Reading Highlights – August 2015

August was similar to July reading wise, with six books completed, just one more than last month. This time they were all crime novels. All were very good and five were by old favourites of mine. First up was Snapshot, the second novel by Scottish writer Craig Robertson. This is the follow-up to Random, in that it is set in Glasgow and also features multiple killings. DS Rachel Narey is the main character to continue from Random, though in a slighter lesser role. This time the main character is maverick police photographer Tony Winters who takes a macabre delight in photoing dead bodies as close after their death as possible. There are plenty of bodies for Tony to photograph as it looks like a serial killer is on the loose. Very unusual take on the traditional police crime novel with the photographer as the key character. Lots of red herrings and a big surprise in store for readers.

The Blackhouse is the first novel by another Scottish writer, Peter May, and my first encounter with his work. The Blackhouse is a very good first novel and is set on the isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. There a man is found murdered in a very brutal way, and it looks like a copycat of a recent murder in Edinburgh. To follow up this possible connection, detective Fin MacLeod is sent up from Edinburgh to help with the investigation. Fin is originally from Lewis and the dead man was a well known school bully and not very nice person. But who killed him and why and what is the connection with Edinburgh. A fascinating novel which takes us back in time to Fin’s years growing up in Lewis and his relationship with his best friend and a young girl. This part of the story is told by Fin himself, while the current mystery is told in the third person. I am now on the lookout for the second in what has become the Lewis trilogy.

Thin Air is the sixth of English author Ann Cleeves’ novels set in the Shetland islands. It looked like the series would end with the fourth novel, Blue Lightning and the sad and sudden murder of Jimmy Perez’ new love, Fran. This left Jimmy, the local detective a broken man. However, thankfully Ann Cleeves decided to continue the series with a fifth novel, Dead Water, which saw Jimmy begin to make very tentative steps to recovery. In Thin Air Jimmy is a bit further down the road to recovery and is once again reunited with the enigmatic Willow Reeves the young female detective from the Western Isles. They are based on Unst the most northerly of the islands to investigate the murder of Eleanor, a young English woman. She was on Unst with three friends to celebrate the wedding of another friend to a local lad. As with the others in the series this murder comes out of the blue and appears to be pretty meaningless. Who on Unst would want to murder an unknown English visitor? But dark secrets are there to be unravelled and Willow and Jimmy are just the pair to look beyond appearances and delve deep into the past. I hope there will be a seventh instalment not too long away.

Unseen is the first novel by Swedish writer Mari Jungstedt. I have already read a good few of her novels, which are all set on the tourist island of Gotland, so I was quite familiar with the main characters in the series. It was good though to meet them for the first time and learn a bit more about their background and relationships. A bit similar in outline to Thin Air, Unseen also starts with the murder of young woman. Detective Anders Knutas is under extreme pressure to solve the case quickly so as not to upset the tourism businesses on which the island depends. However more women get murdered and it becomes impossible to keep the investigation low key. The media in Stockholm become interested and journalist Johan Berg is sent to the island for the first time. There becomes smitten by an attractive, though married local woman, a relationship which unexpectedly helps resolve the mystery.  Very good series and I have still to catch up on a few.

The Ghost Field is the latest in the series of novels by English writer Elly Griffiths, to feature forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. All are set in Norfolk, where Ruth works at the local university. I have read the first two in the series and The Ghost Fields is the sixth, so this was a bit of a jump forward in time. Like all good crime novels this is a stand alone read, though it did help a bit to know something of the back history of the key characters. This time a WW2 plane is found in a field and even more remarkable it contains the body of the pilot. A real mystery, with much for Ruth and detective Nelson to get their teeth into.

Dead at Daybreak is the second novel by South African writer Deon Meyer. Unlike many other crime writers, Meyer’s novels do not all feature the same characters. So there is not the same benefit from reading them in sequence as with other series. Dead at Daybreak for example has ex cop, now PI, Zet van Heerden as the main character. Zet is a bit of a damaged person with a lot of history to come to terms with. He gets called in to find the missing will of Jan Smit, a brutally murdered antiques dealer. Smit’s partner needs this will in order to claim her rightful inheritance. But there is only one week left before the courts will rule against her, without the will. As soon has van Heerden gets into the case it emerges that there is a lot more behind Smit’s murder than at first appeared. For a start the dead man does not seem to have been Jan Smit. Van Heerden needs to dig deep into the past of both the dead man and of South Africa to solve this mystery. Dead at Daybreak is a very good novel which has a close similarity with The Blackhouse in that alternate chapters of the novel are also written in the first person as van Heerden tries to understand his own past. Good tense stuff.

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