Zenka by Alison Brodie

ZenkaI had not read anything by Alison before so (being a fellow Scot) thought I’d give it a try. I was very impressed. The title character is a Hungarian pole-dancer who was promised a good job in London but had actually been sold into the sex trade by Romanian gangsters. She is saved from a fate worse than death by Jack Murray, ‘top gang boss’ in London and owner of the club where she now works. Jack is ruthless but a big softie where women are concerned.

He finds out that he has a son by someone he knew at school but is too frightened to make contact in case his enemies harm the young man in retaliation. Without giving too much away, what follows is a hilarious attempt to help his son anonymously and toughen him up (Zenka thinks he is a bit of a wimp) before he feels it is safe to introduce himself.

The plot is hilarious, full of dark humour with many twists and turns that you don’t see coming. The characters are well written and believable; you care what happens to them. There is also a cinematic quality to the story that would make a very entertaining film; a combination of black comedy, crime thriller and love story.

Thanks to Alison Brodie for the ARC of this novel that I review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Infirmary by LJ Ross

The InfirmaryThe Infirmary is clearly advertised as the prequel to Holy Island, and, even though we know the outcome, it is worth reading to understand the depths of Ryan’s suffering when we first meet him on Lindisfarne.

We knew the bare facts about The Hacker; these gruesome descriptions of his crimes emphasise just how devious and twisted an adversary Ryan was up against.

It was also interesting to get an insight into the early days of the team working together. It made me want to start at the beginning and read them all again.

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

The Art of DyingA fascinating and seamless blend of fiction and historical fact, The Art of Dying is set in 1850s Edinburgh when advances in medicine due to the use of chloroform are starting to make themselves felt. It is told from the viewpoints of Will Raven, Sarah Fisher and an anonymous voice we later find out belongs to the killer; her identity is not in question, but can they catch her before any one else dies?

Now back in Edinburgh and working for Dr James Young Simpson, Will is a product of his time with regard to his attitudes to women; but he soon learns what Sarah is capable of. He is still young and a bit impulsive, but he thinks about his actions and learns from his mistakes – you can’t help but like him. Sarah feels confined and frustrated by the restrictions placed on her (and all women) by these narrow Victorian attitudes. She dreams of going on to greater things, and takes inspiration from the few pioneers who have blazed a trail, defied expectations, and risen above the limitations placed on them by a patriarchal society to become something more than just a wife and mother. There is a sense that long-overdue change is coming.

A cast of believable, well-rounded characters bring the story to life, and we see both extremes of life in Victorian Scotland – the genteel life of the middle-classes, and the squalid living conditions of the poor.  

It was only after I had finished reading The Art of Dying that I discovered it was the second in a series. I did not affect my understanding, but I will certainly read The Way of All Flesh next and hope there will be a third instalment before too long. The main reason I chose to read this book was that Ambrose Parry is a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and his wife Dr Marisa Haezman. I love the Jack Parlabane series written by Chris, and knew this would also be a great read; I was not wrong. Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

You, Me and the Movies by Fiona Collins

You Me and the MoviesI had not come across any books by Fiona Collins before, but liked her idea of using films to drive the plot along, so decided to give You, Me and the Movies a try. Told in the first person, this is the story of Arden Hall. Quite by chance, when visiting a friend in hospital, she meets an old boyfriend from her student days who has been recently injured in a car accident. He recognises her, but is unable to say very much so whispers cryptic clues to films they watched together, and triggers flashbacks to a time when she had her whole life ahead of her.

The story alternates between present day and her time as a student at Warwick University. We gradually piece together the details of her relationship with Mac through the list of ten films that they watched together. I had seen all the films (though quite some time ago) which helped me make sense of the references; I’m not sure it would work so well if you were unfamiliar with them, and it was a trip down memory lane – I’m definitely going to watch them all again now.

This is not a light-hearted romantic comedy; it deals with some fairly serious issues like coercive control, infidelity, guilt, grief and lack of parental love. I found the first half of the book quite slow and depressing, and Arden a fairly unlikeable character, but gradually I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. It made me smile and made me sad, but despite the sadness I really loved the ending. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

A Dark So DeadlyNothing is going right for DC Callum MacGregor. He has been accused of compromising a crime-scene that results in a notorious villain going free and him being sent to join the ‘misfit mob’ as punishment. From then on things only go from bad to worse! The team are working on a gruesome case (no spoilers) but cope with black humour (quite often at Callum’s expense).  The realistic dialogue and believable characters result in a gripping story that keeps you guessing right to the end. 

A Dark So Deadly is a stand-alone police procedural from the creator of the well-loved Logan McRae series of books. Stuart MacBride keeps his readers guessing with plot twists and red herrings galore; I completely failed to spot the identity of the killer until all was revealed in the last few chapters. I have only awarded four stars as it was quite slow to get going and I nearly gave up. I also found the fictitious setting unsatisfactory as the sense of place was nowhere near as strong as in the books set in Aberdeen.  A common thread among reviewers is that the book is very long but considering it weaves together several complicated plot lines this is not surprising; it never seemed overlong to me as I was caught up in the narrative, hoping they would succeed and save Ashlee in time.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.