Rosie Reviews the ‘Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year 2019’ Shortlist books

Hola, peeps, dear readers, etc. I’m awa’ on my big adventures – heading to Harrogate (pronounced ‘Arragut, except for by posh people who pronounce it ‘harrow gayte’) for a long weekend of crime writing delights. The fun starts this evening at the Crime Novel of the Year Awards and in preparation (otherwise known as ‘so I don’t look like an illiterate twerp’) I have been reading the books on the shortlist. I couldn’t decide which order to read them in so I went for alphabetical by author’s surname.

First up is Snap, by Belinda Bauer.

Published August 23rd 2018 by Black Swan (first published May 17th 2018)

On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you.

Meanwhile Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.

But the truth can be a dangerous thing …

I was engrossed once I got into this novel. I vaguely remember hearing about the case it’s based on, and this is an imaginative and entertaining response to that ‘prompt’. Jack and his sisters, and their larcenous friend Louis, are very sympathetic, complex characters. The police officers, Marvel and Reynolds, took some getting used to, I really didn’t like them at first but I’m not entirely certain they’re meant to be likeable. The relationship between Catherine and Adam is seemingly happy but is nuanced in a way that hints at the past.

The plot is complex and entertaining; it kept me gripped with the multiple perspectives, the psychological elements and an interesting twist that makes me wan to know what happened next.

The descriptions of Tiverton and Taunton, the south-west in general, brought back memories – I haven’t been down that way since the mid-1990s but it was all so familiar.

I gave this book 4 * on GoodReads and I stand by my assessment.

Next up, Thirteen, by Steven Cavanagh

To your knowledge, is there anything that would preclude you from serving on this jury?’

Murder wasn’t the hard part. It was just the start of the game.

Joshua Kane has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He’s done it before. But this is the big one.

This is the murder trial of the century. And Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house.

But there’s someone on his tail. Someone who suspects that the killer isn’t the man on trial.

Kane knows time is running out – he just needs to get to the conviction without being discovered.

My Review

Now, I have a NetGalley copy of this book so I should have read it last year, but brain weasels, so I ordered myself a paperback in May so I could actually read it for this post. I’ll be able to clear it from my list of, erm, 100ish? NetGalley books now.

Except for the minor problem, it’s a DNF! Got further than I did with the ebook but it just didn’t grip me enough for me to keep reading. I’ve put it on the book shelves and maybe at some future point I’ll go back to it and finish reading it.

London Rules, by Mick Herron is next up.


London Rules might not be written down, but everyone knows rule one.

Cover your arse.

Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is learning this the hard way. Tasked with protecting a beleaguered prime minister, he’s facing attack from all directions himself: from the showboating MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, and now has his sights set on Number Ten; from the showboat’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s crucifying Whelan in print; and especially from his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, who’s alert for Claude’s every stumble.

Meanwhile, the country’s being rocked by an apparently random string of terror attacks, and someone’s trying to kill Roddy Ho.

Over at Slough House, the crew are struggling with personal problems: repressed grief, various addictions, retail paralysis, and the nagging suspicion that their newest colleague is a psychopath. But collectively, they’re about to rediscover their greatest strength – that of making a bad situation much, much worse.

It’s a good job Jackson Lamb knows the rules. Because those things aren’t going to break themselves.

My Review

Another DNF, unfortunately. I managed about a 1/3 of the book but the characters irritated me and the plot didn’t grab me at all. It was dragging and I found it all a bit dull.

On to Broken Ground, by Val McDermid

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Published August 23rd 2018 by Little, Brown
ISBN: 9781408709368
Inspector Karen Pirie #5


Alice Somerville’s inheritance lies six feet under in a Highland peat bog – a pair of valuable vintage motorbikes buried by her grandfather at the end of World War II. But when Alice finally organises their recovery, she finds an unwelcome surprise -a body with a pair of bullet holes . . . and Nike trainers. DCI Karen Pirie of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit is called in to unravel a case where nothing is quite as it seems.Meanwhile an overheard conversation in a cafe draws Karen to the heart of a murder she thought she’d already prevented.

As Karen gets closer to the several truths, it becomes clear that not everyone shares her desire for justice. Or even the idea of what justice is.

My Review

I need to go back and read the other four Karen Pirie books. I’ve read one already, plus Bricken Ground. They’re exceptionally good books. I love the characters of Jason and Karen, and their development even within a single novel. I found the plot of the novel intriguing as it goes back and forth between 1944 and 2018. I loved working out the complex web of facts Karen and Jason put together to build their wall of evidence, and all the different people they consult to get information and evidence. I liked the introduction of the knife evidence expert and the discussion of getting new science past juries. The unexpected suspects popping up from the results, chasing bizarre leads other people think are pointless to give answers to the victims and their families pulled me in and made me wonder if I’d have thought of that. It gripping stuff.

The backstabbing from colleagues and political intrigue is frustrating, I don’t understand why people try to strangle another person’s career out of petty jealousy. It adds to the atmosphere of the novel and made me root for the HCU even more. The Dog Biscuit needs to get over herself, or a good slapping.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of Edinburgh, Karen’s walks through the city really anchor her in time and place, which in turn makes things feel real while I’m reading the book. I’d still get lost if you sent me to Edinburgh, but that’s because I’m dozy and need maps and clear instructions with pictures. Even for places I’ve been before. Someone with a better sense of direction could probably navigate quite well. The descriptions did make me want to travel to Scotland at some point, it sounds damp but beautiful.

I’m seriously considering trying to get Val McDermid’s autograph. I wonder if Nicola Sturgeon will sign my copy of Broken Ground too? I’m going to there panel discussion on Sunday morning.

As of writing – Sunday 14th July 2019 – this is my contender for the Award. Snap is a very close second.

Due to personal stuff, I’m still working my way through the books, but I’ll update as soon as possible.

Fifth on the list, The Quaker, by Liam McIlvanney

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Glasgow, 1969. In the grip of the worst winter for years, the city is brought to its knees by a killer whose name fills the streets with fear: The Quaker. He’s taken his next victim — the third woman from the same nightclub — and dumped her in the street like rubbish. The police are left chasing a ghost, with no new leads and no hope of catching their prey. After six months, DI Duncan McCormack, a talented young detective from the Highlands, is ordered to join the investigation — with a view to shutting it down for good.

His arrival is met with anger from a group of officers on the brink of despair. Soon he learns just how difficult life can be for an outsider, for McCormack is an outcast in more ways than one. When another woman is found murdered in a tenement flat, it’s clear the case is by no means over. From ruined backstreets to the dark heart of Glasgow, McCormack follows a trail of secrets that will change the city — and his life — forever . . .

My Review

Unfortunately, this is another DNF. I’ve spent three days attempting to get into this book and still can’t get anywhere. I just can’t find any interest in the characters and the plot doesn’t do anything for me. It’s not gripping me at all.

This book, like Snap, is based on a real case, that of Bible John, the still unknown serial killer who haunted Glasgow in 1968. It is a fascinating case and when Peter Tobin was arrested it looked for a very short time like he might have been ‘Bible John’ but the investigation ruled him out, as far as I know. Unike Bauer, McIlvanney didn’t pull me into the fictional story built over the real case.

I’m in Harrogate, waiting to check in. I’m going to make a start on the final book and hope it’s better than the three I’ve had to DNF so far. It’ll be really disappointing if, having read them all, I only finish two.

So far, Broken Ground is my favourite. I’ll let you know who wins the Award tonight and once I finish East of Hounslow, which I preferred.

And finally, East of Hounslow, by Khurrum Rahman

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Meet Jay. 

Small-time dealer. 

Accidental jihadist. 

The one man who can save us all?

Javid – call him Jay – is a dope dealer living in West London. He goes to mosque on Friday, and he’s just bought his pride and joy – a BMW. He lives with his mum, and life seems sweet.

But his world is about to turn upside-down. Because MI5 have been watching him, and they think he’s just the man they need for a delicate mission.

One thing’s for sure: now he’s a long way East of Hounslow, Jay’s life will never be the same again.

My Review

And who do I think deserves the award?


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