Blood Runs Cold by Neil Lancaster

Blood Runs Cold by Neil Lancaster

Blood Runs Cold is the fourth book in the Max Craigie series and they just keep getting better and better. What starts off as a missing persons case soon becomes about so much more – people trafficking, drug smuggling, prostitution and police corruption at the highest level.

Trafficked from Albania by drug dealers, Affi had been rescued and was living happily with her foster parents in Easter Ross in Scotland, and hoping to be reunited with her sister. On her fifteenth birthday she goes for a hill run and disappears. Max Craigie’s wife, Kate, has been working towards bringing Affi’s younger sister over from Albania so that Val and Reg Smith can adopt them both. She asks Max to look into Affi’s disappearance as the local police don’t seem too concerned. Max and Janie find out that someone has leaked Affi’s location, and that she is not the only girl missing.

Max, Janie, Ross, Norma and Barney have their work cut out in this investigation as the criminals always seem to be one step ahead. It becomes clear that the Albanian gang boss is getting inside information from a fairly senior source in Police Scotland. Neil Lancaster manages to convey how inhuman these villains are without being too graphic, but it was still difficult to read – it made me very angry and made my skin crawl all at the same time. What saves it is the humour used to offset the darkness of the story. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Affi’s ex-boyfriend Lewis McPhail attempts to talk like an American rapper.

Blood Runs Cold is a fast-paced story with strong characters and a great setting. The tension is ramped up to eleven as we rush headlong towards a very satisfying ending. Looking forward to the next book, and hoping this series goes on for many years to come. Thanks to HQ Digital and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Shadow Murders by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Shadow Murders by Jussi Adler Olsen

The Shadow Murders is the ninth book in the Department Q series set in Denmark and expertly translated into English by William Frost. I have read some of the books in this series, and they definitely make more sense if you start at the beginning. Carl Mørck and his team are asked to investigate an unsolved case from 1988 which has a special significance for their boss Marcus. With very little to go on, and after a lot of repetitive investigative work, they uncover a series of deaths, murders made to look like accidents, that they believe to be the work of a serial killer.

Previously the entertaining banter between Rose, Assad and Carl was one of the highlights of this series, but here, especially in the first half of the book, they all seem a bit off kilter and Rose comes across as rude and insolent. Also, after the revelations in the previous book, the jokes about Assad’s use of idioms no longer seemed so funny when his family’s immigration status was under threat. This cleverly constructed plot shows Jussi Adler-Olsen’s skill as a writer; this investigation could have been tedious, but in his hands it was a gripping and tense page-turner, that kept me reading late into the night.

Apart from the prologue and some flashbacks, most of the story takes place towards the end of 2020 when covid restrictions are in place which makes the detectives’ job a bit more difficult. We get an insight into the mind of the killer and this helps us understand their twisted reasoning. To add to the tension, just when they are closing in on the location of the latest victim, Carl is suspected of having been involved in drug smuggling during the ‘nail gun murders’ case thirteen years before. The Shadow Murders ends on a cliffhanger, presumably to be solved in the next book, which is apparently also the last in the series. I look forward to reading it though will be sad to say goodbye to Carl, Assad and Rose. These stories also work well on the big screen. If you have not already seen the movies made from the first four books, I recommend them. Thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Dead of Winter by Stuart MacBride

The Dead of Winter by Stuart MacBride

As a long-time fan of Stuart MacBride’s writing, I knew what I was letting myself in for with The Dead of Winter and was not disappointed. It is an imaginative variation on the ‘locked room’ mystery. Cut off from the outside world by relentless blizzards, DI Mongomery-Porter and DC Reekie have their work cut out identifying the murderer as it could be any of the inhabitants of Glenfarach. This isolated village in the Cairngorms is home to around two hundred former convicted criminals who have completed their sentence, but cannot be released back into society. Add in the lack of even the most basic resources, and you have the nightmare that is The Dead of Winter.

At times this reads more like a horror film than a police procedural. It has all the trademark Stuart MacBride elements – dark, twisted humour (I even laughed out loud several times), the weird and wonderful words he uses to describe noises made by machines, and the relationship at the heart of the novel, young and slightly naïve male police officer paired with an older, superior female officer who is bad-tempered, domineering and hard to please.

Despite the gruesome violence and horrific murders, this book is highly entertaining and not meant to be taken too seriously. Having said that, I had to stop reading it in bed at night as it was creeping me out. What starts out as a murder investigation uncovers so much more. What do they expect if they put two hundred assorted sex offenders, paedophiles, violent gang members and bent coppers in one place? It sounds foolproof in theory, but all the supervision, ankle tags, curfews and rules in the world are not going to stop hardened criminals like these.

As usual the writing is very descriptive – I could almost feel the cold and damp seeping into my toes every time they went outside. The isolation gives the narrative an edge, and increases the claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone is a possible suspect. The Dead of Winter is hilarious and disturbing in equal measure and not for the faint-hearted. While it works as a standalone on one level, readers not familiar with Stuart MacBride’s other books might struggle. Thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Lost Brother by Gretta Mulrooney

The Lost Brother by Gretta Mulrooney

The Lost Brother is the tenth book in the series featuring private investigator Tyrone Swift. I have only read a few of this series, but found I knew enough backstory to easily follow what was going on. Steve Buckley believed his younger brother Zac died when he was two years old until he sees a recent photograph of a charity cricket match. In the background is what appears to be his brother, now grown up, identified by a birth mark and missing finger. Steve is in quite a state, and for his own peace of mind needs to know if it is Zac in the photo. Tyrone worries that the truth may be more than Steve can cope with, but agrees to take the case on even though it will not be easy as there are few leads to follow.

In the course of the investigation long-buried secrets are revealed, uncovering a shocking tale of cruelty and deception. It feels as if you are right there in the middle of it all, and some of it is very hard to read. Having had so little to go on, it is fascinating how Tyrone manages to get to the bottom of the mystery. The outcome was not what I was expecting and involved some really selfish and unlikeable people. The story is not about murder or violence, but is very traumatic for Steve. He gets answers but at what cost to his mental health.

I enjoyed reading about Tyrone Swift, a former police officer who lives near the Thames so that he can indulge his love of rowing. The characters are well drawn, the London setting worked well, and there was just the right balance between his personal life and his investigations. I will definitely be reading more books in this series. Thanks to Joffe Books for a digital copy to review.

Sorry I Missed You by Lorraine Brown

Sorry I Missed You by Lorraine Brown

Jack and Rebecca are neighbours in flats overlooking Hampstead Heath in North London. They get off on the wrong foot but slowly become friends. Jack is a struggling actor with a useless agent and a part-time job in a bar. Rebecca is doing well in her marketing career, but it no longer inspires her – she is contemplating a new direction. Neither of them are looking for a serious relationship.

Told in alternate chapters from both their perspectives, we get the story from both sides. I felt too much time was devoted to them individually though, and that there was not enough interaction to make their friendship and romance plausible. They had a tendency to make assumptions about the other with no evidence to back them up. They had in common that they needed to make changes to move their careers and lives forward. I found it easier to like Jack than Rebecca who I took a while longer to warm to. It is their elderly neighbour Clive who brings them together and helps them see what is obvious to the rest of us – their scenes with him are the highlight of Sorry I Missed You.

The characters are well written and believable, the setting used to full advantage, and though I found this book a bit slow I would definitely read more by this author. Thanks to Orion and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.