Posts tagged ‘crime fiction’

January 3, 2022

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd

by Team Riverside
book cover of The Bloodless Boy

Hardback, Melville House Publishing, £18.99, out now

Snow falls as the scientist Robert Hooke and his former assistant Harry Hunt are called to a child’s body which has been found on the Fleet riverbank.  The body has been drained of blood.  The city of London in 1678 is febrile with anti-Catholic feeling and the shadows of the recent civil war are all around.

This is an excellent historical mystery, and much of the action takes place around where the Riverside Bookshop now is.  London Bridge, Southwark, the Monument, Bishopsgate, Westminster… for anyone who knows this area well, The Bloodless Boy will take you through areas at once familiar and strange.  In Whitechapel market, “Black powder from hundreds of chimneys and from the fires, braziers and stoves set up to keep the traders warm, dusted the hard, refrozen snow”.

It is like C J Sansom’s Shardlake series, combining a compelling mystery with detailed research that’s lightly worn, and featuring some real-life characters (in this case John Locke and King Charles II as well as Hooke). 

It is clear that Lloyd has expertise in the history of science and the history of ideas.  I knew I was going to enjoy the book when it opened with a cast list of characters including a fanatic, an assassin, and one who is both “a clergyman, and perjurer”.

Originally published in 2013 and reprinted now in a gorgeous hardback edition, The Bloodless Boy has won praise quotes from Lee Child, Andrew Taylor and Christopher Fowler among others.

A great London book and a gripping and pacy story.  Recommended.

Review by Bethan

December 13, 2021

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries chosen by Otto Penzler

by Team Riverside
book cover The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

Softcover, Head of Zeus, £18, out now

This is a great range of very satisfying Christmas mysteries.  Feeling like pulp crime? Try John D. MacDonald.  Classic crime? Try Ellis Peters.  Something modern?  Try Sara Paretsky.  There are also stories from lots of all time great crime writers, including John Mortimer, Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter.

I read many of these stories last Christmas when this collection came out in hardback.  Now it’s out in a striking softback edition with a smart vintage style Gothic revival cover.  For a book with over 700 pages, it’s very comfortable in the hands.  Some stories are very short and some are longish, which means you can find something that fits your time as well as mood.

I found it put me on to several crime writers who were new to me, which made for some fun reading this year (I have been cheerfully reading Ellery Queen and Rex Stout as a result).

It’s so attractive that it would make a successful present, but ideally only for someone you can borrow it off later.

Review by Bethan

August 18, 2021

Emily Noble’s Disgrace by Mary Paulson-Ellis

by Team Riverside
Emily Noble's Disgrace

Hardback, Mantle, £16.99, out 19 August

Edinburgh’s seaside Portobello district in 2019, and Essie Pound is part of a specialist cleaning team clearing a flat after an elderly woman’s body is found two years after her death. Part of Essie’s job is to look out for objects in the flat that might explain more about who the person was and why she died.  But Essie gets pulled into a deeper mystery, one that takes her back into Portobello’s pasts as well as her own.  Investigating more formally is young police officer Emily Noble.  Their work is bound to coincide. 

Essie says: “Just like Isabella Dawson, my whole life is hidden.  From me.  And from everyone else too.  But not because I’ve buried it in someone else’s rubbish.  More because I don’t have anything or anyone to remind me of what it might have been.”

Mary Paulson-Ellis is a new crime and mystery author for me, but I will definitely be seeking out her other standalone novels (which feature some characters from this book).  I’m a fan of Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, for their readable characters and good plots, and Paulson-Ellis definitely delivers on these.

Emily Noble’s Disgrace made me remember the excellent biography The Trauma Cleaner, in which author Sarah Krasnostein covers not only Sandra Pankhurst’s life in trauma cleaning but also her transition (https://wellcomebookprize.org/book/trauma-cleaner).

There are strong women characters, and reflections on women’s lives.  Some of the themes in the book make for hard reading – for example, suggested child death, and fat phobia.  But the story is compelling, the writing is strong, and I read this cover to cover in a day.

Review by Bethan

November 2, 2020

Snow by John Banville

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Faber and Faber, £14.99, out now

cover of Snow by John Banville

Snow is an engrossing noirish mystery from the author of Blue Guitar and The Untouchable.  It’s 1957 in County Wexford, and a priest is found dead and castrated in a snowbound country manor.  Inspector Strafford, called to investigate, suspects a cover up may be in progress.  He’s a Protestant from the upper classes of society, and class and religion affect everything that happens in this story.  He is an appropriately lonely outsider, driven to get to the truth and wondering what he will do with it when he finds it.

Banville usually writes crime or mystery novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, including the superb Quirke mystery series.  Snow is a must read for Quirke fans as some of those characters appear here. The sharp wit we expect from Banville/Black is evident here.  “It had snowed continuously for two days, and this morning everything appeared to stand in hushed amazement before the spectacle of such expanses of unbroken whiteness on all sides.  People said it was unheard of, that they had never known weather like it, that it was the worst winter in living memory.  But they said that every year when it snowed, and also in years when it didn’t snow.” (p. 3)

There are several knowing nods to other crime fiction – Snow opens with a body in a library, for starters.  But while it’s a proper mystery, this is not cosy crime.  There is corruption, and hypocrisy, and Banville skewers these where he finds them.  He is not afraid of tackling difficult themes.  Isolation is not picturesque here, but it can be witty: “He had seen a robin yesterday, too, somewhere.  It was the time of year for them.  Christmas.  Yule logs.  Holly wreaths.  Loneliness.” (p. 172).

Get this for a mystery-loving friend for Christmas, and read it sneakily yourself before wrapping it.  Enjoy the atmospheric twilit cover while you’re at it.

Review by Bethan

April 2, 2019

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Vintage, £8.99, out nowSamantha Harvey WESTERN WIND

It is a time of change in the isolated Somerset village of Oakham.  Four days before Lent 1491, the wealthy landlord appears to have been swept away by the flooded river.  But was he murdered?  Did he take his own life?  Is he, in fact, dead at all?

The parish priest, young John Reve, narrates the story of the four days, starting with day four and working backwards.  Revelations come satisfyingly fast, as the scheming local Dean investigates and queasy secrets are revealed in the confessional and elsewhere… But there is more to this story.

Tensions have risen in the village over whether a recently built (and recently collapsed) bridge, intended to end Oakham’s isolation, should be replaced.  Oakham is wedded to its own traditions, some of which are clearly pagan, but is unable to ignore the world outside.  Not least as the Bishop has been imprisoned, and the local monastery is angling to seize village lands.

The missing landlord had recently returned from a pilgrimage in Europe, and described in sensuous terms the banquet of commodities on offer: “Spanish olive oil, as golden-green as those young grain fields; silk from Sicily; Indian pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg; dried rhubarb and galingale from eastern China; aloes from the lands around the Red Sea; cloves that are violent on the tongue; brocades and great noble tapestries; Syrian ash in Venetian glass and scented soap; Asian elephant tusks and unicorn horns that change hands in Alexandria and go to Paris  for carving; Indian emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, lapis lazuli from the Oxus, Persian pearls and turquoise”.  The contrast with the literally stagnating muddy pariochial village, whose crops are failing this year, is painful.  It feels like Harvey may be asking us to draw parallels with the deep and raw debates happening now about the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The Western Wind is a gripping historical crime mystery, evocative and psychologically convincing, and would appeal to fans of C J Sansom, Ellis Peters, and Hilary Mantel.  Harvey shows us what can happen when change affects faith, the climate, and how we see ourselves in the world.

Review by Bethan