The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

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Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Chalk Pit…

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As promised, here is my second Murderous Monday for February – and it’s a cracker of a read for those of you who enjoy serial police procedurals.  We received a copy of The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, the ninth book in the Ruth Galloway series, from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they are recent – the boiling not the medieval curiosity she thought – DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard of a vast network of old chalk-mining tunnels under King’s Lynn, home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

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Plot Summary:

Bones are found at the site of an underground development. A homeless woman goes missing (or does she?).  Two homeless men are murdered.  A young mother vanishes without trace, leaving her four young children behind.  Is there a link?  Only time (and thorough investigation) will tell.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of an unusual read in terms of suspects, because for the majority of the book, the police don’t have any.  Well, any suspects with any particular evidence attached to their names.  While this does make it difficult for those wishing to guess ahead to who the murderer might be, it did up the suspense and mystery factor because these things seemed to be happening completely out of the blue.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

While there are murders in the story, the hunt is mostly geared toward finding the links between various happenings…because as I mentioned above, the police don’t really have any suspects.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the heavy sigh of someone being murdered in their sleep

I will admit to loving a good police procedural, and this is a good police procedural.  I had no idea when I requested it that it was number nine in a series and it certainly doesn’t read like a story in which the characters are mired in backstory that is impenetrable to the reader new to the series.  It is obvious that there are many connections between each of the characters, but these are discussed just enough to ensure that you know who’s who and how they are related, but not so much that it drags the focus off the investigation.  Essentially, Ruth is an archaeologist, Nelson is a policeman, they have a past, now let’s get on with it.

The investigation is expertly paced and involves multiple interlinked events culminating in an unexpected and sort of tabloid (but satisfyingly so) ending.  The focus is so much on the various events that happen – discovering the bones, the two separate murders, the missing lady and so forth – that the tension is continually building as the investigation continues and the pieces start to fall into place.

I enjoyed this as a story that I could just fall back into every time I picked it up and I will definitely seek out more from this series in the future.  Have you read any of Ruth Galloway’s previous adventures?

Until next time,

Bruce

The Hanging Tree: Peter Grant #6

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If you are a fan of urban fantasy and police procedurals and haven’t yet become involved with Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Today I have the sixth book in the series for you courtesy of Hachette Australia (although I have just found out that a graphic novella set in between books four and five has been released….and NOBODY told me! **NB: I’ve also just noticed that there is another short story set in between books one and two that was published in 2012 that I didn’t know about**) but if you think this series is something that might interest you, you really need to start at the beginning.  For everyone else, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

It is no secret that I am a great fan of the first three books in this series, found the fourth quite lacking save for the epic and unexpected twist literally in the last few pages, and was bored rigid and greatly disappointed by the fifth.  Happily, The Hanging Tree is a return to form for this series with a multi-layered mystery and a cast of mostly familiar characters, with the Thames family featuring chiefly amongst them.  So, after returning to London, Peter becomes involved in a case featuring a number of young people and an unexplained death in one of London’s most prestigious apartment blocks. While on the surface, the case looks like it doesn’t require much Falcon involvement, once the surface is scratched it becomes clear that this case could be intricately linked with the identity of the Faceless Man.

Cue an inadvertent admission to manslaughter by the daughter of a river Goddess and some shifty looking Americans poking their noses in to Falcon’s investigation and things start to get tangled up pretty quickly.  One thing I did find tricky about this book was that given that the previous book took place outside of London, and that I hadn’t read a London-based DC Grant story since 2013, I found it a little tricky remembering who was who from previous books.  There are a number of wizards and demi-monde folk who reappear in this novel and a little ledger in the front with the names of all the Little Crocodiles and various hangers-on and where they fit in to the story would be incredibly handy for feeble-memoried readers like myself.

I very much liked the developing professional partnership between Peter and Guleed here, and was happy to see Stephanopolous making a contribution, as this was where much of the humorous banter came from in this particular story.  Lesley May makes a much more significant appearance in this one too, which I am pleased to see remedied as her lack of involvement in Foxglove Summer was one of my main complaints about that book.  The relationship between Peter and Beverley Brook also takes a backseat  in this story, which was quite a relief after being bombarded with it in book five.  There are a pair of new practitioning ladies introduced in this book, with some new, never-before-seen (by Peter, at least) powers that shake things up a bit and provide some interesting implications for how these may impact on the Folly in the future.  Peter has mastered a couple of new (and quite amusing) forma since the last book, as well as having developed some helpful new magic-proofed gadgets and these added a bit of variety to the spells we have come to know and love.

The big plot point in this novel is the fact that Peter and Nightingale catch up with and uncover the identity of the Faceless Man – but I’m not telling you any more than that.  The ending leaves things up in the air once again, with all sorts of options left open for what might happen next.  All in all, I was pleased with this offering and although I will soon need a wall-sized reference chart to plot who is who and who is related to who and by what means to refer to while reading, I think I’m well and truly invested in this series for better or worse.

Until next time,

Bruce

Poison City: An Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review

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After a week of kidlit, I’ve got a grown-up book for you today, full of supernatural menace and shady police work.  We received Poison City by Paul Crilley from the publisher via Netgalley for review and were quite amazed to find out how closely it resembles one of our favourite supernatural police series….at least in the opening chapters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things – finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I’m going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone’s mother than a cop. Don’t let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he’s a mean drunk.

Life is pretty routine – I solve crimes, I search for my daughter’s killer. Wash, rinse, repeat. Until the day I’m called out to the murder of a ramanga – a low-key vampire – basically, the tabloid journalist of the vampire world. It looks like an open and shut case. There’s even CCTV footage of the killer.

Except… the face on the CCTV footage? It’s the face of the man who killed my daughter. I’m about to face a tough choice. Catch her killer or save the world? I can’t do both.

It’s not looking good for the world.

Poison City is the first in a fantastical new series for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Stephen King.

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Read it if:

*you think there should be more supernatural police dramas set in South Africa

*you suspect your dog might have a problem with alcohol

*you wish there was a clever narrative device springing from which, when a favourite character dies, is a cheeky method of slotting them straight back into the story

*for you, diversity in literature means opening up the floor to gods, goddesses, spooks and ghouls from every nation and creed

*you are really just hoping to find a gritty, edgy, funny, violent, unexpected police series that happens to feature vampires, orishas and the Almighty

Poison City was an unexpected find.  Having seen a brief review of it and become intrigued by the possibility of an alcoholic, talking dog, I knew it was only a matter of time before I laid claw on it.  What I didn’t expect was how much it reminded me of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series.  This is one of the Shelf’s favourite series ever (and we can’t wait to receive book six, The Hanging Tree, on pre-order any day now!).  Honestly, the first few chapters of Poison City read exactly as if Peter Grant had moved to South Africa, suffered a great personal tragedy, and taken to hanging out with an alcoholic, talking dog.  While this felt a bit weird to being with, it certainly helped me to ease into the story.

The book features the (mis)adventures of “London” Tau, who works at the police department’s Delphic Division, solving crimes that involve creatures not of this world.  Or at least, not of the human part of this world.  The alcoholic, talking dog is his slightly sub-par spirit guide, who spends most of his time sleeping and generally not being very helpful. I had high expectations for the dog, but I feel he was a bit underused, as Tau spends most of his time, rather unsurprisingly I suppose, solving mysteries with his partner.  Police partner, that is.

The book is far more violent and edgy than the Peter Grant series, with some pretty graphic scenes of gore and hearts being ripped out and so forth.  If that’s not your bag, you probably aren’t going to want to venture into this one.  By the end, I was a bit put off by all the violence, but I have to admit that the last few chapters certainly culminated in some surprising revelations about who was behind the dramas causing headaches for Tau.

Overall, this was a fast-paced, action-packed read, punctuated with humour and twists that I certainly didn’t see coming.  If you are up for a fairly graphic police procedural with an ungodly twist, then I can definitely recommend Poison City as a worthy choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Found, Near Water: A Rather Depressing Murder Mystery for Your Friday…

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I’m book-ending the week with another murder mystery, although this one is a contemporary and set (surprisingly!) in New Zealand.  Christchurch, to be exact.  We received a copy of Found, Near Water by Katherine Hayton from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Rena Sutherland wakes from a coma to discover her daughter’s been missing for days. No one’s noticed, no one’s complained, no one’s searching.

The victim support officer assigned to her case, Christine Emmett puts aside her own problems as she tries to guide Rena through the maelstrom of her daughter’s disappearance.

A task made harder by an ex-husband desperate for control; a paedophile on early-release in the community; and a psychic who knows more than seems possible.

And flowing beneath everything is a crime – perpetrated across generations – pulling them into its wake.

The first thing I’ve got to tell you about this one is that in overall tone, it’s reasonably depressing.  I suspect that this has much to do with the protagonist, Christine, who is rather a depressing old stick herself – with good reason, some might argue, given that her daughter is dead and her husband is an alcoholic.  Christine works as a volunteer victim advocate/support type person at the local police station and is generally a bit acerbic to almost everybody.  While I found this tolerable, she isn’t the kind of person I was hoping to spend the book with.  It’s worth mentioning here that all of the characters in this story are flawed in some way and the atmosphere is one of lurking menace – not necessarily because there may be a child kidnapper or murderer on the loose, but just due to the unspoken assumption that life is random, brutish and most likely to dish out tragedy to the undeserving.

Having put you on your guard, let me reassure you that I did actually find the book a reasonably solid murder mystery, with an ending that was unexpected and a whole lot creepier than I had anticipated.  There are some interesting twists involving psychics that I didn’t see coming (teehee!) and enough action toward the end to make the dreariness worthwhile.

Although the book is set in Christchurch, I will admit to not picking up on any particular Kiwi leanings until the setting was explicitly mentioned.  Disappointingly, the police in this one aren’t nearly as cheery and high-spirited as those we see on the Kiwi version of Motorway Patrol, that gets shown over here on a Saturday afternoon.  Possibly, their lack of jollity is related to the fact that they are investigating child murder and not crazy driving.

Overall, if you are looking for a murder mystery set in New Zealand that heaps epic amounts of suffering on the undeserving and a few decent shovelfuls on those who are really asking for it, this is a good candidate.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Adult Fiction Double-Dip: Posthumous Shenanigans…

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imageI don’t wish to alarm you but if you haven’t yet secured a tasty snack to accompany today’s Double-Dip, it’s probably already too late.  For today we are delving into the world of post-death mischief, in which those that are dead pose all sorts of riddles and problems for those left behind.  I received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get on before our snacks (and the bodies) get cold.

Our first pick today is Disturbed Earth: Ritual Crime Unit (#2) by E. E. Richardson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A hard-nosed career officer in the male-dominated world of British policing, DCI Claire Pierce of North Yorkshire Police heads Northern England’s underfunded and understaffed Ritual Crime Unit. Injured in the line of duty, Pierce returns to work to find her new Detective Inspector has brought in a self-proclaimed necromancer to question the victim of a murder, there’s a coven of druids outside protesting the sale of their sacred site, and an old iron lantern in the evidence room has just sent out a signal.

Pierce is going to have to hit the ground running. A suspected ritual murder and a string of puzzling artefact thefts initially seem unconnected, but signs point to something bigger: buried skulls possessed by evil spirits start turning up, and they may only be the beginning. Someone is planning something big, and the consequences if they succeed could be catastrophic. With a rebellious second-in-command, an inexperienced team, and a boss who only cares about potential bad publicity, Pierce has to make the connections and stop the ritual before it’s too late…

Dip into it for…disturbed earth

…a good old-fashioned urban fantasy police-procedural lark featuring a redoubtable yet self-deprecating middle-aged female protagonist.  On first getting into the book, it reminded me strongly of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series (which is one of my favourites) in that it has a similar style and, of course, it’s an urban fantasy police-procedural.  DCI Pierce has a dry British wit and a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude and apart from neromancers who do more harm than good and vicious attacks on frail old academics, she has to put up with a DI who is far too arrogant for his own good.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like starting in the middle of the series.  As I didn’t realise that this was the second book in the series, I did spend a little time wondering why the author wasn’t giving us more background to the characters.  Once I’d figured out that I had, in fact, missed the first book, the reason for these strange gaps in the backstory became apparent and I just went with the flow.  It wasn’t that hard to catch up, but I did feel I was missing some of the finer points of the world-building.

Overall dip factor:

I’m glad to have found another candidate in the urban fantasy police-procedural sub genre as I think there’s a lot of scope for story content and I’m a little worried that Aaronovitch’s series has already reached its peak.  If you’re fan of either murder mysteries, or police work with a supernatural twist, you should definitely give this one a try. It’s dark, intense but with an underlying sense of humour. File under W for “weird-ritual-shit-gone-pear-shaped”

Next up, we have Mortom by Erik Therme.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Andy Crowl barely knew his recently deceased cousin, Craig Moore, so he’s especially surprised to be named as the sole beneficiary in Craig’s will. Not that there’s much to inherit: just an empty bank account and a run-down house.

Once Andy arrives in the town of Mortom, however, he’s drawn into his puzzle-obsessed cousin’s true legacy: a twisted and ominous treasure hunt. Beckoned by macabre clues of dead rats and cemetery keys, Andy jumps into the game, hoping to discover untold wealth. But unsavory secrets—and unanswered questions about Craig’s untimely demise—arise at every turn, leading Andy to wonder if he’s playing the game…or if the game is playing him.

Something’s rotten in Mortom. And this dead man’s game might not be all that Andy is doomed to lose.

Dip into it for…mortom

…what felt like a scaled-down version of The Westing Game for adult readers.  This book has everything for those who, like me, love trying to outwit the author and figure out the puzzle before it’s revealed to the characters.  There are a number of little puzzles that Craig leaves for his cousin Andy to solve, and then there are some bigger challenges as Kate and Andy try to unravel the mystery of who Craig really was and the circumstances surrounding his death.  There’s a little bit of humour, a little bit of mystery and one very engaging story wrapped up in a small town setting.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of books in which the protagonists get the run-around from someone who isn’t even part of the story.  Or, you don’t like it when characters give a tiny, teasing bit of pertinent information and then storm, flounce or otherwise exit the scene in a reticent fashion.  Oh, and if you’re an activist for the humane treatment of rats, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor:

I found this book to be one part suspense, one part mystery and two parts fun. I really enjoyed trying to solve the tricky little puzzles along with Andy and while the characters weren’t particularly fleshed out, they had enough depth to muddy the waters as to what was actually going on in Mortom. This is a great pick for those times when you want to do a little bit of mental detective work, but don’t want anything too violent, weird or unsavoury.

And with that reference to flavour, we will bring this Double-Dip review to a close. I hope you’ve found something to chew over in this duet of post-death doings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mondays are for Murder: Mud, Muck and Dead Things…

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It’s Monday again so that means murder is likely afoot. You will be pleased to hear that I think I’ve cracked it this time and found a new murder mystery series to enjoy and hunt down. I speak of a series by Ann Granger called the Campbell and Carter Mysteries, a kind of cosy/police-procedural hybrid set in the Cotswolds. Today we will be jauntily striding through the first book, Mud, Muck and Dead Things. The series is based around DI Jess Campbell and new station Superintendent Ian Carter and is a sort of spin-off from an earlier series by Granger, in the sense that DI Campbell apparently appeared in one of the later books of this other series.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucas Burton hates the countryside. To him it’s nothing but mud, muck and dead things. And he’s right. When he turns up at a deserted farm in the middle of nowhere hoping to conduct a lucrative business deal he stumbles across the body of a dead girl. And that’s just the start of his problems.

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The Usual Suspects:

Having not read a non-fantastical police procedural for a while, I was quite refreshed to discover a cast of reasonably ordinary country-mouse/city-mouse suspects. There’s Lucas Burton himself, a shady, wheeler-dealer, working-class-kid-made-good who finds the body and is none too pleased about it. There’s old farmer Eli, upon whose land the body was discovered and who is beholden to a long-ago family drama; Penny Gower who owns the struggling stables down the hill from the farm; Andrew, accountant and admirer of Penny; and a collection of rich horsey types, owners of country pubs and new money blow-ins hoping to weasel their way into the locals’ good graces.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

As this is a police procedural, with “proper” detectives on the case (as opposed to unqualified but enthusiastic old ladies, school girls or verbose travelling professors), the hunt for the murderer/s is thorough, comprised of many tangents and replete with “friendly chats” with locals who are repeatedly assured that they are not suspects.  There’s also quite a lot of “right, let’s get the London boys onto that” sort of talk.  In fact, it was very like watching one of those British murder mystery shows on TV. There were enough twists and shocking reveals about characters’ pasts to throw the cat amongst the pigeons and keep my interest hearty and my little grey cells ticking over. As is the case in this type of story, the reader generally stumbles upon the culprit at the same time as the main characters, so there isn’t quite so much of that “outwitting the author” game that I enjoy in Agatha Christie’s work, but the reveal here is satisfying (and rather action-packed) and encased in that most engaging of narrative formats: the police interview.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for a jolly proper romp through the British countryside

I also quite enjoyed the playful, supernatural twist that Granger injects into one of the character’s back stories. It doesn’t have any particular significance to the outcome of the tale, but I felt it was a fun inclusion that made this story stick out a bit from the crowd. I will definitely be keeping a keen eye out for the other books in the Campbell and Carter series and Granger is going on my “authors to watch” series. Watch as in “keep an eye out for new works” not watch as in “stalk”.

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*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

Until next time,

Bruce