well together when sent to investigate the disappearance of Tam Hardie, head of the most powerful criminal family in Glasgow, if not the whole of Scotland.

Tam is terminally ill and researching his family history when he goes missing; his last communication with his sons was rather cryptic. With only his mobile phone data to go on, Max and Janie narrow the search area down to somewhere in Caithness. It then quickly becomes apparent just how far the reach of the Hardie family into Police Scotland actually is. Desperate measures are called for as they can trust no one. Tam Hardie’s sons are not just mindless thugs, but educated and subtle villains who should not be underestimated.

Dead Man’s Grave is the first book I’ve read by Neil Lancaster, and I was so impressed I bought his Tom Novak series – Going Dark, Going Rogue and Going Back. If you have not discovered them yet, you are in for a treat. Unfortunately, there are only three of them, but hopefully there will be more. Neil’s background as an officer in the Met gives an authenticity to his writing, and the Scottish setting ensures this series will be a must-read for me. Max and Janie are well-written and credible characters, and I look forward to reading how they develop as the series goes on. Look out for The Blood Tide early next year. Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.    

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

The Killing Kind is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller where nothing can be taken at face value. Ingrid is a barrister who has had dealings with John Webster in the past; now he’s out of prison, but is he up to his old tricks? Ingrid fears the worst, that her life is in danger, but he claims to be trying to protect her. Every time you think you know what’s going on, Jane Casey takes you off in a completely different direction. The well-plotted and gripping narrative jumps back and forward in time until all the layers are exposed and everyone is under suspicion.

The characters are well developed so that, even though there are a lot of them, they are easily distinguishable. John Webster is an interesting character; a manipulative conman whose behaviour is deeply unsettling even when he professes to be telling the truth. Though she is an intelligent woman, Ingrid is also under a lot of stress and for this reason sometimes behaves with complete disregard for her own safety.

I enjoyed The Killing Kind, with its insights into the world of the legal profession, and stayed up late into the night in order to finish it. This is the first book I have read by Jane Casey, but it won’t be the last; I now have the Maeve Kerrigan series to look forward to. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.     

About Britain by Tim Cole

About Britain by Tim Cole

After discovering guidebooks written to coincide with the Festival of Britain in 1951, Tim Cole revisits some of the recommended routes 70 years later. Choosing just one journey from each guide, there were thirteen books in all, he sets off to discover what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Quite early on I realised that reading About Britain on a kindle was not ideal; I plan to buy a paperback when they are published in 2022. This is the sort of book you can dip into, perhaps when planning a trip of your own, as each chapter deals with a different part of the country, and not necessarily read all the way through in one go. I found the chapters dealing with East Anglia, and the Lowlands and Highlands of Scotland to be the most interesting as I knew the area and could visualise the routes taken. It would, however, be a good introduction when planning a visit to an area you do not know.

My only criticism is the use of Google Maps Street View for the tour of the lowlands of Scotland. I realise that lockdown prevented all but local travel at this point, but do not think this was quite as effective.

These guides were originally designed to encourage the growing number of motorists in 1951 to explore parts of this country not always easily reached by train, with an emphasis on post-war industry and manufacturing. About Britain is not really a travel book, but more a fascinating, well-researched history of the areas visited, detailing the decline of British industry and manufacturing, and what has sprung up in its place.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Continuum and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Magpie is a very cleverly plotted, well-written psychological thriller where nothing is quite what it first seems. The book opens with one of the main female characters viewing a house where she and her new boyfriend are planning to live together and start a family. There is a sense that something is not quite right, but when the POV changes about a third of the way in, it takes the narrative in a totally different direction, rather than the obvious one I had been expecting.

I chose this book with no prior knowledge of what it was about, though I did recognise Elizabeth Day as one of the presenters of the excellent SkyArts book programme, and I think it helped to have an open mind. Magpie deals with some very difficult subjects with a lot of compassion; infertility, surrogacy, mental illness, toxic family relationships, to name but a few, are all woven seamlessly into the tense and unsettling narrative.

The story is told from the points of view of Marisa and Kate, neither of whom are reliable narrators, but I would have like some input from Jake as well. He remained less well defined as we only saw him through the eyes of others. The characters are well drawn, believable and memorable, though none of them are particularly likeable. The ending did seem a bit too neat considering how chaotic the rest of the book had been, but this is a minor criticism. I enjoyed Magpie and will be on the lookout for other books by Elizabeth Day. Thanks to Fourth Estate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

A Quiet Man by Tom Wood

A Quiet Man by Tom Wood

A Quiet Man is number nine in the Victor the assassin series by Tom Wood. Victor is lying low in a small Canadian border town, and in just a few days he’ll be gone without a trace. At the motel where he is staying, posing as a fisherman, he befriends a young boy, Joshua, and promises to take him fishing. His mother, who works in the motel, is rightly suspicious but eventually agrees to go along as well. When they don’t turn up, and can’t be found anywhere, Victor makes it his business to find out why.

A Quiet Man reminds me of the Jack Reacher books in some ways – and having read them all, this is a much stronger story than some of the more recent ones. In his search for the missing mother and son, Victor comes up against a corrupt local businessman, a meth-dealing biker gang, gangsters from Chicago (looking for revenge as Victor had just assassinated their leader), and bounty hunters sent by Joshua’s wealthy grandparents to kidnap him. Overwhelming odds you would think, but Victor can handle it.

Victor should not be an engaging character considering what he does for a living, but he is and that is down to the skill of the writer. In A Quiet Man, Tom Wood has written a slightly different kind of story than usual, though it is still immensely enjoyable as Victor may be a hired killer, but he retains his moral compass and humanity. Here we get a bit more insight into his past, and a glimpse of his more human side; Joshua has somehow reminded him of his own childhood.

The action builds to an impressive finale, and I could definitely imagine it as a movie on the big screen. This is one of my favourite series, and I look forward to Victor’s next adventure. A Quiet Man works fine as a standalone, but I recommend that you start at the beginning and read all the others to get the best experience. Thanks to Sphere and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.