I have been going through a mini crime phase in my reading across different genres recently, namely non-fiction, crime fiction and historical fiction. Here are three books I have enjoyed over the last few weeks:
Court Number One by Thomas Grant is an anthology of 11 significant trials held at the Central Criminal Court in London, more commonly known as the Old Bailey, during the 20th century. The majority of these deal with murders, but also include espionage and treason, and as the subtitle of the book promises, Grant shows how the trials defined modern Britain, particularly where attitudes towards social change are concerned. The earlier chapters tend to involve cases which have largely been forgotten such as the Camden Town murder trial in 1907 shortly after the court opened, while those in the second half of the century mostly remain notorious such as those involving John Christie, Ruth Ellis and Jeremy Thorpe. While some chapters are a tad overlong due to the considerable amount of detail, each case is outlined in a gripping narrative, capturing the essence of courtroom drama. Grant, a practising barrister, shines a light on the tactics involved and how and why the trials had the outcomes that they did. ‘Court Number One’ is ideal for a lay reader who wants to understand more about the history of the English criminal justice system, and would be a good companion to The Secret Barrister. Continue reading
I enjoyed Patrick McGuinness’s debut The Last Hundred Days which is an evocative portrait of the end of Ceausescu’s rule in Romania and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. His second novel ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’ is inspired by the real events of the Joanna Yeates case in which her landlord, Christopher Jefferies, was arrested on suspicion of her murder in Bristol in December 2010. The retired English teacher was released without charge and the real killer was caught, but extensive press coverage at the time of his arrest had portrayed him as an eccentric loner with false suggestions by ex-pupils that he had behaved inappropriately. In ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’, the setting has been changed to Kent and the character based on Jefferies is Michael Wolphram, accused of the murder of his neighbour Zalie Dyer. Continue reading
It’s been almost three years since Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith was published and it has been a very long wait to find out what happens following the cliffhanger ending of ex-military policeman and private detective Cormoran Strike’s late arrival at the wedding of his agency partner Robin Ellacott and her insufferable fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. The prologue of the fourth book in the series published last month, ‘Lethal White’, picks up exactly where ‘Career of Evil’ left off and the story then jumps forward a year later to the summer of 2012 when London is hosting the Olympic Games. A mentally distressed young man named Billy Knight arrives at Strike’s office and then flees again shortly after claiming to have witnessed the murder of a child many years ago. Strike is subsequently approached by Jasper Chiswell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who has been receiving blackmail threats from Geraint Winn, husband of the Minister for Sport Della Winn, and Billy’s older brother, Jimmy Knight. Continue reading
The opening chapter of ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer presents a chilling premise based on the unsolved murder of Marie Wilks. On a hot day in the summer of 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright is left in a broken-down car by the side of a motorway with his two younger sisters, Joy and Merry, while their pregnant mother, Eileen, goes in search of a telephone for help. However, she never returns and her body is eventually found stabbed to death.
Three years later and abandoned by their father who was unable to cope, Jack turns to burgling houses to provide for his sisters and escape being noticed by social services. On the other side of town, a young pregnant woman, Catherine While, discovers a knife next to her bed with a note that reads “I could have killed you” but she decides not to tell her husband about the break-in or report it to the police. Elsewhere, DS Reynolds who does everything by the book and DCI Marvel who takes a slightly more unorthodox approach towards detective work are investigating multiple burglaries and the identity of Eileen’s killer who still hasn’t been caught and are in a race against time to solve both mysteries. Continue reading
Medical memoirs such as This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay have vividly illustrated the highs and lows of working in the National Health Service and the importance of funding it properly. The Secret Barrister, an anonymous junior barrister practicing in London, now lifts the lid on the realities of the English and Welsh criminal justice system in ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’. Continue reading
‘The Accident on the A35’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet sees the return of Inspector Georges Gorski who featured in The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. His latest case in the sleepy French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace involves the circumstances surrounding a car accident which fatally injures prominent local solicitor Bertrand Barthelme. Although there is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed, it is soon discovered that Barthelme had repeatedly lied about his whereabouts to his wife Lucette and teenage son Raymond so Gorski agrees to Lucette’s request to look into the circumstances further. Meanwhile Raymond discovers the address of a house in the rue Saint-Fiacre in Mulhouse on a piece of paper in his father’s desk and sets out to conduct his own investigation.
‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood is based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant convicted of the notorious double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and mistress Nancy Montgomery alongside stable hand James McDermott in Toronto in 1843 when she was just sixteen years old. After they were caught attempting to escape from Canada to the United States, McDermott was hanged for the crime while Grace was sentenced to life imprisonment at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario after her death sentence was commuted at the last minute. Despite confessing to the crime at the time, Grace still claims to have no memory of the murders fifteen years later. Her sanity is being investigated by American psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan at the invitation of a liberal minister who believes she is innocent.
Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet tells the story of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae, accused of committing three brutal murders in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands in 1869. Presented as a series of documents “discovered” by the author whilst researching his family history, the first half of the book consists of Roddy’s written statement in which he confesses to the crimes and gives his version of events leading up to the murders followed by an account of the trial and verdict. The identity of one of the victims is revealed at the beginning to be local constable Lachlan Mackenzie while the other two remain a mystery until the event itself occurs. Continue reading
‘Blood Wedding’ by Pierre Lemaitre and translated from the French by Frank Wynne tells the story of Sophie Duguet, a nanny who is becoming increasingly forgetful and paranoid. When the child in her care Leo is found brutally murdered, she has no recollection of what happened and goes on the run fearing that she killed him during one of her frequent blackouts. However, it soon becomes clear that something very sinister has been causing Sophie’s alarming behaviour and changing her identity won’t be the solution to her problems. Continue reading
‘In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences’ by Truman Capote outlines the investigation into the murders of farmer Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and two of their teenage children at their home in Kansas in November 1959. After reading a short news article in the New York Times about the killings, Capote travelled to the small town of Holcomb with his friend, Harper Lee, where he undertook extensive research and interviewed hundreds of people who lived in the area or were involved in the case including the chief investigator, Alvin Dewey, and eventually the murderers themselves. Continue reading
Last week, I attended another bloggers event at the Groucho Club in London to celebrate the work of classic crime writers Margery Allingham and Eric Ambler with short talks delivered by Barry Pike, a founder and Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society, and Simon Brett, a crime writer and Ambler expert. I developed an interest in classic crime fiction after reading Martin Edwards’ compendium of the genre The Golden Age of Murder last summer which outlined the lives and works of key members of the Detection Club in the early 20th century including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley among others. I was therefore very keen to learn more about two other crime writers whose names were familiar to me but whose novels I had never read before.
This week, I was lucky enough to get a place at a special launch event for ‘Career of Evil’, the third book in the crime fiction series by J. K. Rowling written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I really enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm and was very keen to read the latest instalment of Cormoran Strike’s adventures.
To celebrate the launch, the publishers of ‘Career of Evil’ teamed up with Time Run to organise a special crime thriller version of a live gaming experience where teams need to solve clues and puzzles to “escape” the room as quickly as possible. Based in Hackney, it’s been described by the Metro as “immersive theatre meets Crystal Maze but better”. This definitely wasn’t going to be a typical book launch… Continue reading
‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes opens with an elite intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim being brought out of retirement to investigate the brutal murder of a woman in the rundown Eastside Inn in New York whose identifying features have all been dissolved with acid. Meanwhile, Pilgrim is also attempting to track down a Saudi Arabian doctor known as the Saracen who was radicalised after his father was publicly beheaded and is seeking revenge by unleashing a deadlier version of smallpox on the United States. It later transpires that the two investigations are closely linked. Continue reading
‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’ by Barbara Vine opens with the death of Vera Hillyard, one of the last women to be hanged for murder in Britain in the late 1940s. The story is told from the point of view of Vera’s niece, Faith, who was in her early teens during the Second World War when the main events and crime in question take place. Some thirty years later, Faith is approached by a journalist called Daniel Stewart who is researching the case for a book he is writing and she slowly unravels her version of events as well as a number of family secrets.
I consider myself to be a pretty fast reader but it is rare even for me to race through a whole book in one Sunday as I did with ‘Rubbernecker’ by Belinda Bauer which won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s Novel of the Year award in 2014. The story begins with an account of how Sam Galen ended up in a coma following a car accident and his experiences in a high-dependency neurological ward in the care of Tracy Evans, a selfish nurse attempting to charm the wealthy husband of one of the other patients. Meanwhile, Patrick Fort, an anatomy student at Cardiff University, discovers that the body he is dissecting didn’t expire from the causes officially stated on the death certificate. Gradually, these different plot lines become more closely entwined with each other. Continue reading
Hyped as this year’s ‘Gone Girl‘, ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins tells the story of Rachel Watson, who takes the same commuter train every day to London. The train always stops at a red signal where she observes a seemingly perfect couple who she names Jess and Jason in their house which is coincidentally a few doors down from where she used to live with her ex-husband, Tom. Except one day, Rachel sees something shocking from the train and becomes more closely entwined with their lives when “Jess” suddenly disappears.
‘Irène’ and ‘Alex’ are the first two books in Pierre Lemaitre’s series of crime novels set in Paris and featuring Commandant Camille Verhoeven. ‘Irène’ was the first novel in the series originally published in France in 2006 but was the second to be translated into English following the success of its sequel ‘Alex’ which won the CWA International Dagger for best translated crime novel of the year in 2013. Continue reading
‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ by Joel Dicker tells the story of Marcus Goldman, a young author suffering from writer’s block after the success of his debut novel. His former professor and mentor Harry Quebert is arrested and charged with the murder of his fifteen-year-old lover Nola Kellergan who is found buried on his property in New Hampshire thirty-three years after she disappeared. Marcus becomes obsessed with solving the mysteries surrounding Nola’s disappearance and starts investigating what really happened all those years ago. Continue reading
‘The Silkworm’ is the second novel by Robert Galbraith featuring ex-military policeman turned private detective Cormoran Strike. In his latest case, Strike is hired by the wife of Owen Quine, a little-known author who has gone off by himself for a few days and is expected to return home once he has been found. However, Quine had recently completed a new novel entitled ‘Bombyx Mori’ featuring grotesque pen-portraits thinly disguised as various people he knows. The unpublished manuscript has already been circulating the literary world and having made a considerable number of enemies, Quine is later discovered brutally murdered. Continue reading
‘Apple Tree Yard’ by Louise Doughty tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a middle-aged geneticist who begins an affair with a man she meets while she is giving evidence to a Select Committee at the Houses of Parliament. It is revealed at the beginning of the book that the affair has been exposed in dramatic circumstances while Yvonne is on trial at the Old Bailey. However, even though it is clear that she is doomed from the beginning, the story behind how she became embroiled in the most serious of crimes and who her lover really is still offers many twists and turns.