Saturday, September 14, 2013

Flesh Wounds by Chris Brookmyre (2013)

I am a huge fan of ‘Tartan Noir’ – that brand of murder mystery set in Scotland, usually Edinburgh, featuring a detective or policeman who has/had a drinking problem, issues with his family and is involved in a dark, murky criminal underworld. I think my favourite Tartan Noir is any book by Ian Rankin but, and this is a big but, these worlds are so masculine. Women are hookers or wives, mothers or daughters but rarely detectives or protagonists. Because of this, I was delighted to discover Chris Brookmyre’s Sharp Investigations series, a female-focused Tartan Noir set in a dark, corrupt Edinburgh.

The first two books in the series (which I read PB (pre-blog)) are Where the Bodies are Buried and When the Devil Drives. The first features Jasmine Sharp, a wannabe actress who, following the death of her mother, starts working for her uncle’s private investigation company. When her uncle goes missing, she meets Detective Catherine McLeod, a policewoman who has her own family and profession problems in the course of the investigation. It’s a great, very entertaining book, and the follow-up, which has a stronger focus on police corruption, was just as good. Within one hour of finding out there was a third one in the series I had tracked down a copy, had it in my hand and I could not wait to start! But, unfortunately, this third novel was a huge disappointment.

For starters, it starts really really slowly. The book contains three separate stories, each one with its own timeframe and featuring a different character. Additionally, each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and these characters are sometimes separated by time and space and sometimes not, so it was really hard to get into the novel or develop any affinity for any of the characters. Once I hit page 150 and the disparate storylines began to become more related to each other, the pace quickened up a little bit but with the attention spread over so many characters, I never really engaged with the text.
The biggest problem for me was that the thing I enjoyed most about the previous books, the strong female characters, was missing in this one. This is a book about men and about fathers, both good and bad. Jasmine and Catherine barely rate a mention and their concerns are merely glanced at within the traditionally Tartan Noir masculine universe of police, gangs and crime. Even worse, there is a twist ending that doesn’t work at all, especially within the context of the other two books in the series. I can’t say any more without giving away spoilers but it just doesn’t make any sense! Very, very frustrating.

Chris Brookmyre is a good writer and I might have liked it more if I hadn’t read the first two in the series and liked them so much (four stars each). But I did, so I give Flesh Wound two stars. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Double Wedding Ring by Clare O'Donohue (2013)

Out of all the many types of crime novels on the market, without any doubt my absolute favourite type of story that involves death and mayhem can also be described as cosy - it's the craft-themed murder mystery novel. When done well, these books are seriously the best. They usually revolve around a shop that has been passed on by a grandmother to her granddaughter (the mother never understands) who, for whatever reason, has left her previous life (most probably in the Big City) in need of support and comfort, which is supplied by the group of usually women crafters who visit and/or work in the store. Someone tangentially related to the store/town/granddaughter dies and the group of crafters band together to solve the murder. In the process, the granddaughter falls in love.

At their worst, these books are trite and just plain awful (Maggie Sefton and the Lambspun series, I'm looking straight at you) but the best are like a real hot chocolate - classic, sweet and the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. The Double Wedding Ring by Clare O'Dohohue falls into the second category. It is the fifth book in the Someday Quilts series but the first by this author that I have read, and in this book Nell Fitzgerald (the granddaughter) has left a cheating fiance in New York City and is attending art school and working with in her grandmother's quilt shop (Someday Quilts) in the picturesque town of Archers Rest. One night Nell goes to have dinner at her boyfriend's house and notes a man sitting in his car outside. She doesn't think anything of it until the next morning, when the man is discovered dead.

A lot happens in this book. Nell's grandmother Eleanor is getting married and considering closing Someday Quilts. Nell is about to start her final semester at art school and needs to decide what to do with her future, both professionally and in her relationship. A kitten is found (kittens are the best! Why are they not in every story?) and, since this is a murder mystery, the killer of the dead man - who was a cop with Nell's boyfriend (the current Archers Rest chief of police) in New York - must also be found. Because there is so much happening, the story moves along briskly and there is no chance of the reader getting bored. My favourite parts of the books, though, were those that dealt with quilting. I'm a knitter not a quilter (for proof, see here) but I felt the descriptions of time spent crafting and the relationship of individuals to the making process were authentic and true to my own experience. You do want to give those you love stuff made by your own hand but not just any old thing - these gifts need to be perfect.

I enjoyed this book very much and have since ordered the first four novels so I can catch up on what happened before the former New York cop died. I am pleased to have found another fun craft murder mystery series to add to my shelf and hope that the unusually high per-capita death rate in Archers Rest continues so I can continue to read about it. Three stars.

This book was supplied to me by the publisher via Netgalley but the opinions written in this review are my own.