Susan Hill: A Question of Identity Sunday, Nov 25 2012 

Can a person love two people at the same time?

Can a person BE two different people at the same time?

These are the main questions the wonderful Susan Hill addresses in the compelling new Simon Serailler mystery A Question of Identity.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed, as Hill explores Serailler’s relationship with the woman he loves, whose husband is dying.

She continues to weave in his sister, Cat, a young widow raising three children and working hospice, who faces more changes in her future just as she unearths a terrible family secret.

She also gives us an inside look for the first time into the mind of the killer Simon must unveil, by following snatches of his thoughts during the entire investigative process.

The cathedral town of Laffterton that Serailler inhabits hasn’t seen a crime as this: the brutal murder of an elderly woman, newly moved into a brand new housing scheme, posed in a way that marks the murderer’s signature. This is a careful killer, one who wears gloves, doesn’t leave a trace behind, and chooses his victims for their age and inability to react quickly to his appearance.

As the murders escalate, Serailler’s team keeps several bizarre aspects of the murder from the public. Then their investigation finds these signs to be the exact MO of a suspect previously charged with several murders who had been acquitted. But trying to find the murderer takes on an unreal aspect when Serailler learns the suspect has been given a new identity, and simply vanished. And the powers that be refuse to give him any details or acknowledge the man existed.

Hill ups the empathy with Serialler’s frustration by introducing the victims to the reader before the murders, weaving in his private life and snatched moments with his beloved Rachel at times, visits with his sister and her family at others. Realistic happenings in Cat’s life lend even more verisimilitude as she copes with teens, tweens, and the aftermath of a past case on a young doctor who has been living with her family. The first death doesn’t occur until page 137, plenty of time for Hill to ratchet up the suspense as readers come to realize who the victims will be.

This is a satisfying read in a continuing series that is what The Washington Post calls a “. . .  brooding series that rivets a reader’s attention.”

Ruth Rendell has this to say about Susan Hill: “Not all great novelists can write crime fiction, but when one like Susan Hill does the result is stunning.”

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Lynda LaPlante: Blood Line Sunday, Nov 18 2012 

Prime Suspect‘s Lynda LaPlante is back with a new Anna Travis novel.

Blood Line follows Anna’s new case as a DCI, heavily watched over with increasing annoyance to her by her mentor and former lover, Superintendent James Langton.

Her first case was a slam dunk that she made her way through numbly, dealing with the aftermath of the death of her fiance`. The pacing here is different from the usual murder novel, as the case starts out as something entirely different and meanders its way into a murder investigation, when a court clerk whose son has disappeared asks Anna to look into the case. Langton concurs, trying to give Anna time to grieve before getting her feet under her in a real murder case.

Alan Rawlins is a good-looking chap, engaged to be married to salon owner Tina Brooks. A shy gentleman, Alan’s sudden disappearance has his father and fiancee` stumped.

Anna’s initial interviews reveal nothing specific. At first glance, Alan is a paragon of virtue, with savings in the bank and a steady job. Tina arrived home from her salon one day after he’d come home early from work with a migraine to find Alan gone; it is his father who insisted a Missing Person’s report be filed when there’s no word from Alan after two weeks.

Meeting Tina for the first interview leaves Anna with a gut feeling something is wrong. The flat is too neat, compulsively so. And despite supposedly in the midst of shopping for a wedding dress and ordering invitations, Tina shows little emotion when discussing her missing partner, stating she feels he’s gone off with another woman. At first Anna feels it’s possible Alan has taken off to escape marriage to Tina and the pressures of his mother’s dementia, especially when a potential second source of income is identified.

Then a better search of the apartment Alan and Tina shared turns up evidence of a blood pool behind the head of the bed, and more Luminol work shows a massive cleanup in the bathtub as the full-scale murder investigation swings into action.

Despite the evidence, the question of the identity of the victim becomes an issue. Someone was murdered in that flat, but just who it was becomes more and more difficult to establish in a series of twists that have Anna, under pressure to solve the case, becoming almost obsessed with all the trails she finds. And over it all, Langton is watching her like a hawk.
The book follows the extensive details and delays of real police work, from waiting for forensic reports to traveling to interview witnesses, always with the budget in mind. Anna also deals with the personalities of her hastily-thrown together team.

LaPlante’s lack of contractions may take some readers aback as it gives her dialogue a more formal feel; but it also serves to keep the British tone in the reader’s ear. This edition comes through the new line of mysteries from HarperCollins, Bourbon Street books.

Val McDermid: The Vanishing Point Sunday, Nov 11 2012 

Prolific Scots writer Val McDermid is back with a stand alone that will grab you from page one and keep you flipping until its surprising and eventful resolution. If you aren’t a McDermid fan by now, despite Auntie M expounding this gifts through reviews of her several series and excellent stand alones, now is the time to meet her acquaintance.

The Vanishing Point opens with UK ghost writer Stephanie Harker and her adoptive son trying to enter the US for a much-needed vacation.

The metal in Stephanie’s leg always sets off the security alarm, and she’s prepped young Jimmy to mind their luggage whilst she’s escorted to the clear cubicle to await her pat-down.

Then a kidnapper, disguised as a TSA agent, leads Jimmy away, and Stephanie’s attempts to rescue him are seen by the real TSA agents as an attempt to breach security. She’s detained over her protests and ultimately tasered, helpless to prevent Jimmy being kidnapped as they disappear into the crowded airport.

Once the situation is finally explained, valuable time has been lost, but FBI agent Vivian McKuras soon realizes this is a highly unusual situation, one heightened by the confusing first moments which have allowed a kidnapper to spirit Jimmy away. The boy’s birth mother was the reality star Scarlett, who gave Stephanie custody of her only child when she was dying of cancer, believing the writer would be the best person to provide Jimmy a stable life after her death.

Scotland Yard detective Nick Nikolaides, who knows Stephanie and her complicated background, investigates in England. Both Stephanie and Scarlett have had negative relationships with men in their pasts, and Nick and Stephanie are all too aware of the various ways Jimmy’s abduction could turn out very badly.

This compelling thriller touches every parent on a visceral level, while the possible causes for the kidnapping multiply as McDermid has Stephanie explain the back story to the FBI agent.

The reader follows the timeline of Stephanie’s relationship with Scarlett and their blossoming friendship that led to Stephanie being named as Jimmy’s legal guardian. There are enough players and possibilities for suspects to chose from as their story unfolds: the boy’s pampered, drug-addicted father’s family; a stranger after ransom from the wealthy Scarlett’s estate; or even a demented fan who might have wanted a piece of Scarlett.

When the truth of the situation is made evident, this well-plotted thriller will have you in awe of McDermid’s talents to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Her powerful and unexpected climax is nothing short of a writer’s dream, which is why McDermid recently received the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for outstanding achievement in the field of crime writing.

Ann Cleeves: Silent Voices Sunday, Nov 4 2012 

Anne Cleeves marvelous four Shetland Island mysteries, previously reviewed by Auntie M, are joined by the fourth in her Vera Stanhope series. Silent Voices is Cleeves at her best, with the kind of involved plot that revolves around relationships we’ve come to expect  from this talented and prolific author, whose George and Molly books, Inspector Ramsey series, and several stand-alones rank high with the best of British crime writers.

Vera is an unlikely heroine, living with the ghost of her dead father in his house, overweight and lonely, but with an instinctive intuition that has made her a top detective.

This time she’s reluctantly following her doctor’s advice to lose weight, slogging away in the pool early mornings before work at the Willows, a former grand hotel showing its age, but still with pretensions. The Willows had been  taken over by a chain, who put the health club in its basement to increase its profits. Vera hits the steam room, sharing it with a slender, long-legged woman who looks utterly at ease, head thrown back in complete relaxation. Vera tries to copy the relaxed pose without success. Then as the steam clears a bit, she realizes the subject of her regard is dead, strangled in the steam room where she’d come for a bit of relaxation.

Vera swings into official mode, calling her sergeant, Joe Ashworth, to the scene, cordoning off the steam room. The woman is identified as Jenny Lister, aged forty-one, head social worker in the area for fostering and adoptions. She leaves behind a daughter, Hannah, eighteen, and host of unanswered questions.

With her team interviewing the Willows staff, Vera and Joe try to unearth a motive for the murder. They find a connection to a case Jenny had worked on that had led to the death of young child. Soon it emerges that the caseworker of that same boy has moved to the village.

Cleeves does a fine job of illustrating Joe’s struggle to keep his home life, with a wife and young children, on an even keel as the murder investigation heats up–and so does Vera’s joy at being involved in a murder. Death, and finding the killer, brings Vera a surge of renewed vigor that some might find distasteful but that bring Vera the feeling of worthiness she craves.

There are plenty of characters here to choose from, some with motives clear and others fuzzy, but things unfold in what seems a natural way as Vera pursues the killer. And then a young man is murdered just as a young mother and her child go missing, and suddenly the stakes are upped.

This series is being serialized on ITV3, and stars Brenda Blethyn and has twice been nominated for two Dagger awards.  Cleeves received the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel for Raven Black.

 

 

 

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