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24381307What’s it all about?

DI Antonia Hawkins is recovering from the events of her first outing (The Advent Killer which I reviewed here) and her anxiety to get back to work has her returning earlier than she probably should and straight into what rapidly becomes a new serial killer investigation, this time starting on yes, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day.

Why did I want to read it?

I enjoyed the first novel and wanted to see what the author would do with the characters. And I like nothing more than a good serial killer novel. Which sounds a bit creepy but you know what I mean. I hope.

What did I think of it?

It took me a month to finish this novel, some of which was to do with the reading slump I’ve been in for several months but a lot to do with the fact that although this is a solid read I felt that it did have some problems. Not insurmountable problems, but they stuck out for me nonetheless.

So to start with Antonia, her paranoia was really jarring to me; I get that she has issues about whether she will get her position permanently but it’s worth noting that some of those are down to how she handles the job in the first place. At least in this story there is some justification for her concerns as a high-flyer is lurking around making an impression on her superiors. The problem for me here was that what appears to be a significant subplot just sort of disappears without a proper resolution towards the end of the story.

Then there’s the title. Apart from the first body being found on the day itself the Valentine thing doesn’t really have much to do with the unfolding serial killer plot line so I thought that was a bit of a swizz (and possibly a marketing ploy); although it’s irrelevance is dealt with fairly early on it was still an annoyance.

I’m also getting a tiny wee bit bored with angst-ridden police officers. I know there needs to be drama but I would have thought the murders themselves would have provided that and we could connect with the main characters in a different way. It stuck out for me particularly because I’ve been catching up on an ITV series, Unforgotten, which has police officers whose private lives are there to show them as rounded human beings but don’t actually intrude into the story (I thought it was excellent by the way, you should check it out).

But having said all that, I did persevere with the novel and I’m glad I did because suddenly, about three-quarters of the way through, the story and pacing kick up a gear and I read that last chunk in a single sitting, and it was very satisfying. I had worked out who at least one of the people involved was likely to be quite early on, and I did wonder what if the purpose behind the murders was what it turned out to be (if that makes sense and avoiding spoilers), but it was more interesting than that, and all rather sad to be honest.

So, patchy but glad I read it and I will pick up further books in the series, but please give Antonia a break from the angst, she’s a good detective!


18170949What’s it all about?

In some ways The Collini Case is both really easy and really difficult to describe. A young defence lawyer, Caspar Leinen, gets his first opportunity to appear in court when he is assigned the case of an Italian citizen, Fabrizio Collini, who has brutally murdered a prominent German businessman in one of Berlin’s swankiest hotels. I know how swanky it is because both Michael Jackson and I have stayed there, though obvs not at the same time; it’s just lovely and luxurious. Anyway, advert over, back to the point. Leinin finds out that he has a connection to the murdered man (confusion over names causes this) and tries to recuse himself from the case, but ends up taking it forward and is appalled by what he finds.

Why did I want to read it?

I love courtroom stuff and legal arguments and such like, plus I had read a couple of reviews which made it sound intriguing.

What did I think of it?

This is a book that really grabbed me and I read it in two sittings. It manages to be both very simple and very complex, because it hinges on the motive for the murder and some aspects of German law. I was aware that the author, who is an acclaimed lawyer himself, wrote the book partly to bring to everyone’s attention a particular issue which he felt needed to be addressed, and although the actual details were fascinating the campaigning part of the book (if I can even call it that) was well handled and didn’t get in the way of a tragic and compelling story of the legacy of the Second World War. Anyone who knows anything about that period and sees that the murder victim is an elderly man will probably guess what the murder may be all about but there is so much more to it than that.

This all sounds very cryptic but it’s a really fast and cleanly written story and it’s worth discovering for yourself.

I actually didn’t read that much non-fiction while I was away from the blog, probably because my fuzzy brain was incapable of dealing with anything too complicated. But I did manage the following:

4259Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping vs the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money

These are the last volumes collecting together Hornby’s book columns from The Believer magazine. As I think I’ve said somewhere previously, whether you enjoy these or not will depend almost entirely on whether you like Hornby’s personality (at least as it comes across here) but I definitely do so I was very happy reading 4457297these. After all, this is a man who has been able to articulate why I have never got on with the works of Thomas Hardy, to wit:

Hardy’s prose is best consumed when you’re young, and your endless craving for misery is left unsatisfied by a diet of The Smiths and incessant parental misunderstanding.

It is worth mentioning that I never got The Smiths either.

24861532Val McDermid’s Forensics (subtitled The Anatomy of Crime)

I love Val McDermid. I am ashamed to say that I have not kept up with her novels but I think she is just fabulous, and I will remedy the book thing at some point (I have at least made a note of what I haven’t read so that i can do the thing.) This was a fascinating book; I can’t resist this sort of thing as my dedication to  watching CSI and related shows will testify, and this was a great introduction to the various techniques and how they have developed over time using key historical (and more recent) cases as illustration. So well written, I devoured this in a couple of sittings. You will notice that there is a fly on the cover. It appears in random places throughout the book and I can’t tell you the number of time I turned the page and forgot what it was and tried to brush it off the paper. Idiot that I am 😀

So the blog was on hiatus for a few weeks while I was dealing with some health issues which means that I have ten, count them, TEN book reviews to write and publish. But as part of my post-illness strategy is to not put pressure on myself, plus adjusting to the meds I’m now on during this period means things are a wee bit fuzzy, I’ve decided to write two posts, one each for fiction and non-fiction, with my short impressions of the books. So I can both satisfy the nerd part that wants everything recorded, while keeping the anxious part quiet. So here we go with *drum roll* fiction.

A God in Ruins

24524712I read the bulk of this on a very pleasant train journey from Edinburgh at the end of May. It’s one of those books that everyone but everyone has been reading and reviewing so I’m not sure that I can add much that’s meaningful to all the words already out there, except to say that I really enjoyed it, Teddy is a wonderful character, it’s beautifully written, the parts about Teddy’s war service are astonishingly good and it was very moving. I’m not entirely sure that I understood the ending, and I think I may still (very slightly) prefer Life After Life, but this was a goodie.

Day Four

IMG_0273This is sort of a sequel to The Three which I read and enjoyed last year. It’s another creepy horror novel, this time with a group of people stuck on a cruise ship where Something Goes Terribly Wrong in an is it aliens or something else we don’t understand but is out to mess with us kind of way. I liked it a lot.

There were lots of characters with no redeeming social features who got what they deserved but enough reasonable people to root for, and it was nicely done. And has reinforced my view that cruises are simply not for me.

The Stolen Ones

The seventh in the series by Richard Montanari, I have to confess that this is a bit of a blur.

The structure is the same as always, alternating viewpoints between Byrne and Balzano and the perpetrator, and there is definitely something to do with an asylum and their personal lives develop further and I know that I enjoyed reading at the time but that’s all I’ve got for you, sorry.

IMG_0275The Doll Maker

The eighth and as far as I’m aware the latest Byrne and Balzano story, this is the one with the dolls, obvs. And Byrne buys a house which used to belong to a convicted killer from a case he was involved in before. And the POV of the killer(s) is even creepier than you might expect from this series, which has been consistently enjoyable.

But again the details are a bit vague which is probably just as well as you really want to come to these fresh. By the way, I hate this cover SO MUCH.

Death is a Welcome Guest

IMG_0277This is the second in the Plague Trilogy; I devoured the first volume last year (my review is here) and was looking forward to this one being published and got my hands on the e-book as soon as it came out.

Different set of characters trying to deal with the sickness that has decimated the population and the impact that it has had on society. Violence and peril and alliances and danger and sacrifice. beautifully written, very compelling, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m already hankering after the third volume which I understand from a Twitter exchange with the author will have lots of jeopardy.

51+N1aOiaZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_The Hellbound Heart

The novella by Clive Barker which was the basis for the Hellraiser moves, I was mildly astonished that I hadn’t read this before (honestly, call myself a horror fan?) and this was actually a book group read for a meeting I didn’t manage to attend. It’s a nasty little story full of blood and guts and torture and I thought it was great. Quite different from the film version though and *whispers* I think the story is better.

The Rhesus Chart

IMG_0281The most recent of the Laundry Files (well at least until this week when the next volume is published and before you ask, yes I have ordered it), this is basically about the bit of the civil service which deals with occult nonsense as described previously, but this time involves vampires. In the City of London. And other weird stuff.

I liked it a lot. I just really love Bob, the main protagonist, and his wife and the stuff he has to deal with and the endless bureaucracy and the fact that he doesn’t always have an answer for everything and bumbles along. I’ve seen a couple of mentions on Twitter and elsewhere that suggest others had problems with this entry in the series but I don’t exactly know why and I’m not sure I care enough to look. I am anxious about the fate of one of my favourite characters though…

So that quick canter through recent fictions reads brings me up to date. I feel a little guilty that I’m not giving these books the full treatment they probably deserve but the alternative was just to ignore them and I would have felt even worse about that, so there we are.

IMG_0263So what’s the set up?

The Killing Room is the sixth in Byrne and Balzano Philadelphia crime novels. It is all as you were before, but that’s not a problem because why would you tinker with a winning formal. After all, I’m still reading them, aren’t I?

What’s the killer’s thing?

Religious fanaticism. Unpleasant deaths, and I mean very unsettling. Deals with the Devil. Abandoned churches. High level of creepiness.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

He has become a mentor to a young boy in care whose brother was killed by drug dealers. He (Byrne, not the kid) gets a bit out of control with this dealer and ends up in mandated therapy. There may be a new woman in his life.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Has moved house and is settling down with her lovely family. She is thinking of starting to hit things professionally again. One of the victims has a particular effect on her which lingers throughout the book.

Is there anything new here?

The level of backstory for the murderer is higher than before I think, and the external influences are a bit more obvious.

What did I think of it?

I liked this entry in the series a great deal; I’ve always been one for a high level of mayhem inspired by religious mania and we have it all here; belief in the Devil, making people deliver on the deals they have made with that particular entity, murders carried out in a bizarre but well thought out way. It has to be said though that there are some similarities to the very first book, The Rosary Girls – Catholic Church in embarrassing scandal, inconvenient sleazy journalist and so on, and elements of the story echo back to Se7en (though not quite as bizarrely gruesome). It even includes a significantly nasty killer returning from an earlier entry in the series. But as always what makes these books so good is the characterisation of the two leads, the vitality of the setting, and the pace and plotting. I read it in a single sitting (again).

However, they have kind of started blurring together a bit so I am going to take a break before reading the final two entries in the series. Still very highly recommended though!

IMG_0262So what’s the set-up?

The Echo Man is the fifth in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels. We are still following our two main heroes, but there are other characters more regularly in the mix.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Our murderer’s focus is on recreating past unresolved Philly murders by killing those who were apparently guilty but never prosecuted or convicted and posing them (and their accomplices where appropriate) at the original crime scene and related sites. They are all posed the same way, their faces covered in paper.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Lots happening with the big guy. This case is tied in with his very first homicide investigation and his feelings for the woman convicted of that killing, a beautiful and talented cellist.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

At the beginning of the story Balzano takes down a nasty piece of work which you feel will inevitably come back to haunt her. She is also wanting to adopt a small boy she came across on a case, and she and her family are moving home, so lots going on here too.

Is there anything new here?

Bigger cast of characters, a return to more in-depth backstory for B&B, but honestly, how many women are there in Byrne’s life; they all seem to get involved in his work one way or another.

What did I think of it?

I liked this one a lot though I must admit there were times I just wanted  to give Byrne a shake, though it seems to be a trait prevalent in US law enforcement that the hero will go off the grid regardless of what the consequences might be if he thinks he is right (yes Ryan Hardy from The Following, I am looking directly at you). I also really thought I’d worked out who the killer was only to be totally blindsided by the reveal at the end. Some of it was a bit far-fetched but the characterisation of everyone involved is so strong and the writing so clear and pacy that you just tend to stick with it. I basically read this in one sitting and totally got swept along with it.

6391533So what’s the set up?

Play Dead is the fourth in Byrne and Balzano Philadelphia crime novels. The deal is very much as it was before.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Someone is targeting (mostly) young runaways and using them to recreate magic tricks/illusions in real life. It is not pretty. And there are clues being fed to the police in a standard race against time scenario..

What’s the situation with Byrne?

He’s still in love with his ex-wife (there may be developments in that area hinted at here)  and he may also have a connection with one of the victims.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Back with her husband properly now, not hitting things quite so much, settling down into being an experienced member of the team.

Is there anything new here?

Not really, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What did I think of it?

I think I said in my review of the last volume in the series that it could have been the end of the trilogy and that it had hinted at potential changes for our two lead characters, but what was a little disconcerting (and a bit disappointing if I’m honest) is that those narrative threads are just dropped. Byrne’s lady friend has just fallen off the map entirely with no explanation, and Balzano’s thing is referenced very briefly nd only in passing. I wonder if the author was trying for something a little bit new because although the structure of the novels is still very similar (alternating between killer and the two main detectives POVs) we know exactly who the murderer is and what he’s up to and why right at the beginning, and a fourth perspective (that of a runaway who we assume is a potential victim) is introduced. Although the killer’s backstory adds real depth there are an awful lot of things and people stuffed into the book, and I wonder if that’s why the ongoing backstory for B&B is not so well-defined.

But still a high quality thriller, a bit more gothic than the others and for that reason alone hugely enjoyable.

51QGeXcLmqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_So what’s the set-up?

Broken Angels is the third in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels, taking place some time after the events of  The Skin Gods and I won’t say more than that. The structure is the same as before, alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer(s). There may be a pattern here 🙂

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of mostly (but not entirely) young women in the manner of classic fairy tales. But, to complicate matters, there seems to be another set of killings taking place. Of course they’re connected, but the question is exactly how.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Right at the very beginning of the book Byrne is involved in an incident at a local coffee shop which, to say the least, does not go well, and he has to cope with the fall-out from that throughout the novel.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Things are settling down in her personal life but she is getting broody, and is worried about her partner. She is still good at hitting things.

Is there anything new here?

Well, there is the introduction of a new detective to the team, Josh Bontrager, who looks like he might become a major fixture and has an interesting back-story, having been brought up in the Amish community. Cue lots of jokes.

What did I think of it?

Once again I enjoyed this novel but I think the formula is beginning to stretch a little bit, which is why I was glad that in some ways I didn’t have to work out who the murderer was (we know quite early on about one of the killers, and the other is identified to us through an alter ego). There is an interesting sub-plot about a retired detective and the case that continues to trouble him, and of course it’s all connected and of course they finally get to the bottom of it, but a lot of damage is done to everyone concerned. There is a fabulous set-piece near the end in the snowy countryside, and for that reason I thought this was probably the most cinematic of the books so far. The end of the novel seems to be setting up some potentially major changes for our heroes, and it felt a little bit like the conclusion of a trilogy and could have stopped there quite happily, but as we know there are another five in the series (so far).

51NXivWtcjL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_So what’s the set-up?

The Skin Gods is the second in the Byrne & Balzano Philadelphia series of crime novels, taking place some time after the events of The Rosary Girls because of Stuff I Can’t Get Into (without spilling the beans on the previous book’s ending). The structure is the same as before, alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of a wide range of people in the manner of famous movie murders, scenes which are filmed and spliced into video tapes for innocent members of the public to find.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Suggestions of tainted evidence in an old case let a very nasty person out of jail while his conviction is reconsidered, and Byrne (who helped put him away) feels responsible for the woman said bad guy attacked and goes off the grid for parts of the novel to find out what’s going on and Put It Right.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Still dealing with whether her husband is cheating or not. Has the joy of going undercover into the seedy parts of the film industry. Is still very good at hitting things.

What did I think of it?

Another enjoyable and pacy serial killer thriller (surely that’s a thing?), with some incredibly gory set pieces and a high level of inter-connectedness in the victims which strains credibility a touch but only if you stop to think about it, so I didn’t. Once again I thought I had worked out who the killer was only to get it totally wrong. Oh, and the FBI get involved in this one, and as someone who loves shows like Criminal Minds it was nice to see what it’s like from the local PD point of view when the Feds turn up. There is potential for the books to become a bit formulaic if the pattern in the first two is followed too closely in future volumes, but at the moment it’s still cool, largely because the two main characters are still flawed but immensely likeable.

I’ve already finished the third in the series and have started the fourth so that should tell you something. I may have said that before *tut* repetition, repetition 😀

1182706So thanks first of all to Lynn because if she hadn’t written this review I would never have come across the work of Richard Montanari. I’ve read the first two of his (so far) eight book series about Philly detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano and am not quite halfway through the third. They are exactly what I needed to get me out of my recent mini-reading slump.

So what’s the set-up?

So in The Rosary Girls we are introduced to the recurring characters of Byrne (veteran) and Balzano (newbie), detectives in the Philadelphia PD Homicide division. And what do you know, the first case they work on together is an unpleasant serial killer targeting young girls. The structure of the books is based around alternating narratives from the perspectives of the two detectives and the unidentified murderer.

What’s the killer’s thing?

Murder and mutilation of Catholic schoolgirls for reasons that are unclear initially of course, but there is (as always) a logic of sorts, and other deaths as collateral damage.

What’s the situation with Byrne?

Veteran detective finally (possibly) putting to bed an old case while getting used to a new partner. He drinks, he’s divorced, his daughter is deaf, he has a tendency to deal with matters in his own way, but I liked him. Oh, and there’s possibly a bit of a psychic thing going on. Irish background.

What’s the situation with Balzano?

Daughter of a police officer, first case as a new homicide detective, smart, well organised, small daughter, unofficially separated from cheating husband who is also a police officer. Oh and she is a boxer. Italian background. I liked her too.

What did I think of it?

Must have enjoyed it because I’m on the third in the series as I said at the top of the post. I really like a good police procedural and although I think the subject matter would be pretty dark for many readers (I have a tendency towards the gruesome and unpleasant so this wasn’t a problem for me) it’s a well written and pacy novel which takes you through how the police handle a case like this through a mixture of their day to day work and (just as importantly), the effect it has on their lives when they are off duty. I really thought I’d worked out who the killer was and was close but no cigar. The most enjoyable thing for me was that the two main characters actually like and respect each other; the necessary drama in their private lives is with other people, but together they are a great team. And no romance on the horizon, at least not with each other, a good thing IMHO.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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