The Photographer by Craig Robertson

The Blurb:

The sergeant took some from each box and spread them around the floor so they could all see. Dozens upon dozens of them. DI Rachel Narey’s guess was that there were a few hundred in all.

Photographs.

Many of them were in crowd scenes, some just sitting on a park bench or walking a dog or waiting for a bus or working in shops. They seemed to have no idea they’d been photographed.

A dawn raid on the home of a suspected rapist leads to a chilling discovery, a disturbing collection hidden under floorboards. Narey is terrified at the potential scale of what they’ve found and of what brutalities it may signal.

When the photographs are ruled inadmissible as evidence and the man walks free from court, Narey knows she’s let down the victim she’d promised to protect and a monster is back on the streets.

Tony Winter’s young family is under threat from internet trolls and he is determined to protect them whatever the cost. He and Narey are in a race against time to find the unknown victims of the photographer’s lens – before he strikes again.

My Thoughts:

First things first, this is the 7th in the series of Rachel Narey/Tony Winter books by Craig Robertson. Do not let that put you off if you haven’t read others in the series however. This is only the second book from this series – or this author – that I had read and there is no impediment to enjoying this book if you haven’t read previous instalments. The author expertly provides you with enough information to get to know the motivations of these characters without bogging you down in needless back story.

The main characters are well put together – as you would imagine from a series – and the supporting characters all feel genuine. The one slight issue I had with characters was the antagonist. He was painted as someone who had hidden his proclivities behind a successful façade for a number of years but as soon as that mask is pulled away he becomes almost a scooby-doo villain. Don’t get me wrong he was still well written and I was certainly wanting him to get what he deserved, it just felt that when his true self was discovered there was no attempt by him to try and retain control.

The plot moves forward quickly with a great sense of pace and a couple of great twists and turns as it goes. I found it genuinely creepy and thought provoking in places The only negative for me, other than that mentioned above was that I didn’t feel like a got a great deal of tension at the final showdown.

Overall I highly recommend you give this a try if dark crime thrillers appeal to you even slightly.

The Beer Accompaniment:

A dark thriller that was still a page-turner leads me to a dark beer but one that isn’t a stout or porter. Instead I would suggest a dark lager. The book felt so current and – I’m sure co-incidentally – even referred to an individual who was back in the news when I read the book. It was also released at around the same time the #metoo movement was at its height and dealt with a lot of similar issues in terms of the ease of reporting and conviction of those types of crime.

For those reasons I would recommend the wonderful Zeitgeist by Brewdog. A dark nutty, malty lager but almost remains sessionable due to the balance of carbonation. Get it now while available as it is one of Brewdog’s seasonal releases.

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Want You Gone by Christopher Brookmyre

The Blurb:

What if all your secrets were put online?
Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister with learning difficulties when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her online, drawing her into a trap she may not escape alive.

Who would you turn to?
Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile source on the wrong side of the law. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything.

What would you be capable of?
Thrown together by a common enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they have more in common than they realise – and might be each other’s only hope.What if all your secrets were put online?
Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister with learning difficulties when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her online, drawing her into a trap she may not escape alive.

My Thoughts:

I seem to have jumped on the Christopher Brookmyre bandwagon a little later than most people with this being the 8th in the Jack Parlabane series. Whilst there is clearly history to the character that’s touched on in the story is sufficiently standalone for that not to be an issue and there is no point where the backstory drags the pace of the novel down.

Parlabane is an excellent character, an investigative journalist who isn’t the gung ho character who so often stars in crime fiction, but who does of course have a few tricks up his sleeve.

The real star of the book though was the Sam Morpeth. To talk too much about her could risk mild spoilers so all I will say is that the character felt both very fresh and real and I would be delighted to read another book with her starring.

That freshness of character extends to the book as a whole. I particularly enjoyed that it was crime fiction that was more a heist thriller than murder mystery, which is not something I’ve come across often.

The only downside is the – admittedly required – technological terminology is regular enough that it could be off putting. I am technologically inept and could follow it well enough.

Overall though, I would highly recommend this one if you’re after a slick, pacy thriller that doesn’t rely on serial killers and gore. Great stuff.

The Beer Accompaniment:

It could be argued this is a lazy choice given that the main character enjoys drinking this towards the end of the book but actually it works perfectly. An excellent craft lager that is a great example of its type but is at once pleasant, crisp and familiar.

The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

The Blurb:

Willard is a tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from a slow death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his ‘prayer log’.

Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, trawl America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate.

The spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick are running from the law.

And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right.


My thoughts:


Anyone that’s read my blog posts before will know I’m not prone to hyperbole but all I can say is that this one blew me away. It had been on my list to read for a good while now and I just wish I had read it earlier.


Each individual storyline was populated with interesting characters and could more than hold its own as a standalone tale but are then skillfully weaved together into an ending that packs a real punch.


It is the quality of the writing that really sets it apart as one of my favourites of the year however. The writing is sparse but so evocative that the entire novel played out almost as a movie in my imagination.


There was nothing I could criticise but, if you don’t like down’n’dirty gritty reads then this might not be for you. Otherwise I highly recommend diving into this quality rural noir.


The Beer Accompaniment:


“Tart with an Earthy bite” is how Samphire Sour – a collaborative sour beer by Croatia’s Garden Brewery and Magic Rock Brewing is described on the can. That description could be used just as well to describe the book. A proper sour hit with a touch of white wine flavour, highly recommended if you like your sour beers, or even if, like me, you normally don’t.

Places in the Darkness by Christopher Brookmyre

The Blurb:

“This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.”


Ciudad de Cielo is the ‘city in the sky’, a space station where hundreds of scientists and engineers work in earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.


When a mutilated body is found on the CdC, the eyes of the world are watching. Top-of the-class investigator, Alice Blake, is sent from Earth to team up with CdC’s Freeman – a jaded cop with more reason than most to distrust such planetside interference.


As the death toll climbs and factions aboard the station become more and more fractious, Freeman and Blake will discover clues to a conspiracy that threatens not only their own lives, but the future of humanity itself.


My Thoughts:


This was my first Christopher Brookmyre book and, without beating about the bush, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Whilst I have read some sci-fi it is far from my go to genre. As such I’m not sure what about the book drew me to it when I spotted it on a shelf, but when I saw it was essentially a crime novel in space I knew I would be give it a go and I’m very glad I did.


As with any sci-fi there is a bit of required world building which normally slows the start down a touch and stops you being able to jump straight into the mystery itself. The author dealt with this by throwing the initial crime at us very early but then also giving us two excellent characters to introduce us to the cdc station and how it works.


Whilst the narrative follows two characters I would say the initial star of the show is Nicki ‘Fix’ Freeman, who offers us a cynical viewpoint of the seedy underbelly of the setting. A terrific character who remains likeable, strong-willed and independent throughout but doesn’t rely on being ‘shouty’ to demonstrate it (something a lot of authors I’ve read this year could learn from).


The other side of the spectrum, and offering us a view of things from a newcomers perspective, is Alice Freeman, a highborn high ranker sent from earth to take over security at the station. Also a strong likeable character and very different from Nikki but I can say less about her for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.


The mystery itself felt well plotted and I can’t recall any point where I stopped being engrossed in the narrative to question a character decision.


I would say however that there were a couple of points later in the book where ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations were had at seemingly odd moments, and it was these greater sci-fi themes the book strays into that were the only issue I had with Places in the Darkness. It may be from not having love for the genre but I felt it may have been entirely unnecessary as the setting, characters and central crime plot alone were terrific without needing to stray into larger questions. I’m also not certain those questions were answered well enough.


Overall though I loved it and would absolutely read another Brookmyre sci-fi, especially if it followed these characters. I immediately read a more traditional Brookmyre novel – Black Widow featuring his recurring character Jack Parlabane – straight after Places in the Darkness and thoroughly enjoyed that one too.


Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, give this a go. You might just enjoy it as much as I did.


The Beer Accompaniment:


Due to my limited reading of the genre this book felt very fresh to me. I was lucky enough to read it with possibly my beer of the year Neipa02 by Croatia’s Garden Brewery. A wonderful fruity New England style IPA with a hint of strawberry.

Lines of Justice: Azdaja by Lee Sherred

The Blurb:

Kosovo, 1999:


Sgt Dean Samson and his team of British soldiers are well aware of the dangers they’ll face and the things they’ll see in a country that has suffered years of oppression and ethnic cleansing. But nothing could have prepared them for Aždaja, a sadistic, mythical, serial killer with a penchant for vile humiliation and unimaginable torture.


Present day:


Since leaving the Army, Samson now a Police Officer, has struggled to erase his darkest memories of Kosovo. When he receives a devastating medical diagnosis, his nightmares come flooding to the surface, forcing him to face up to what he did….and what he didn’t do. With nothing to lose and no one to stop him, he’s at a crossroads. But is he prepared for what lies in wait? Will the horrors of Kosovo return with a vengeance?


Buy it here


My Thoughts:


Well this was a pleasant surprise.


I picked this book up cheaply on Amazon and in truth wasn’t really too sure what to expect. Lines of Justice: Azdaja didn’t have too many reviews on either Amazon or Goodreads but the ones that were there were almost universally positive. I’m very pleased to say that I agree with them.


We follow the main character, Sgt Dean Samson, initially during his time in war torn Kosovo, and then, many years later, back in the UK where he now serves as a Police Officer. Samson is, despite a number of questionable actions throughout, a very likeable character. The author is able to infuse a great deal of humour into the book through Samson and I was thankful for that as a result of the book being very dark in places.


On that, I really should point out that this book is gruesome in places, with graphic depictions of torture and various other injuries. The aforementioned humour helps from keeping it from tipping over the edge though and the worst of it – in my eyes at least – was very early on, so if you can get past the scenes set in Kosovo early in the book then it doesn’t get bleaker than that.


The plot flows really well and zips along at good pace and there was no point that I was pulled out of the narrative to question the decisions of a character – something I find myself doing more and more these days.


I genuinely only had two very slight issues with this one. The first being that I felt the Samson’s flip to vigilantism may have been just a touch on the abrupt side – although the character does have that military history and was clearly portrayed as a man of action.


The second being I actually wanted the book to go on longer. I was so enjoying the build up to the final confrontation that I could have definitely gone with a more protracted chase between Samson and the antagonist.


Overall, this has taken over as my best surprise read of 2017 and I would absolutely recommend to anyone that enjoys books in the style of Conrad Jones or even the early Jack Reacher novels.


The Beer Accompaniment:


With a book this dark there are two ways I was tempted to go. The first was to steer into the bend and go for something like a Dark Island by Orkney Brewing but due to the level of humour that is sprinkled through the book this felt perhaps a little flat and that something like a Erdinger Dunkel or Beavertown’s Black Betty Black IPA would be better. There are a number of eastern european black lagers that I would have been interested to try but unfortunately, I was too caught up in reading the book to wait until I could get my hands on them.


In the end though I went with undercutting some of the bleak scenes with an American Style IPA. Hawkshead IPA from the brewery of the same name. Scents of Mango and other tropical fruit without much in the way of bitterness. It is 7%, but then it is, or at least feels like, a short book.


Class Murder by Leigh Russell

The Blurb:

With so many potential victims to choose from, there would be many deaths. He was spoiled for choice, really, but he was determined to take his time and select his targets carefully. Only by controlling his feelings could he maintain his success. He smiled to himself. If he was clever, he would never have to stop. And he was clever. He was very clever. Far too clever to be caught.

Geraldine Steel is reunited with her former sergeant, Ian Peterson.

When two people are murdered, their only connection lies buried in the past. As police search for the elusive killer, another body is discovered. Pursuing her first investigation in York, Geraldine Steel struggles to solve the baffling case. How can she expose the killer, and rescue her shattered reputation, when all the witnesses are being murdered?

My Thoughts:

This book is the tenth in the Geraldine Steel series and – whilst not having read the previous entries – I have to say she was a very strong and likeable character. I love characters that aren’t abrasive for the sake of it and make realistic decisions. That certainly applied to DS Steel. The author expertly peppered in enough background to give you a sense of the character without overburdening the novel with needless history.


Likewise Ian Paterson was a strong foil to the main character, knowing her well enough to trust her instincts but also pushing back where appropriate.


I also enjoyed the pace of the novel, which moved along at a fair clip and the plot could certainly be believable and had me thinking back to my school days.


There were unfortunately a few small downsides which at times pulled me out of my reading flow; the secondary cast of characters, and in particular the victim pool, didn’t seem particularly distinct and actually were so unlikable I was rather hoping they would be bumped off by the killer. I also had to suspend disbelief in terms of their actions at the end of the book (all I can say without spoilers).


The killer was described as ‘clever’ very often but at no point did I feel his actions demonstrated that intelligence. It therefore felt that I was trying to be persuaded of it.


There was also an odd case where a character was called two different names in the same chapter.


The above reservations aside I can definitely say that I enjoyed this one and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another Geraldine Steel mystery.


Thanks to Netgalley, No Exit Press and the author for an advanced reading copy in return for an honest review.


Due for publication 7 December 2017.


Buy it here

As an aside this book finished off an accidental thematic October of 3 books set in Yorkshire.


The Beer Accompaniment:


Whilst not what I would call cozy crime this police procedural doesn’t go for cheap thrills or excess violence for the sake of it. Something familiar, comforting and sessionable would seem to be the order of the day. My choice was The Ridge by Harviestoun Brewery, a pale ale with a satisfying hoppy bitterness.

Happy Reading

Drink Responsibly

Fellside by M R Carey

The Blurb:

On a heroin bender, Jess Moulson set fire to her apartment complex. A ten-year-old boy died in the fire. Sentenced to spend the rest of her life in Fellside, a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire, Jess is haunted by the ghost of the boy she killed, as well as all the mistakes she has made in her life. When Jess decides not to run drugs for a fellow prisoner is she on the road to redemption… or the road to her own death?


My thoughts:


I went into this one with very high hopes. The author’s previous book ‘The girl with all the gifts’ had been one of my most pleasant surprise reads of the last couple of years. On top of that I had heard the book was a mash-up of crime and horror which, frankly, John Connolly has managed to turn into just about my favourite type of book.


So how did Fellside measure up? For me the two parts didn’t mesh well together. If this had been written purely as a crime book about the main character’s conviction and subsequent time in Fellside prison I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more and been really very positive about it. The story of the drug supply was interesting and well paced.


On the other side of the coin, I found myself starting to skip over the parts set in the night world as they just didn’t hold my attention. This may have resulted in my main issue with the book, I didn’t find it scary.


The main character, Jess Moulson, was interesting and not unlikable although at the same time I didn’t feel there was anything that made her hugely likeable either. The supporting characters were all well drafted and distinct.


In summary, whilst I was disappointed with Fellside, this was likely due to my high expectations. I still found it to be an interesting and worthwhile read. The writing was still excellent and I’m still very much looking forward to ‘the boy on the bridge’ set in the Girl with all the gifts universe.


If you like crime or horror it may just be for you. It certainly wasn’t boring.

The Beer Accompaniment:

With the mixed genres you could go many directions here. I ended up taking the lazy route and deciding by going with geography, so All Creatures by Yorkshire’s Black Sheep Brewery. I hadn’t tried this one before but oh my it is terrific. A light sessionable ale with an almost peach tea aftertaste. Highly recommended.