Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley is the author’s first novel and it won the McIlvanney Prize: Scottish Crime Book of the Year. The setting is Glasgow, mainly the east end.  I must say that I did like this one but in parts it’s not for the faint-hearted, or weak stomached, it’s definitely on the violent and gory side, but there is comedy too.

Detective Inspector Alison McCoist (yes, Ally McCoist) bungled her last investigation so she’s been demoted, if that wasn’t bad enough her husband has got custody of their teenage twins, things couldn’t get much worse for her but she’s determined to claw her wake back up again, it’s either that or she’ll be retired out of the force.

Sean owns a car wash business, he doesn’t do any of the work himself though, he’s in the office, with a serious cannabis habit. Davey is one of his employees, and he makes the huge mistake of ‘borrowing’ a client’s massive 4×4 to get to a family court session on time, he’s in danger of losing visiting rights to his much-loved daughter. Unfortunately Davey gets kidnapped on the way there, and the very expensive car is torched. He has been mistaken for Paulo, Glasgow’s most violent psychopathic gang leader.

Ally has had dealings with Paulo and company before, and she’s very suspicious of the car wash business. It’s all very dangerous for her, but if she succeeds in getting a conviction she’ll be back on that career ladder again.

This was a good read which reminded me a bit of Christopher Brookmyre’s books, but with less of the crazy humour, although it is funny in parts. I would definitely read more by McSorley in the future. I must admit though that there is quite a lot of Glasgow dialect which was no problem for me and I think should be easy for non Glaswegians to understand, but some people just can’t cope with dialogue like that.

 

 

Ryan’s Christmas by L J Ross

Ryan’s Christmas by L J Ross was published in 2020 and it’s the first book by the author that I’ve read. I chose it because of the title, but it might have been better if I had read one of her earlier books as she refers to several of them in this one.

Ryan’s Christmas has been inspired by several such previous books. DCI Ryan and his team of murder detectives are having a festive jaunt out in Edinburgh, but on the way home to Northumberland the weather is awful, they run into a snowstorm, then they run out of fuel. They’ll all freeze to death in the car overnight if they don’t find shelter.

Luckily they discover that they are close to Chillingham Castle, apparently it’s the most haunted house in England!  In fact the owners run ghost hunt weekends, so the staff are used to looking after guests, and they’re made welcome there.

You’ve guessed it – there’s a murder, but which of them is the culprit? With the telephone lines down and no mobile phone signal in the remote area there’s no easy way of getting help.

I enjoyed the setting of this book as it’s all familiar to me, that’s the way we drive when we visit friends in Sunderland, so I know Northumberland quite well, it’s a lovely area. For my taste though there was a wee bit too much romance going on in this book, but I realise that a lot of readers will enjoy that.  According to the blurb on the front  of the book L J Ross is a multi-million best selling author.  I’ll give another of her books a go sometime in the future anyway, but this one was just too much of an homage – or a cliche – for my liking.

 

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths is the most recent book in the author’s  Dr Ruth Galloway series.

When new owners of a shop in King’s Lynn decide to do some renovations there’s a shock in store for them.  With the removal of a false wall a skeleton can be seen in the void. It’s another job for archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway who is called in to examine the bones to see if they’re modern or ancient. It turns out that the skeleton belongs to an archaeolgy student who was reported missing over twenty years previously. It seems that the case wasn’t taken that seriously at the time and Nelson and his team discover a lot of clues which had been overlooked.

It turns out that Cathbad had known the victim and he had been with her at an archaeology camp shortly before she disappeared. When Cathbad himself disappears Judy his partner and his children are worried, especially as he’s still suffering from long Covid.

Ruth is also worried. for different reasons. Her whole archaeology department is in danger of being axed by the university, and the Nelson/Michelle marriage is still ongoing it seems.

I think this one wraps up the series. I enjoyed it although I must admit that I found Cathbad more than a bit wearing at times.

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson – 20 Books of Summer 2023

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson is set in Edinburgh in 1948. The National Health Service is just being set up and Helen Crowther has got a job as a medical almoner, akin to a social worker nowadays, attached to two local doctors’ surgery. Previously the work had been done by a sort of ‘lady bountiful’ type of woman who had been doing the work voluntarily, and she had trained up Helen to help her.  Helen has trouble making people believe that they won’t have to pay for visits to the doctor as the idea of the NHS seems too good to be true to them, but as she has been brought up in similar circumstances to her clients she’s more in tune with their problems.

When Helen and her husband get the chance to move into a home of their own they’re ecstatic.  Helen hopes that not sharing cramped accommodation with her parents and sister will mean that things will now be different in their marriage, her husband isn’t interested in her and her mother is champing at the bit to be a grandmother.

When Helen stumbles across a body she’s sure she knows who the victim is, but she’s perplexed when the investigation doesn’t proceed the way she thinks it should. There’s a lot going on in the secretive life of some of Edinburgh’s more prominent citizens and Helen needs to untangle it all. This was a really good read. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer reads.

 

 

Time and Tide by Shirley McKay

Time and Tide by Shirley McKay was published in 2011 and it’s the third book in the author’s Hew Cullan series.

The setting is St Andrews 1582 and a ship has been wrecked just off the town. There’s only one survivor, all the others have succumbed to some sort of illness. The locals are worried that it might have been some sort of infectious disease, but there’s a windmill on  the wreck and various inhabitants of the town want it for themselves.  But who does it belong to?

Hew is given the job of sailing to Ghent to find the owner and to tell them what has happened to all of the sailors, while Hew’s brother-in-law tries to establish what the sailors died from.  Hew’s task is all the more dangerous as the Low Countries are at war with Spain, but he’s glad to get out of St Andrews and to be travelling again and he soon falls in with a Scottish mercenary who will help him with his investigations in Antwerp and Vlissingen –  or not.

There’s a lot going on in this book, murders, rumours of witchcraft and Hew meets royalty,  I really liked it although my thoughts on it are hardly rivetting reading, but I’m looking forward to reading the next one in this series.

 

The Face of Trespass by Ruth Rendell

The Face of Trespass by Ruth Rendell was published in 1974. It’s donkey’s years since I read anything by Ruth Rendell, I don’t know why but I have always got mixed up between her and P.D. James.

Anyway, I did like this one although it takes almost the whole book to get to the crime. I really prefer it when there’s a murder on the first or second page, so I did get a bit frustrated at what I regarded as a lot of scene setting. This does lead to an atmosphere of menace though, you just know that things are not going to go well for the main character.

Graham, generally known as Gray had written a very well-received novel two years previously and everybody had great hopes of him having a very successful career as a writer, but he hadn’t been able to replicate his success and didn’t even seem to be trying now.

He’s living in a small rural cottage not very far from London which is known as ‘the hovel’ as it’s just about falling down. It belongs to Mal, a friend who is travelling at the moment and is happy for Gray to live in the cottage – and stop it from falling down.

Gray has an obsession though, he’s having an affair with a married woman  who is rich – well her husband is rich. Apparently she always gets her own way but the relationship breaks down when Gray refuses to be manipulated by her.

There’s an atmosphere of danger and tension, especially towards the end of the book, and I enjoyed it despite its structure not being my favourite style.

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny was published in 2021 and the Covid pandemic does feature in the book although it’s assumed that it’s all over and done with as there is a vaccine – if only that were the case – it’s still around in 2023 and people are still dying, with variants able to dodge the vaccines.

Anyway, I was happy when I realised that in this book the Quebec village of Three Pines is the setting. I’ve read all of these books apart from the most recent one and it just about always seems to be winter in Three Pines. I suppose that all adds to the cosiness of the Bistro with all of those sugary pastries and hot chocolate – mention of which always makes me feel slightly icky!

To the book: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has been given the job of organising the crowd control at a lecture which is being given by a controversial speaker. Gamache is keen for the lecture to be cancelled as its subject of euthanasia is so objectionable and divisive. The speaker believes that killing off anyone who is a drain on society is the only way of getting the country’s economics back on an even keel post Covid, and worryingly some people in the government seem to be taking the idea seriously. It’s all very close to the hearts of the Gamache/Beauvoir families, given that a supposedly imperfect baby is the latest addition to the families, and of course with Penny’s late husband having had dementia of some sort it’s something that presumably she would have been completely against.

As you would expect murder ensues! It’s a good read with moral and psychological questions as usual.

The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith – Readers Imbibing Peril XVII

The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith was first published in 1956. It’s full of suspense and atmosphere.

Walter Stackhouse is a young handsome and succesful lawyer, he seems to have it all, but he has been married to Clara who is an estate agent for two years and she’s very work driven, a family is not on her agenda, she is more attached to her dog Jeff than to her husband.

In fact Clara is very difficult and is really in need of a psychiatrist, but she refuses to see one. She doesn’t have a good word to say about Walter and constantly criticises him, she embarrasses him in front of friends and one by one his friends are deserting him, Clara is isolating him. They’ve previously talked about getting a divorce but decided to give the marriage another go.

Walter tells Clara that he loves her so often he actually believes it, but when he reads about the murder of a woman in a newspaper he becomes obsessed with the case, he thinks the husband did it, but the husband hasn’t been arrested. Walter feels the need to visit a bookshop which belongs to the murdered woman’s husband, and so begins a catalogue of poor decisions, downright stupidity and silly lies which lead to a lot of trouble. In fact at times I began to feel sorry for Clara for having been married to him!

I really enjoyed this one, despite it being quite a stressful read. There’s such an atmosphere of danger or should I say peril for a character that I originally had quite a lot of sympathy for.

There have been various film adaptations of this novel, most recently A Kind of Murder which was released in 2016.

I read this one for the Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge. RIP XVII

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is set in 1926 London and it begins with a large crowd gathering outside Holloway prison which (Ma) Nellie Coker is just about to be released from. She’s something of a celebrity, the matriarch of a large family business as she owns a string of nightclubs, all catering for different types of clientele. Her six adult children have arrived in their two Bentleys to whisk her away, but not before the press photographers have snapped their mother.

Chief Inspector John Frobisher of Scotland Yard is also among the crowd. He has been sent to Bow Street Station to shake them up, it’s thought that there’s a lot of corruption in that police station. He’s not the usual type of police inspector, he’s keen on books and might take to writing himself.

It looks like Nellie hasn’t fared well in prison, it’s the first time she had ever been there and she’s no spring chicken. Some gangsters intended to take advantage of the situation and move in on her business. There’s also a corrupt policeman making a nuisance of himself and some of Nellie’s children are less than supportive.

I loved this one which I think has an authentic atmosphere of the post WW1 society with the Bright Young Things and their excesses, including drugs, but there’s also a more domestic thread with some runaway girls being sought by Frobisher and his undercover temporary sidekick.

In general I really love Atkinson’s writing – except for When Will There Be Good News? which was far too depressing for me.

My thanks to the publisher Random House UK and NetGalley who sent me a digital copy of the book for review.

Shrines of Gaiety is due to be published on the 27th of September 2022.

Sheiks and Adders by Michael Innes – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Sheiks and Adders cover

Sheiks and Adders by the Scottish author Michael Innes was first published in 1982, by Gollancz. Whenever I see those yellow Gollancz covers nowadays I’m just about grinding my teeth, since I read about how badly Victor Gollancz treated his editor Diana Athill, paying her paltry wages for years. Anyway, to the book.

Sir John Appleby has retired from Scotland Yard, and he’s very happy to be out of it, but when he visits a summer charity fete which happens to be a fancy dress do, he gets involved in a murder. Appleby is dressed as Robin Hood and he’s amused to bump into his replacement at Scotland Yard, as he’s also dressed as Robin Hood! It seems that the fete is being held in the grounds of a house which belongs to a businessman who has recently moved there, and Scotland Yard has had a tip-off that there’s going to be trouble.

A wealthy Arab sheik is going to be attending, is his life going to be in danger? To add to the difficulties lots of men have decided to dress up as Arabs, it’s impossible to figure out who is the real sheik. One thing that Appleby knows for sure – for some reason the owner of the house had forbidden his daughter’s boyfriend to come dressed as an Arab!

This was quite an amusing read. Michael Innes was also an academic and he liked to make sure that his readers knew that, so there are a lot of literary allusions as usual, I know that some people find that annoying, I just find it quite funny!