Killing Spree – Sandra Foy reviews A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride

Here is a post I wrote for blogger Janet Emson, for her killing Spree themed week on her blog FromFirstPageToLast.

Killing Spree – Sandra Foy reviews A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride
The Killing Spree continues today as blogger Sandra Foy discusses her love of crime fiction and shares her review of A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride. My thanks go to Sandra for a great post. You can read more of her reviews at her blog readingwrites.

My love of crime/mystery books comes from an early age, when I first picked up an Enid Blyton, Secret Seven book. After reading the first one I devoured the rest. Then I rallied all the kids in the area to create our own Secret Seven Club (I was Pam) which landed us in a whole lot of trouble, but that’s another story. From there I went onto The famous Five who were, in my book, not a good as The Secret Seven, but kept me well entertained nevertheless.
Later, in my local library I discovered Sherlock Holmes, and The Hound of the Baskervilles remains a favourite to this day.
As a teenager I found the love of my life: Agatha Christie. I have read and re-read and re-re-read most of her books. Hercule Poirot, with all his little idiosyncrasies, is one of the greatest characters ever.
Nowadays I read a wide variety of crime/mystery novels; but particularly love Sharon Bolton, Stuart MacBride and Ian Rankin.
What I love about the crime/mystery genre is all of humankind is visible here. Crime is found in all walks of life and you meet every kind of character in crime novels
The crime novelist delves into the underbelly of the human psyche, trying to show how a criminal mind works, if that is possible. But more than that, it is the other characters, the ones who have to deal with crime, the ones who have to live with the fallout from crimes committed. It is fascinating, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking, watching different characters trying to come to terms with what life has thrown at them.

One of my favourite crime novels is Song For The Dead by Stuart MacBride, it was the first Stuart MacBride book that I read and I loved it and have gone on to be a huge fan. Here is the review I wrote for it:

a song for the dying
A Song For The Dying
by Stuart MacBride

A heart-stopping crime thriller and the fourth consecutive No. 1 Bestseller from the author of the Logan McRae series and Birthdays for the Dead.

He’s back…

Eight years ago, ‘The Inside Man’ murdered four women and left three more in critical condition – all of them with their stomachs slit open and a plastic doll stitched inside.

And then the killer just … disappeared.

Ash Henderson was a Detective Inspector on the initial investigation, but a lot can change in eight years. His family has been destroyed, his career is in tatters, and one of Oldcastle’s most vicious criminals is making sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.

Now a nurse has turned up dead on a patch of waste ground, a plastic doll buried beneath her skin, and it looks as if Ash might finally get a shot at redemption. At earning his freedom. At revenge.

I have not read any Stuart MacBride books before, I don’t quite know how I’ve managed that but there you have it. Also I didn’t realise that this was the second in a series; Birthdays for the Dead being the first. However, you don’t need to read them in order, this book works perfectly as a stand-alone.

D.I. Ash Henderson has been in prison for two years, framed for murder by a vicious gangster. He only gets released when Police Scotland needs his help in trying to catch a serial killer that got away from them eight years previously.

I have to say that although Ash Henderson is a hard-bitten, aggressive, violent man, whose answer to anyone who crosses him is to wrap the nearest object around their heads: I absolutely loved him. He just seemed so real. Having Alice, police psychologist, with him throughout was a masterstroke. She brings out a softer side in him, but it is just slightly softer, not sentimental. I can’t decide if he looks on Alice as his girlfriend or the daughter that he has lost. Whichever, he is very protective of her.

Alice herself we don’t really find out too much about her other than she is a psychcologist, she wears red shoes and she twiddles her hair a lot. I would love to see her further developed in future books if possible.

This book is packed with characters, some of them extremely unsavoury, these are not characters that you would want to meet on a dark night; nor in broad daylight come to that. Mrs Kerrigan, Ash’s nemesis, is utterly vile. William McFee, the preacher, whose God is straight out of the Old Testament, is not much better but he works so well. As do they all.

This is a grim book with lots of gruesome violence but there is still a lot of humour to be found and it is very well done. I particularly liked Ash’s internal dialogues.

Macbride has such a flair for language, his description of place and mood of setting are so effective, Scotland in all its hard-bitten granite glory just smacks you in the face.

I have never read a Stuart MacBride book before but I will certainly be rectifying that now.
*****

The Defenceless

the defenceless

The Defenceless
by Kati Hiekkapelto

When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.

Anna Fekete, police officer, is investigating a man found dead in the road. Her colleague, Esko Niemi has a separate investigation into gang violence involving drugs and illegal immigrants. The two investigations come together unexpectedly when a bloodied knife is found in the woods.

What turns this book into a great novel is the characters, they are very bit as important as the plot. Whilst reading, I kept being reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s quote: “most men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

Anna Fekete lives and works in Finland but hails from the Hungarian part of Serbia, and she is lost.She has no clue as to where she belongs or what she should call home. Home as she knew it, Yugoslavia, doesn’t even exist anymore. So for all she feels she doesn’t really belong in Finland, she has no idea if she would belong in Serbia either. When her grandmother becomes ill, it brings her loneliness and isolation into sharp focus.

Esko, her colleague, is definitely a rough diamond. The author does such a brilliant job with him. Showing us a man who is not easy to like, but at the same time being able to show us that he is struggling under the weight of his life and his failures, every bit as much as Anna.

Sammy, a young Pakistani Christian, has fled his home under threat of death and is living in Finland as an illegal immigrant. His application for asylum has been rejected and he is to be returned home. In the meantime he finds himself caught up in drugs and gang warfare. His story would have a heart of stone weeping.

The setting of Finland is vividly brought to life, and is as much a part of the book as the plot. The cold and snow seeps into everything and adds to the tension.

The novel is translated to English by David Hackston who has done an excellent job; at no point did I feel I was reading a book in translation.

The plotting of this book is complex and tight with myriad, seemingly disparate, strands being juggled effortlessly and with complete plausibility. This is a taut thriller with intelligent writing which reminded me of Ian Rankin. I would hugely recommend.
****1/2

Many thanks to Karen at Orenda books for sending me a copy.

Ridley Road

ridley road

Ridley Road
by Jo Bloom

Amid the rise of fascism in sixties London, one woman searches for her lost love . . .
Summer, 1962. Twenty-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London following the death of her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a brief but intense love affair with some months before. But the only address she has for him leads to a dead end.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Vivien convinces Barb, the owner of Oscar’s hair salon in Soho, to give her a job. There, she is swept into the colourful world of the sixties – the music and the fashions, the coffee bars and clubs.

But still, Vivien cannot forget Jack. As she continues to look for him, her search leads her into the fight against resurgent fascism in East London, where members of the Jewish community are taking to the streets, in and around Ridley Road. Then one day Vivien finally spots Jack, but her joy is short-lived when she discovers his secret . . .

Ridley Road is set in the Swinging Sixties, but reveals a much darker side to this era; the rise of anti-Semitic fascism, a subject that hasn’t really been in the public arena.

Vivian moves down to London from Manchester both to find her young man, Jack, with whom she has lost touch. And to escape the sadness of losing her much-loved father.

Finding a job in a hairdresser’s, Vivian also manages to find Jack, but is shocked by what she sees. Jack is embroiled in a Jewish anti-fascist group and is in grave danger. It is very difficult for the two of them to continue their relationship.

I really liked Vivian, shy and naive at first, she grew as the story went on. I was a little perturbed that she took a backseat through the middle of the book when Jack’s story takes over. Jack is not as strong a character on the page as Vivian, but his story is interesting and shocking and that carries him through.

The background of the Sixties is brilliantly evoked. I felt I could see and smell everything that was going on. The hairdresser’s was a masterstroke, a perfect scenario for Vivian to blossom, and the girls that worked there came across really well.

The historical aspect of the book is really interesting and Jo bloom has done her research into the horrible side of Sixties London very well. The rise of the
fascists targeting the Jewish community is something that should be more widely known. I am embarrassed to say I kmew nothing about it. So well done Jo Bloom because this book is not just an immensely readable love story, it is also an important document to a troubled time.
****

Letters To The Lost

letters to the lost

Letters To The Lost
Iona Grey

Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can’t help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.

In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable love that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival at one in five. The odds are stacked against the pair; the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life.

The story is told through dual timelines. One set during the war years where Stella Thorne, a young married woman, meets and falls in love with Dan Rosinski, an American air force pilot.

The second is set in the present day and features Jess and Will. Jess is homeless and desperately trying to escape her past, which includes an abusive boyfriend. Will is recovering from a breakdown caused in no small part by being compared to his over-achieving brother by his parents.

Jess breaks into a house to find sanctuary, but while there, picks up and reads a letter sent by Dan (now ninety years old and terminally ill) to Stella, in the hope of finally getting in touch with her before he dies. Jess finds all the letters that Dan sent to Stella during the war and builds up a picture of this doomed relationship and decides to try to help him.

London in the 1940s war years was beautifully evocative. The sights and smells-“the house reeked of boiled cabbage”; the characters with their make-do-and-mend wartime spirit, all created a wonderful picture to take you straight back to that era. She also delves into the differences between people then and now. Using the dual timelines she juxtaposes Stella and Jess’s stories to highlight these really well; the intolerances, the treatment of mental illness, women’s rights.

The four main characters are so well drawn you really feel they are people you know. I would wake in the morning and my mind would fly to Stella and Dan, eager to get back to their lives.

Dan is the anchor between the two timelines and, just like Stella, it is easy to fall in love with him. he is a charming, brave man, and his and Stella’s story breaks your heart.

There are a couple of major co-incidences to keep the story flowing, but if you can’t suspend your disbelief for a book as good as this then you’re never going to be able to.

I loved this book. It is exceptionally well-crafted. Iona Grey weaves a tale of love, loss and pain and still manages to leave you feeling uplifted. I hope she is writing her next book now because frankly I can’t wait.
****1/2

iona

The cover on the ARC is one of my favourite covers of all time. Thanks so much to Iona Grey for kindly sending me a copy, I will treasure it.