A Great Book Recommendation


The Hidden LegacyThis recommendation comes from Cleo, who blogs at Cleopatra Loves Books

The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett


Although I never ‘knew’ Maxine, all the tributes point towards her being a lover of ‘intelligent’ crime fiction and in my opinion this book, a debut novel, fits that phrase exactly. The Hidden Legacy doesn’t just have excellent plotting, it is one of those books that ask the big ‘moral’ questions wrapped up in a story that touches on some big issues.

With the action opening with a heinous crime committed  in a school playground in the city of Gloucester in 1966 in one of the most ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ scenes I’ve ever read you could be forgiven for thinking that this book is all about the action, you’d be wrong. Not that there isn’t plenty of action, but this book is one of those that will make you think, let you decide whereabouts on the line of justice do you stand? Are some of the characters actions justifiable, at least to some degree, once the entire picture has been drawn?

The Hidden Legacy’s past may begin in the sixties but all that happened then is bought to life by a solicitor’s letter hailing from Cheltenham straight into the hands of Ellen Sutherland in West Sussex. She is the beneficiary of an unknown Eudora Nash and with no way of finding out who Eudora is Ellen squeezes in a trip to Cheltenham to find out. The mystery only deepens when she is door-stepped by the wonderfully portrayed journalist, Andrew O’Halloran. Ellen pleased to find the trip hasn’t been a total waste of time, she after all in possession of a fine legacy and so returns to her home, and her best friend Kate and the two women start investigating the past. Someone must know why Eudora left her a cottage?

With the story set in the sixties and the life of the child perpetrator struggle into adult-hood with the newspaper headlines ever-ready to be reproduced every time another child commits a crime the reader is invited to question should anyone be expected to pay for the rest of his life for an act committed as a child, however appalling that act may have been? This book simultaneously looks at the role of the media in such instances, does the need to sell papers really justify the hounding of that person, forever, no matter what consequences that has on him and everyone who knows him? Worthy yet difficult questions, I think you’ll agree.

This story touches on all the good things that make for an interesting read; secrets, past tragedies, along with their consequences, and the human need to protect others. It also tackles the far bigger issue of redemption and not in a way that is a common in a debut author, G.J. Minett puts these decisions firmly in his reader’s hands, in that this book, which is expertly-plotted, peopled by fascinating and complex characters, can be read as a story with a mystery to be solved, or you can ponder on where the moral rights and wrongs really lie. How far back in time do you have to go to get to the events that led to the tale that unfolds?

Despite the big questions the author never forgets that many of us read for pure entertainment so as well as having characters who are far from being two-dimensional the story is engaging, the switching of timelines and narratives expertly handled thereby giving the reader many different viewpoints as well as a sense of place and time, all topped off with a cracking good mystery.

Ever since I read this book, I have continued to ponder some of these questions and wonder how realistic some of the answers to them really are especially when emotions are added into the mix, so I hope that Maxine would agree with me that this belongs in the genre of intelligent crime and that she too would have appreciated the fine storytelling that backs up this story, which is one to make you think.




A Great Book Recommendation

night blindThis recommendation comes from FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews.

Although I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Maxine, I hadn’t been blogging long before I learned from other bloggers how active she had been in promoting what tends now to be known as Scandi-crime. So I’m sure she’d have been enjoying Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series as much as I am.

Nightblind by Ragnar Jónasson

It’s autumn in tiny Siglufjördur but it feels like winter is on the way. Ari Thór Arason, one of the town’s two police officers, is off sick with flu, so his colleague Herjólfur is on his own as he stands in the wind and rain outside an old, abandoned house a little way out of town, watching a light inside that seems to come from a torch. Summoning up his courage, he goes to investigate. It’s only when his wife reports him missing the next day that he is found, shot through the chest…

This is a cracking start to what turns into an excellent book. The combination of Jónasson’s great descriptive writing and Quentin Bates’ flawless translation immediately create an atmospheric sense of the isolation of this small weather-beaten place on Iceland’s northern shore. The characters of both Ari Thór and Herjólfur are quickly introduced with enough information for us to feel we know and care about them and, though this is part of a series, it works perfectly well as a standalone.

Although this is apparently the 6th in the Dark Iceland series, it’s only the second to be translated into English, so there has been a gap of a few years since we last met Ari Thór in Snowblind. He’s now living with Kristín and they have a baby son, though Kristín and he seem to be growing apart – a source of ongoing anxiety to Ari Thór, who loves his little family but isn’t always good at communicating how he feels. Ari Thór’s old boss, Tómas, has moved on to a promotion in Reykjavik, and Herjólfur has been brought in as the new inspector. Although the two men work together professionally, Ari Thór can’t help but be a bit resentful of the man who got the promotion he had also applied for, and this has caused a distance between them, preventing them from becoming friends. When Herjólfur is so seriously injured that he is unlikely to live, Ari Thór feels a sense of guilt that he never made more of an effort to get to know him better. But he’s happy to have his old mentor, Tómas, back – seconded to Siglufjördur to run the investigation into Herjólfur’s shooting.


There are so many things I like about Jónasson’s books – the characters, the sense of place, the way he stays well within the bounds of credibility at all times and, perhaps most of all, the excellent plotting. The books are solid police procedurals that don’t, as so much current crime fiction does, suddenly turn into ridiculous shoot-’em-up thrillers in the last few chapters. Instead, Ari Thór gets at the truth the old-fashioned way, by questioning people, sifting through evidence and motives, and using his brain. Jónasson plots beautifully, providing plenty of side tracks and red herrings for the reader to chase after, and using each of them as a way to show another facet of the small community of Siglufjördur. Ari Thór may have lived there for a few years now, but he’s still an outsider, still doesn’t know all the complicated relationships and old secrets that the locals share.

There’s some suggestion that the abandoned house may have been being used as a drop-off point for drugs. With a new access road, Siglufjördur is becoming more open to the outside world, bringing in tourists for the ski-ing, and new types of crime along with them. But Ari Thór can’t discount the possibility that the crime might have been personal – someone may have been deliberately targeting Herjólfur because of some secret in his past or present. It appears that Herjólfur’s last phone call was made late in the evening to the town’s new mayor, and the explanation the mayor gives for this sounds unconvincing – does he have some involvement? The old house has seen another tragedy in its time – a death, assumed to have been accident or suicide, of a young man who fell from a window balcony. Ari Thór thinks it’s unlikely there’s a connection, but feels he must investigate anyway. And meantime, the reader is being given short excerpts of a journal, written by an unnamed man in a locked psychiatric ward in the 1980s, gradually revealing what brought him there. It will be near the end of the book before we see how this strand fits in.

There’s also a side plot relating to the mayor’s deputy, Elin – a woman who has changed her name to escape from an abusive relationship. But with all the publicity surrounding Herjólfur’s shooting, her new identity is soon under threat. In this thread, Jónasson gives an utterly credible and terrifying picture, full of almost unbearable tension, of what it’s like to be the victim of extreme domestic violence; and introduces some real moral ambiguity that had me feeling thankful I didn’t have to make a decision regarding the rights and wrongs of it.

So plot, pacing, characterisation, sense of place, atmosphere and tension, translation – all excellent, and while Ari Thór’s personal life is developed enough to make him an interesting character, it never overshadows the more important detection element. I didn’t get close to the solution, but found it logical and satisfying once it was revealed, which makes it my favourite kind of plot. And looking back, I could see that all the clues were there. For me, this is about as good as the police procedural can get, and I sincerely hope they’re working hard on translating the rest of the series. If you haven’t guessed already, highly recommended!


A Great Book Recommendation

widow coverThis recommendation comes from Moira, who blogs at Clothes in Books

A Book for Petrona

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Published 2016

I am always glad to contribute to this site, because although I didn’t know Maxine Clarke, Petrona, for long, she made a big impression on me. She was kind and generous and very welcoming to a new blogger – she was part of a group of crime fiction fans who very kindly invited me in to their circle. The others are friends to this day, and so we all miss Maxine, who should still be here.

The Widow is a new book by first-time novelist Fiona Barton, and I am sure Maxine would have wanted to read it.

The story is apparently simple.

Glen Taylor has died in a road accident, and that is going to change things for a number of people. Glen was the chief suspect in the disappearance of a toddler some years back, and although he walked free, most people think he was the guilty party. The child, Bella, might be dead or alive: she has never been found. So the policeman who was in charge of the case is now on the alert for more information – perhaps the widow knows something vital? A reporter, Kate, is hoping she might get hold of the true story of the disappearance. The mother of missing Bella has never had any closure.

And, more than anyone, Glen’s widow Jean is facing a huge decisive moment in her life.

The book has a complex time scheme – which I did occasionally find confusing. Often a double time-frame  book has a gap of, say, 20 years, but in this one the crime was only four years before, so there are fewer internal clues to where you are. The dates are clearly printed at the beginning of each section – but as they are all in the past 10 years, that’s not as helpful as it might be. But this is a minor quibble.

We go back and follow the story of Bella’s disappearance, and the police investigation, and we look at Jean and Glen’s life together. In the contemporary time frame, Kate has found her way into Jean’s house, and is trying to get information from her. Was Glen guilty, does Jean know, does she hold vital information on what happened to Bella?

The Widow is claustrophobic – there are multiple points of view in the narration, some of it first person from Jean, but it’s a single plot thread, no subplots. Although there aren’t going to be many surprises (how many different ways could this story be resolved? – not many), Barton does a terrific job of creating tension and atmosphere. I would have liked a little more clarity in the ending, but really it’s an excellent page-turner, and I look forward to more books from her.

It’s a dark and cheerless story with some very harsh aspects of modern life featured, and it is very sad overall, but it also contains some nice characters, and good hearts. The reporter and the policeman are both worthwhile people, trying to do their jobs.

I particularly liked the portrayal of Kate – the reporter who talks to the widows and partners and mothers. She might seem hard and ruthless and callous at times, but Barton also shows that she does have principles, and she does actually help the people she talks to. I have never done Kate’s exact job, but as a reporter I have often talked to people – in circumstances where others might assume the worst – and been told by my interviewee that it helped to talk, that they really wanted to tell the story. And it is true, as in this book, you sometimes stay in touch with people you meet on a story – the assumption that the interviewee hates the reporter afterwards is far from accurate. (One woman used to ring me late at night when I was doing night shifts to talk about the tragedy in her family, and would say ‘you are the only person who will listen to me, everyone else tells me I should be moving on.’)

Fiona Barton did do the same job as Kate for many years – but you would know that without even checking her author bio, as the details are so authentic. She says she was fascinated by those wives who stood by their man, a man accused of a terrible crime. Did they know, did they suspect, did they trust? What were they really thinking? This book is an excellent attempt to get inside the head of one of those women. I think Maxine would have enjoyed it very much.

(c) St Edmundsbury Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) St Edmundsbury Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The picture is the portrait of a 17th century widow by Mary Beale, from the Athenaeum.

Although painted more than 300 years before the book was written, she has a very enigmatic and serious look about her and perhaps, like Jean in the book, knows more than she’s saying.




A Great Book Recommendaion

someone-elses-skin-pb-2_4x2This recommendation comes from José Ignacio, who blogs at A Crime’s Afoot.

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Headline, 2014. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1372 KB. Print Length: 434 pages. ASIN: B00F0LV0OO eISBN: 978 1 4722 0771 5.

A Book for Maxine: Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

To Maxine Clarke (1954-2012) in Memoriam

With my sincere thanks to Margot Kinberg, at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…., and Bill Selnes, at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan for their initiative to convene this second edition of ‘A Great Book Recommendation’ to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke. Our contributions are posted at Petrona Remembered.

When Detective Inspector Marnie Rome and Detective Sergeant Noah Jake arrive at a care centre for battered women in Finchley, they thought they were going to interview one of the residents aiming to convince her to press charges against her family. Instead, they find a man who was not supposed to be there, stabbed on the floor. Next to him, a woman holds in her hand an ordinary kitchen knife.

DI Rome manages to keep the situation under control, while the prompt response of DS Jake saves the live of the wounded with the help of Ayana Mirza, the woman to whom they had come to question. The man turns out to be Leo Proctor and the woman who has stabbed him, his wife Hope. It’s hard to believed how a woman like Hope has been able to put a knife into her husband’s lung, but according to Simone Bissell, one of the women under protection there, he had beaten her so many times that Hope can’t see straight any more. She didn’t even know what she was doing with that knife.

Parked outside the foster home, an unknown man keeps a close watch on the entrance.

Inside the shelter house, only five women have witnessed what really has happened. All of them have been victims of gender-based violence. DI Rome thinks it will be better to wait, under the present circumstances. before collecting their statement. She knows she needs to find out how Leo got in and how he was able to discover the whereabouts of her wife, but first it’s necessary for every woman to feel safe again.

Meanwhile DS Jake can’t forget the reason they’d come here. Ayana had been attacked by her own brothers. While two were holding her down, a third one sprayed her with bleach all across her face. She finally managed to escape and, in the hospital, the surgeons achieved to save her right eye but the vision of her left eye was lost forever. The CPS believes her witness statement would help to put her brother Nasif Mirza behind bars, but so far she’d kept quiet about what her brothers did.

Once at the hospital where Leo was admitted, his wife Hope is also examined by a doctor that claims that, although he has seen worst cases, she has the sort of injuries one can expect to see in someone who has kept a sadomasochistic relationship.

The same man, whom we had seen before watching over the front door of the foster home, is parked now in the vicinity of the hospital.

The story takes an unexpected turn when Hope runs away from the hospital with the assistance of her friend Simone and Ayana, all of a sudden, disappears.

Someone Else’s Skin has a strong narrative vigour and a well constructed plot. The story is told from the point of view of various characters, has several subplots, and occasionally the events transport us to a few years back. The book covers also a wide range of issues, mainly the manipulation to which some individuals are subject, and the control that some persons exercise on other people. It also addresses other matters, closely related, such as domestic abuses, gender-based violence, and female genital mutilation, with great rigour and effectively. Secrets and lies play an important role, and things aren’t always what they seem. It’s, after all, a modern novel that does not hesitate to tackle any matter, however difficult it is. Therefore it’s no surprising that Sarah Hillary’s debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin, was awarded the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2015. And I look forward to reading her second book in the series No Other Darkness. If I had to point any flaw, perhaps I should highlight that it tries to encompass far too many themes that might be addressed in other novels.

My rating: A (I loved it)

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. Her debut novel Someone Else’s Skin was selected as a Richard & Judy Autumn 2014 Book Club pick and won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2015. No Other Darkness is the brilliant follow-up to her outstanding debut. Her third novel, Tastes Like Fear is scheduled to be published in April 2016 by Headline Publishing Group, an Hachette UK Company.

For more information have a look at Sarah Hilary’s website: www.sarahhilary.com; or follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Hilary and on Facebook at Sarah Hilary. Someone Else’s Skin has been reviewed by Sarah at Crime Pieces, Michelle Peckham at Euro Crime, DeathBecomesHer at Crime Fiction Lover, Barry Forshaw at Crime Time, Sharon Mensing at Reviewing the Evidence, Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books

Penguin Random House
9mm: An Interview with Sarah Hilary at Crime Watch
What’s Your First Draft Like? – Sarah Hilary by Rebecca Bradley
Sarah Hilary Space at Blogspot
Gregory & Company
Un libro para Maxine: La piel de otro de Sarah Hilary

Para Maxine Clarke (1954-2012) in Memoriam

Con mi más sincero agradecimiento a Margot Kinberg, en Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…., y a Bill Selnes en Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan por su iniciativa al convocar esta segunda edición de ‘A Great Book Recommendation’ para honrar la memoria de Maxine Clarke. Nuestras contribuciones se publicarán en Petrona Remembered.

Cuando la inspectora Marnie Rome y el sargento Noah Jake llegan a un centro de atención para mujeres maltratadas en Finchley, pensaban que iban a entrevistar a una de las residentes con el objetivo de convencerla para presentar cargos contra su familia. En su lugar, se encuentran con un hombre que no se suponía que debía estar allí, apuñalado en el suelo. A su lado, una mujer sostiene en su mano un cuchillo de cocina común y corriente.

La inspectora Rome se las arregla para mantener la situación bajo control, mientras que la pronta respuesta del sargento Jake salva la vida del herido con la ayuda de Ayana Mirza, la mujer a la que habían ido a interrogar. El hombre resulta ser Leo Proctor y la mujer que lo ha apuñalado, su esposa Hope. Resulta difícil creer cómo una mujer como Hope ha sido capaz de introducir el cuchillo en el pulmón de su marido, pero de acuredo con Simone Bissell, una de las mujeres bajo protección allí, él la había golpeado tantas veces que Hope ya no puede discernir con claridad.Ella ni siquiera sabía lo que estaba haciendo con ese cuchillo.

Estacionado fuera de la casa de acogida, un desconocido mantiene una estrecha vigilancia sobre la entrada.

Dentro de la casa refugio, sólo cinco mujeres han sido testigos de lo que realmente ha sucedido. Todas ellas han sido víctimas de violencia de género. La inspectora Rome piensa que será mejor esperar, en las actuales circunstancias. antes de recoger su declaración. Sabe que tiene que averiguar cómo Leo entró y cómo fue capaz de descubrir el paradero de su esposa, pero primero es necesario que cada mujer se sienta segura de nuevo.

Mientras tanto el sargento Jake no puede olvidar la razón por la que habían acudido alli. Ayana Mirza había sido atacada por sus propios hermanos. Mientras que dos estaban sujetándola, un tercero le rcocó con lejía en toda su cara. Finalmente logró escapar y, en el hospital, los cirujanos lograron salvar su ojo derecho, pero la visión de su ojo izquierdo se perdió para siempre. El CPS cree que su testimonio ayudaría a poner a su hermano Nasif Mirza entre rejas, pero hasta ahora había mantenido silencio sobre lo que sus hermanos le habían hecho.

Una vez en el hospital donde fue internado Leo, su esposa Hope también es examinada por un médico que afirma que, a pesar de que ha visto casos peores, ella tiene el tipo de lesiones que uno puede esperar ver en alguien que ha mantenido una relación sadomasoquista.

El mismo hombre, a quien habíamos visto antes vigilando la puerta principal de la casa de acogida, está estacionado ahora en las proximidades del hospital.

La historia toma un giro inesperado cuando Hope huye del hospital con la ayuda de su amiga Simone y Ayana, de repente, desaparece.

La piel de otro tiene un fuerte vigor narrativo y una trama bien construida. La historia está contada desde el punto de vista de varios personajes, tiene varias subtramas, y en ocasiones los acontecimientos nos transportan a unos años atrás. El libro abarca también una amplia gama de temas, principalmente la manipulación a la que algunos individuos están sujetos, y el control que algunas personas ejercen sobre otras. También se ocupa de otras cuestiones, estrechamente relacionadas, como los abusos domésticos, la violencia de género y la mutilación genital femenina, con gran rigor y eficacia. Secretos y mentiras juegan un papel importante, y las cosas no son siempre lo que parecen. Es, después de todo, una novela moderna, que no duda en abordar cualquier asunto, por difícil que sea. Por lo tanto no es de extrañar que la novela debut de Sarah Hillary, La piel de otro , fuera galardonada con el Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel del año 2015. Y espero con interés la lectura del segundo libro de su serie No Other Darkness. Si tuviera que destacar algun defecto, tal vez debería resaltar que pretende abarcar demasiados temas que podrían ser tratados en otras novelas.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sarah Hilary vive en Bath con su hija, donde escribe textos poco convencionales para una conocida editorial de viajes. También ha trabajado en una librería, y con la Royal Navy. Una galardonada escritora de relatos cortos, Sarah ganó el Premio Cheshire de Literatura en el 2012. Su primera novela Someone Else’s Skin fue seleccionada como el libro elegido por el Club Richard & Judy en el otoño de 2014 y ganó el Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel del año 2015. No Other Darkness es la brillante continuación de su excepcional debut y su tercera novela, Tastes Like Fear, tiene prevista su aparacición en abril de 2016 publicada por Headline Publishing Group, una compañía del grupo Hachette en el Reino Unido.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

Concrete AngelThis recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. 

As a way of remembering the late and much-missed Maxine Clarke, and of building a resource of fine crime fiction novels, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had a terrific idea. Each month, different crime fiction bloggers could contribute a post about a book they would recommend to Maxine.  This is my contribution.

I believe Maxine would have been very pleased about several recent releases, as there’s been some fine crime fiction out lately. One of them is Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel.

Concrete Angel is the story of Eve Moran and her daughter Christine. Eve has always been driven to acquire, whether it’s things, or money, or men. She stops at absolutely nothing to get what she wants. Her daughter Christine has grown up in this dysfunctional atmosphere. Dependent on her mother, as children are, she’s been caught in Eve’s web since early childhood. At some level, she’s always known that her mother was toxic. Eve can be very persuasive, though. What’s more, Christine has not been raised with anything like a normal perspective on life, and that’s had a powerful impact on her. Their relationship is both complicated and dysfunctional, and gets more so as time goes by.

Everything changes when Christine sees a disturbing pattern begin to repeat itself. Eve starts to draw Christine’s three-year-old brother Ryan into her web, too.  Now that she’s older, Christine begins to see her life and that of her mother for what they are, and she wants to spare Ryan what she’s been through herself. Once she sees that Ryan may soon be trapped in the same unhealthy, dangerous patterns, Christine knows that she’ll have to find a way to free herself and Ryan from Eve. But that choice may cost her more than she knows.

Maxine was always interested in books that take larger issues down to the human level. And in this case, Abbott does that with the mother/child dynamic. As we follow the Morans, we see how the larger psychological questions of dependence, the parent/child bond and sibling relationships play out in this one family.

Another element in this novel that Maxine would have appreciated is the psychological suspense. Abbott builds the tension through the interactions among the characters, and through the psychology of those interactions. Maxine was never one for gory violence or gratuity, and Abbott resorts to neither as she tells the Morans’ story.

Abbott explores the complex nature of the parent/child relationship and poses the question of what happens when it becomes twisted. Maxine would, I am sure, have liked her take on it very much.

Another book I truly wish Maxine could read is Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill. DI Francis In Bitter ChillSadler and his team are called in when the body of Yvonne Jenkins is discovered at the Wilton Hotel in Bampton, Derbyshire. It looks to be a clear case of suicide, but there is one unusual thing: a link between this death and a case that has haunted the Derbyshire police since 1978. In January 1978, Sophie Jenkins and Rachel Jones were walking to school together as they usually did. But that day, only Rachel came back. No trace of Sophie, not even a body, has ever been found. Now that old case is re-opened.  With help from Superintendent Llewellyn, who remembers it well, Sadler and his team piece together what happened that day, and how it led to Yvonne Jenkins’ death. And in the process, several secrets, some of them very uncomfortable, come to the fore.

This novel takes place in the Peak District, and Ward places the reader there very clearly. Maxine would have appreciated the sense of setting and local culture in this story. The scenery, the weather and the local customs are all woven through the novel.

She would also have very much liked the way the 1978 story and the present day story are tied together. Maxine enjoyed novels where we see the impact of the past on the present; she would especially have appreciated the personal, almost intimate way in which that impact is depicted in this one. She would also have liked the focus on characters.

Maxine would also have liked the police procedural element of In Bitter Chill. The detectives involved in this case are not stereotypical demon-haunted mavericks (character types with which she had little patience). Rather, they are humans trying to do the best job they can. I’m sure Maxine would have liked that.

Both Concrete Angel and In Bitter Chill also reflect the kind of focus Maxine preferred in her stories. Neither author opted for gratuitous violence or improbable events. Both authors focus on character development. And that would have suited Maxine perfectly.

Along with that, there’s another reason Maxine would have been happy about these books. Both are written by authors Maxine knew and respected. She was always extremely supportive of authors, and I think she would have been so happy and proud to see Patti Abbott and Sarah Ward enjoy success with their novels. She’d have been there at their launches if she could.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

12RoseStreetThis recommendation comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan.

It is July and, though I am very late in the month, July gives me the opportunity to recommend a book I read in the last year that I believe the late Maxine Clarke would have enjoyed. Last year Margot Kinberg from the terrific Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and I wanted to keep the Petrona Remembered blog fresh with new book reviews. We invited bloggers to nominate a book they think Maxine would have enjoyed. A selection of fine books were recommended over the year.

Last July I recommended a thriller, The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. This July I look to a book, 12 Rose Street, from one of my favourite authors, Gail Bowen. That the book is set in Saskatchewan only 300 km south of me is an added bonus.

While Maxine prized good writing she appreciated a book that looked to address a contemporary issue. 12 Rose Street is focused on a municipal election for mayor featuring a progressive candidate, Joanne’s husband, versus an establishment man, Scott Ridgeway. It also challenges the assumptions of the financially comfortable who want to help the least advantaged.

I am confident Maxine would have enjoyed the newest book in the Joanne Kilbourn series because she enjoyed the first three books in the series. She described the first, Deadly Appearances, as engaging. After reading the third book she planned to read more of the series.

Writing this post reminds me how much I miss Maxine.

My review is:

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen

Joanne Kilbourn returns to her political roots in the 15th book of the series. Her husband, Zack Shreeve, is running for mayor of Regina and is in an uphill battle against the incumbent mayor, Scott Ridgeway, a favourite of the developers and business community.

In the first book of the series Joanne had been at a summer political rally for Andy Boychuk, a former Premier of Saskatchewan, when he was poisoned. Her deceased husband had been a cabinet minister. While the provincial party is never exactly stated Joanne is well left of centre in her politics. She had been an eager and active participant in provincial politics including elections.

Now Zack has chosen her to be his campaign manager and she is savouring the chance to challenge the conservative establishment a generation after Boychuk’s death.

In an effort to build momentum a slate of “progressive” candidates for City Council has been assembled. Leading this group is Brock Poitras, the aboriginal gay former Saskatchewan Roughrider player (Canadian football), who has been working with Zack on community development.

Joanne draws in her old political mentor and ex-Premier, Howard Dowhanuik. Long retired and living a quiet life Howard is energized by being involved again in an election.

The campaign is fiercely contested. It turns nasty as the book opens with a threat of child abduction at a social event for Zack’s campaign. The information comes from an unlikely source. Cronus, a former criminal client of Zack, is a slumlord operating by the principle of “maximum income, minimum maintenance”. He is also fond of rough sex with consensual partners.

Joanne pleads with Cronus to do anything he can to prevent an abduction. He sends a text message to an unknown recipient from his phone. It is composed of a few numbers and an attached photo of himself standing between Zack and Brock. No child is taken.

A couple of days later Cronus is brutally murdered. In her usual quiet way Joanne tries to figure out what happened.

As the bitter campaign continues attack ads are run on T.V. against Zack. They feature Zack and former criminal clients who were acquitted at trial and then committed further crimes. (For American readers think of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton.)

Joanne knows Zack cannot maintain a lofty indifference to the attacks. With the aid of a skilled hired political operative she counter-attacks. Joanne has an aggressive aspect to her personality seldom seen in the series. She is fierce in defending Zack and embraces going on the offensive.

As a part of the campaign battles Joanne and her family face a stunning revelation that left me shocked for a moment. It is credible and leaves them reeling. How Joanne copes shows the depths of her character. Few authors can bring forward a compelling personal story 15 books into the series that deeply affects each of the major characters and how they view their lives over the past 25 years.

While Joanne is deeply involved in the election there is time in the story, as in real life, for personal life. One of her best friends is coping with the death of a daughter at 38 from pancreatic cancer.

I always admire how Gail works into every book a development in the lives of Joanne’s family that shows how children and grandchildren are maturing in their lives. In 12 Rose Street it is Joanne’s step-daughter Taylor, approaching 16, who has begun a dating relationship with 18 year old Declan. Gail delicately handles the emotions of first love.

12 Rose Street does focus on Joanne. The previous book, The Gifted, concentrated on the artistically gifted Taylor. This book is about Joanne with Zack having a major role.

Adding to the story are social issues. Few mysteries address the dynamics of the interactions between the well intentioned well-to-do (Joanne and Zack) and the desperately poor and struggling residents of a rough neighbourhood.

12 Rose Street is a good mystery with a striking personal revelation and a challenging look at important social issues. Last, but not least the election has set up further story lines for future books. Joanne Kilbourn is never going to spend her retirement sitting at home in her rocking chair. The series remains strong.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

The Shut EyeThis recommendation comes from FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews.  

Although I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Maxine, any reader who visits Amazon UK regularly is bound to be familiar with her reviews. It’s a testimony to the quality and popularity of her reviews that even now her profile is still listed amongst the ‘Top Reviewers’. Maxine reviewed Belinda Bauer’s debut novel ‘Blacklands’ and said “I loved the book, though it is not a “crime” novel in the usual sense…Overwhelmingly, though, I admire the achievement of the author for this well-constructed, observant and insightful book, not least because it is her first novel.” I’m sure she would have enjoyed Bauer’s latest book just as much.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Little Daniel Buck ran out of his house one morning four months ago and has never been seen since. Edie Evans was older when she went missing several months earlier, nearly a teenager, but the signs are even more sinister in her case, since blood was found beside her broken and abandoned bicycle. Edie’s case still haunts DCI John Marvel, especially since he has convinced himself that she is still alive. In fact, so desperate had he become that he even put aside all his disbelief and cynicism and consulted a psychic. But to no avail, and the case is now officially classed as ‘cold’. But when Marvel begins to suspect a tenuous link between the two very different disappearances, he’s willing to clutch at any straw to have it reopened…

Belinda Bauer has the rare talent amongst crime writers of achieving a near perfect balance of light and shade, so that her books are always hugely entertaining even when they are addressing some pretty grim and disturbing subjects. In this book, she does this in two ways. Her third person multiple-viewpoint narration provides a tiny bit of distance between the reader and her characters, allowing her to show the emotional turmoil of losing a child without forcing the reader to spend too much time inside the bleakness of the parents’ minds. She is also a mistress of the art of injecting little bits of black humour at just the right places to lift the tone without destroying the tension. Her humour is so black and so subtle, in fact, that it often feels as if it comes direct from the reader’s mind rather than the author’s pen, which is brilliantly disconcerting.

There are three main viewpoints in the book. James, Daniel’s father, is riddled with guilt because he left open the door allowing Daniel to run off. But he’s just about holding it together, providing strength and support for his distraught wife, Anna. James works in the garage across the road from his home and it was there that the last signs of Daniel were seen – his little footprints embedded in the wet cement of the new forecourt. The garage is staffed mainly by immigrants, legal and illegal, while James’ boss is an unscrupulous bully. But this all-male environment gives James a kind of emotional support that helps him face things at home.

Anna is falling apart – she rarely leaves the house except to clean and polish the footprints to stop them from being worn away. Anna’s story is the grimmest strand in the book – Bauer shows us the agony and guilt felt by a mother who loses her child, and when we first meet Anna we learn how close she is to complete despair and mental breakdown. But one day a flyer is put through her door for a spiritualist meeting and she is tempted to try to find out once and for all if Daniel has died.

The third viewpoint is DCI Marvel and it’s in the sections relating to him that Bauer employs her humour. Marvel is a good cop, driven to succeed, but with little empathy for either the victims or his colleagues. Usually he sees each case as a competition between himself and the killer, but something about Edie has found his soft centre – maybe because she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, and this reminds him of his own boyhood dream. So when the Superintendent pulls him off a murder case to carry out what he sees as a trivial investigation, he’s at first outraged but then decides to use it as leverage to force the Superintendent to reopen Edie’s case. We also get to see Marvel’s home life, and his relationship with his put-upon partner Debbie, which nicely rounds him out as a character. He loves Debbie but he clearly doesn’t understand why she gets so frustrated with his behaviour. What’s so odd about looking over autopsy pictures during dinner anyway?

There is a supernatural element to the book surrounding the spiritual church and the psychic involved in looking for Edie. Normally that would destroy the credibility of any book for me, but Bauer’s writing is of such high quality that she carried me along and I was happy to suspend my disbelief. Marvel, too, is a cynic about such things and his down-to-earth scepticism prevents this aspect of the plot from becoming too fanciful.

Another excellent outing from Belinda Bauer, who seems to grow in skill and confidence with every book. Recently she has been producing standalones, as this is, but I would be one delighted reader if she decided to bring DCI Marvel back for another case at some point – he’s the kind of character who’s fun to spend time with… complex, frustrating, sometimes unfeeling, but also amusing and likeable, and with a good heart. I may have to start a petition…