Tag Archive | #bookreview

Ghost in the Machine by Ed James

Crime fiction has never been my novel genre of choice but recently I don’t seem to have read anything else! My latest foray into crime-fiction-world was with the novel, Ghost in the Machine by Ed James. I’m conscious that I only seem to have good things to say about the recent novels that I’ve read but it seems that this chain of wonderful novels is ongoing – I enjoyed Ghost in the Machine from beginning to end.

Ghost in the Machine is the first in the series of novels that follow the life of D.C. Scott Cullen, a detective with Lothian and Borders C.I.D. Under the command of the Gene Hunt-like D.I. Bain and the supervision of potential future love interest D.S. McNeill, Cullen is investigating a series of murders of young women who all have some connection to Bain’s prime suspect Rob Thomson. However, Cullen feels that most of the evidence is circumstantial and while it would be the easy, and most career-safe, solution to the case, his instincts are telling him they may be accusing the wrong man. Whoever the murderer is, he has a technological arsenal at his disposal, grooming his victims on Schoolbook, a Facebook-style social networking site. Cullen uses his limited resources to try to find the actual killer, who may or may not be Rob Thomson, whilst trying to delay any potential wrongful conviction. However, as he is a relatively inexperienced member of the team and Bain is determined to fast-track his promotion  with a possible wrongful conviction, Cullen has to use his initiative to try to source some actual, honest-to-goodness evidence.

What I like about this novel is that D.C. Cullen is not perfect. He has naturally good instincts and is destined to be an amazing detective, however, at this first outing in novel form, he is flawed. James contrasts his actions with his colleagues and while there are things that Cullen can improve on (his staff management skills could do with some work, and he could have more willpower when considering his alcohol consumption), he uses the skills and knowledge that he does have to make some very astute observations during the investigation (one of the most memorable occasions involves a bottle of wine – as I said, making the most of what he knows!)

Ultimately, D.C. Cullen is on a learning curve, and this first novel in this series sets the reader up for future novels in the series. Cullen shows great promise as a detective and with a little refinement, his integrity and his natural skill set will likely bring him great success. His relationship with D.S. Neill doesn’t really get beyond flirty mode but there is definitely an undercurrent of attraction there and I’d be interested to know if this relationship develops. He is also not afraid to challenge D.I. Bain, although it doesn’t always work to his advantage. However, this may improve, the more experience that he gains.

James uses his location setting of Edinburgh and its surrounding areas to add an extra layer to his story. The team visit various areas from the business areas to the less affluent areas of Edinburgh. (I put this politely as James describes one particular area that Cullen visits as a “notoriously feral” part of the city.) The affluence of the areas doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the storyline but it does give a geographical introduction of Edinburgh and I, for one, enjoyed it immensely.

This novel is wonderfully written and I love that the main character is not some super-amazing, enigmatic detective who makes women swoon as soon as he walks in the door. D.C. Cullen is a young guy learning his craft, and while he is obviously still sore over a failed relationship, he is not deeply troubled particularly and doesn’t think he is God’s gift to women. He isn’t written in that way and that keeps more of the focus on the plot. I love a good series and I cannot wait to read the other books in this one. They are downloaded already (see below). I can certainly recommend this first installment. Watch this space for the others.

One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie

Last night, I tweeted: “I’m an emotional wreck after finishing #OneManCrusade by @StevenSuttie If you never read another crime novel, read this one!” In the cold light of day, and a very disappointing result (in my opinion) in the General Election, I wouldn’t just recommend this book, I implore everyone to read it.

One Man Crusade is not just a crime novel; it’s a social commentary of the struggles and influences of modern society. I rarely cry when I’m reading a book. (I think the last book I cried at was The Time Travelers Wife.) However, I cried at numerous chapters in this book and I think that the resonance with our current society in this fictional tale was too much to bear. This is a novel that doesn’t exaggerate. It just shows ordinary characters affected by extraordinary events.

In the wake of the brutal rape and murder of a little boy, the story follows a police team who are trying to solve a series of murders, seemingly connected but initially without a clear motive. DCI Andrew Miller, an ambitious and well-respected leader, and his team, seem to be coming up with constant dead ends and the mysterious lack of resources being supplied by the “top brass” is not helping matters. When Sky News get a call from the murderer asking if he can speak to the police through their news station, DCI Miller seizes the opportunity in the hope that he may find a lead. “Pop” introduces himself to the news presenter and sets his agenda out: he is going to kill convicted paedophiles and will only stop either when he is caught or when someone innocent is inadvertently hurt by his actions.

DCI Miller not only has the political agenda of the police chiefs to contend with; now he has a murderer who has gained huge national support because he is attempting to eliminate a real potential threat to British children. Even Miller’s wife is astonished that her husband can be actively trying to find the murderer, given that he is a father to twins himself. Miller argues that it his job to catch criminals. Regardless of this man’s motives, he cannot take matters into his own hands and murder people, paedophiles or not. However, Miller soon changes his ideas when he has chance to follow the constant coverage of Pop’s murders. Leaving the investigation in the capable hands of DI Karen Ellis, who is back to work two months after having her son, Miller becomes an advisor to Karen as she finds herself unsure of how she should approach the investigation given the extenuating circumstances of everyone wanting this murderer to stay at large, at least until he has rid the North West of a few more paedophiles. Ellis is eager for the promotion that Miller’s sudden departure leaves her with, but she realises that this is the worst possible case to have to begin her DCI role. The public don’t want her to find Pop, her superiors don’t want her to find Pop, and her motherly instinct is also fighting against her as she tries to find a way of doing her duty without compromising her future. Set in Manchester predominantly, I was familiar with the areas described as I’ve lived in the Manchester area all my life. I got particularly excited when I realised that one character lived on a road in Worsley, which is just around the corner from where I grew up. (Something else for me to love about this book!)

Steven Suttie writes with a journalistic style, reporting the events as they happened. This detached narration from various viewpoints allows the reader to develop their own opinion as they follow the murders, the reactions of those affected, the wider implications for society and the massive influence of the press on the investigation. During the narrative, Suttie inserts flashbacks to Pop’s life before the murders and the events that inspired him to risk his own liberty to murder the most abhorred criminals in the country. These interludes into Pop’s tragic back-story offer a further insight into the failings of the agencies that are supposed to provide support to society.

As a mother of three young girls, the subject matter of this novel was particularly evocative. Imagining myself watching Sky News as these fictional events unfold, I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t share the opinion of the public in Suttie’s novel in cheering Pop on as he attempts to make the country a better place by ridding the country of paedophiles. However, I’m also fully aware that vigilantism is not the way to deal with such problems and Suttie shows this in a very tragic way. Suttie doesn’t force the reader to take any particular point of view. He just reports the fictional facts. Yet by giving us the viewpoint of everyone involved, what is left is a commentary of today’s society; a criminal justice system in crisis, a society that is led wholeheartedly by the media and an underlying political agenda which demoralises those on the front line of public services. Of course, this is a work of fiction but there is undeniably evidence of this in the Britain of today.

Suttie has written a wonderful crime novel. No embellishment, just honest, emotive situations with a particularly poignant history and outcome. The narrative is steeped in authenticity and I couldn’t put this book down, reading a few chapters at every possible opportunity. If I had to make some kind of criticism, I would say that there are certain scenes which I thought were a bit too coincidental in comparison to the realism of the rest of the narrative but this is really nit-picking at what is a brilliant novel. A novel that has the ability to move the reader to tears, as this one did to me on more than one occasion, and a novel that can offer such a high sense of reality whilst telling a fictional story, is a wonder to behold. I cannot recommend this book enough.





The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test isn’t a book that I would have necessarily picked up to read. However, it was recommended by a friend and colleague and I thought I’d give it a go. What a fascinating book it is!

Jon Ronson investigates the test that has become the measuring stick for diagnosing psychopathy and is applied by criminal justice systems across the world. Throughout the book, Ronson considers the diagnosis and treatment of psychopaths over the years and interviews people who are perceived to be psychopaths and some who he considers perhaps should be labelled as psychopaths after he uses his newly acquired, amateur psychologist skills to apply the “psychopath test” to them. He considers the stigma of the label of “psychopath” and the implications for those who are incarcerated as a result of this test and he meets the psychologists who have deemed these people as incurable psychopaths.

The people that Ronson meets could, to varying degrees, be labelled psychopaths, and that’s just the psychologists! Following his attendance at a course ran by Bob Hare, who created the test and has spent his life’s work refining it, Ronson administers the test to analyse everyone he meets in his investigations, as well as pointing out his own potential psychopathic tendencies. It’s catching, too! As Ronson points out things that people do that could be construed as psychopathic pointers, I found myself totting up the features in the test that could apply to me. “Item 14 – Impulsivity” could certainly apply to me, particularly where shopping for shoes and handbags is concerned! “Item 15 – Irresponsibility” – I’m pretty sure that when I’ve gone on a night out in the middle of winter without a jacket could be classed as irresponsible! “Item 5 – Cunning/Manipulative” – when it’s time to get the children in bed I often use cunning and manipulative tactics! (I wonder if it could be considered narcissistic that I’ve even give all this any thought?) Okay, none of these things could really indicate that I’m a psychopath and I’m happy to say that the other items don’t really apply, but when the list is considered, I’d be very surprised if anyone could not find a single trait that they could at least loosely apply to themselves.

I enjoyed this book wholeheartedly and it most definitely provides food for thought. I also think Ronson may be on to something when he considers that people in power, politicians and CEO’s of large conglomerates, could be borderline psychopath as they separate themselves from the human aspect of their positions so they can make big decisions that affect lots of people. This is the first book that I’ve read by Jon Ronson and his writing style is easy to read and very funny. I would absolutely read the other books that he has written and have been advised that Them: Adventures with Extremists is well worth a read too. (Watch this space!) Ronson’s journalistic tone, tinged with self-deprecation, is very endearing and makes this book very enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but be prepared to analyse everyone for psychopathic tendencies afterwards!

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

I’ll be honest. I feel like I’ve been reading The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty (Orenda Books) for a month! In actuality, it’s only been a week but what an adventure it has been!

Set predominantly in Yemen, the main protagonist, Claymore Straker finds himself literally “between a rock and a hard place” when he is kidnapped with his friend and driver, Abdulkader, by a terrorist organisation, and told to use his position as a contractor for oil company Petrotex to investigate a mystery illness that has befallen the locals and is killing their children. A notorious terrorist, Al Shams, gives Clay a deadline and an ultimatum: find the cause and expose this illness that he suspects has been caused by the activities of Petrotex or Abdulkader dies.

Clay has had a troubled past, having had a stint in the South African military that has left him with some mental battle scars and a financial commitment: the healthcare costs of his comatosed best friend. Nursing a desire to right some wrongs from his past, Clay uses his scientific expertise to test the local waters to find out if Al Shams is right. As Clay faces a serious conflict of interest, (the life of his friend against his career) he begins to wonder who the bad guys really are.

I’m not really sure how I would categorise this novel. It is a thriller of sorts but with a political and scientific tone. What I will say is that it certainly gives food for thought. At a time where terrorism, corporate and political corruption seem to be commonplace in world news, this novel suggests a link between them, albeit in a fictional sense. As Hardisty tells a story of various political and corporate agencies working in cahoots for a supposed “greater good”, the (perhaps cynical) reader can’t help but consider if there is some truth in the fiction.

Hardisty also describes the how the faith of the locals provides them with an envious sense of freedom in their belief that Allah determines everything. Abdulkader is a perfect example of this sentiment. As Clay remonstrates and fights to control the next course of action, Abdulkader is calm in the knowledge that he will die when Allah determines it. He shows no fear or panic. He seems to find an inner peace in the thought that he has no control of his fate, that what will be, will be. Clay denies this deterministic ideology but comes to realise that his own fate is controlled by the people he is surrounded by and powers beyond his reach, again to maintain the “greater good”.

As the reader follows Clay’s plight, they are treated to some glorious descriptions of the Yemen landscape. This novel is rich in detail, reminding me of Charles Dickens’ narratives. Obviously the settings are very different to Dickens’ locations but the intricate description of the geological landscape is articulate and beautiful. The multi-sensory journey through the country enhances the reading experience considerably and is well worth the extra pages. The contrast between the materialistic western lifestyles and the simple lifestyles of the Yemeni people further enhances the sense that the Western world is invading this country for its natural resources at any cost, including the lives of the poverty-stricken Yemeni people. Clay doesn’t concern himself with the part he plays in the process of manipulating the locals with bribes to facilitate Petrotex’s extraction of Yemen’s spoils until he is faced with the reality that children are dying as a result. Haunted by reminders of his past mistakes, he is determined to expose the corporate “fat cats” who make decisions based on financial gain with no concern for the human life cost.

There is, of course, the obligatory love story, which shows Clay’s vulnerable side.His love for Rania is fraught with difficulties, as she fights with her religious beliefs and her mission in the Yemen and Clay wonders if she can be trusted, as he suspects that there is more to this beautiful journalist than meets the eye. However, any reader would undoubtedly want their relationship to succeed as they work together to try to solve the mystery of this strange illness.

There is definitely a sense that just as you think you have worked it all out, Hardisty throws in a curve ball which throws your entire theory out of the water, and just as you think that Clay has found someone who can help him blow the situation wide open, there is another layer of corruption to unearth. As a reader, I was willing Clay to find that one person who he could completely trust, just so he wasn’t alone against the corporate and political machine.

This is a fantastic novel and the character of Clay Straker holds great promise for future novels. Hardisty writes with incredible passion and technical precision and the reader can never be quite sure who is good and who is bad, which keeps the reader gripped to the end. His exquisite descriptions of Yemen and the extensive scientific knowledge that he brings to the narrative provides the reader with an epic reading experience that will have them yearning to know what happens next. I’m certainly looking forward to future Clay Straker adventures, but for now, I’m going to spend some time recovering from this one!