mark billingham: time of death

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On a short holiday with her partner Helen Weeks reads about a girl who has gone missing in her hometown of Polesford. Poppy is the second teenage girl to disappear in a couple of weeks and it’s headline news. The police have got a suspect and Helen realises it is the husband of her closest childhood friend. Helen insists on returning to support her friend but it also stirs difficult memories, why she left Polesford and doesn’t keep in touch. Meanwhile, Helen’s partner Tom Thorne has a gut feeling that the police have the wrong man and when the body of the first girl turns up he is even more convinced.

I have not read any of Billingham’s books before and am aware that there is a long series and complex backstory. Enough of the background is given here to give understanding and allow this book to be read as a standalone. The storyline is actually very believable, pertinent to recent events and engrossing. Although I’d sussed the perpetrator by halfway through there was still enough to keep guessing. The writing is tight and as most of the characters are well-known to fans it is well-edited. A solid and entertaining thriller from a quality writer.

adam mitzner: losing faith

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Aaron Littner is a highflying attorney, chairman of his firm and earning a large salary.  Married with two children, he has stayed faithful to his wife with one exception.  He had an affair with the judge trying his case and when he lost the case his client had a harsh sentence imposed.  The affair ended and Aaron thinks it was completely secret.  However when a manipulative criminal tries to get Aaron to blackmail the judge to help his case things start to go wrong.  The judge is killed and Aaron is tried for her murder.

The legal whodunnit is not really a genre I have read a lot of because it tends to be fairly formulaic and this novel is.  Whilst Aaron is not perfect we know he didn’t kill Faith.  The twists are that Aaron does go to trial and the outcome of that, plus the reveal of what happened on the night in question.  I guessed the perpetrator fairly early in the book and, although there are clues implicating others, it seemed fairly obvious.  Having said that, this is an enjoyable and quick read.  Most of the characters are cardboard cut-outs but the pace is fast.

kristina rizga: mission high

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In the week in which the results of key exams are published in the UK and we are watching about chinese education methods on TV I read this book and realised that in the US the situation is just the same.  Written over five years, Rizga immersed herself in the life of Mission High School in San Francisco and in this book shows how the key purpose of education is different for different audiences.  Mission High serves a deprived student body with over forty nationalities.  For many of them getting to school each day is a challenge and staying in school to graduate is more unlikely.  These are students who seem to have nothing to aim for but the ethos at Mission High is both inclusive and also aspirational – so many go on to college.  However the US system of assessment fails these students as it measures progress by standardised tests rather than capability and that favours some students more than others.  A pity that those in charge of education policy in the UK can’t see this as well – an inspiring book which reaffirms why I went into teaching and why I still love the job despite the politics.

charles palliser: rustication

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Richard Shenstone has been sent down in disgrace from Cambridge. He has been rusticated after his friend died, he was found to owe a lot of money and his opium habit became out of control. His father has recently died and his mother and sister have moved from Thurchester to a lonely house on the sea marsh. The house is full of secrets and, as Richard fights his addiction, strange things start to happen in the area – animals are being maimed and threatening letters are being sent. Is Richard the perpetrator or is he being set up to be an innocent dupe?
Palsied is a superb novelist with a real talent for creating Victorian gothic novels and this is no exception. I loved The Quincunx and look forward to the next in line. Each character has secrets and, in Shenstone, Palliser has created a hero whom it is hard to love but who one ends up willing to see through the miasma. The plot is clever and ultimately very sad – no one is innocent. The sense of time and place are fabulous and the little devices Palliser uses, such as the novelist being a character himself as narrator, are spot on. This is an accomplished and impressive novel and joins a cadre of work of the highest level.

catherine shepherd: fatal puzzle

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16th century Germany and a madman is killing young woman every full moon. The crimes seem to be linked to layout of the town of Zons and also the constellations. 21st Century Germany and a copycat is recreating the murders.
The ideas behind this book are actually quite good but the execution lets it down. Characters are not developed and the narrative rushes through at a breakneck pace. That makes the book quick to read but ultimately less than satisfying – it could have been great if the story were developed a little more.

ken follett: winter of the world

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1933 and the world is changing. The Great War still lives on in memory but in Russia the Communist Party is strong and controls life, in Germany a new party called the Nazis is becoming more powerful, in England the class system is still evident and in the US life proceeds as usual. The next generation of the families introduced in The Fall of Giants take centre-stage in this book and Zelig-like a member of each is present at every major incident as the world hurtles towards another war and comes out the other side.
What works so well in Follett’s epic novels is the research that takes place. By using families across four major nations Follett is able to ensure that a family saga and a historical narrative are woven together. The stories are engrossing and history is cleverly woven in to educate in an engaging manner. in fact the only jarring notes tend to be the badly written sex scenes!

mairtin o cadhain: the dirty dust

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The Dirty Dust is a book set in the West of Ireland in the 1940s. World War II is going on but more important for the characters are the goings on in their small town. Through the book the individuals discuss what is happening and gossip about their friends, neighbours and enemies. The twist is that all this takes place in the graveyard as the protagonists are all dead!
The concept of the Dirty Dust is unusual and works well. The author is able to give each of the characters their own individual voice which works well. All in all an enjoyable book.