BOOK REVIEW: Skeleton Plot by J.M. Gregson

Skeleton PlotWhen 16-year-old Damon unearths a skeleton while turning over his grandfather’s vegetable plot it is soon linked to a disappearance that happened more than twenty years ago. Identifying the victim is easy for Detective Chief Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook; however, unravelling her life and the circumstances of her death prove much more complicated. A number of prominent figures with shady pasts seem to be involved, but what is the truth and who has the most to hide?

An undemanding read, this had all the right ingredients for a thrilling murder mystery but it failed to deliver. It was slow and plodding; conversations were laboured, with the detectives revisiting key suspects on numerous occasions, but somehow gaining very little new information. It could be argued that they were sensitive, intelligent police officers, that used their brains rather than their brawn, but I found them lacklustre and I doubt the crime would’ve been solved had it relied solely on their investigative prowess.

I found the story to be unlikely and frustrating: how often do petty drug dealers grow up to become bigwigs in the world of education? And there was such a disappointing ending: it was almost like an episode of Scooby Doo where the perpetrator admits everything in the final scene, in one lengthy confession: ‘…and I would’ve got away with it too, if it weren’t for you pesky kids!’

This is the first of the 28 (28!) Lambert and Hook police procedurals I’ve read, and I can’t help but wonder if Gregson has lost his way somewhat. They can’t all be this dire, can they? Maybe Lambert and Hook are downshifting towards retirement; perhaps if I was a devoted reader who had followed their story from the beginning I’d have more sympathy for the seemingly lethargic duo. But I’m not, and Skeleton Plot has certainly not inspired me to go back to get know them any better!

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BOOK REVIEW: In the Name of Love by Patrick Smith

91dUchplQlL._SL1500_Following the sudden death of his wife, Dan is living in solitude on the Swedish island of Blidö when he is called upon to rescue a young woman in a snowstorm. Reluctant to befriend the brash and impetuous Lena, a relationship of sorts somehow develops between them. Dan feels drawn to her, and compelled to protect her when he learns of her difficult childhood. But when Lena’s body is later found battered and bloody, suspicion falls first on a family of Iraqi migrants, and then on Dan himself. What is the Iraqi family’s story? Why are they hiding on Blidö, and what part have they played in Lena’s troubled past?

Unusually for a crime novel, the story ends with Lena’s death and instead of a retrospective hunt for a killer, we are treated to a literary treasure trail in the countdown to her murder. The reader is invited to identify the key players and although strong suggestion is made, there is no firm closure at the end of this brittle and bleak page-turner.

Beautifully built, and artfully written this is one of the best books I have read all year. It is both simple in its storytelling and exquisitely complex in the construction of characters and their motives. It raises questions about social isolation, loneliness and dysfunctional relationships in the Swedish culture. I am reluctant to use the word ‘haunting’ as it is something of a cliché, but this story has really stayed with me since finishing it. I purposely left a few days before writing this review because my mind needed time to mull over all the gentle hints and suggestions that were intricately woven into the story. Only now am I starting to recognise the importance of seemingly benign actions and comments.

This novel asks more questions than it answers; not least of which is the title: who exactly is acting in the name of love? I highly recommend buying two copies of this book and gifting one to a friend, if only so that you have someone to discuss it with! The perfect A-level text, or book group title, you will be left thinking about this one for a long time afterwards.

BOOK REVIEW: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

bull-mountain-by-brian-panowichThe Burroughs clan rule Bull Mountain: from the 1950s when they ran moonshine across several state lines, through major marijuana growth and distribution in the 70s to cooking crystal meth today. Their cruelty and violence, passed down from one generation to the next, has kept their legend ablaze. But Federal Agent Simon Holly is determined to bring them down. Enlisting the help of the black sheep of the family, local Sheriff Clayton Burroughs, he sets them all on a path of destruction that has been decades in the making.

This story opens with such a punch to the guts that it sets the tone for the rest of the book. The tension and vicious brutality continue unabated for the next three hundred pages as we see how the cruelty of the father is so easily passed to the son. The men of Bull Mountain are despicable characters; beating their wives, bullying and murdering their employees, double-crossing their partners, even killing each other to maintain control over the empire. Ultimately this is a family story of jealousy, betrayal and revenge.

The development of the characters, most of whom are introduced to the reader as children, is delicious. We see their innocence swept away and the devastating effects of this on their later lives and relationships. Every character, and there were rather a lot, was distinct and utterly authentic. Through multiple generations of Burroughs men, I had no problem distinguishing them as the story jumped back and forth, so convincingly were they written: each had his own unique voice. The women too were incredibly strong, despite their circumstances. The entire flow of the writing was beautiful, Panowich is reminiscent of John Steinbeck in his construction of such a gritty sense of place; Bull Mountain, Georgia was a character in her own right.

None of the characters is likeable, and none escape without compromising their morals at least somewhere along the line, but I cannot compel you strongly enough to read this book. It is not just an astonishing first novel, but an astonishing novel full stop.