Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin

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Title: Rather Be The Devil

Author: Ian Rankin

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 3rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Some cases never leave you.

For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

In a tale of twisted power, deep-rooted corruption and bitter rivalries, RATHER BE THE DEVIL showcases Rankin and Rebus at their unstoppable best.

~*~

ian-rankin-2In Rebus’ twenty-first outing, Rather Be The Devil, which marks thirty years since the misanthropic detective who investigates the dark underside of Edinburgh and the crimes it tries to conceal. In Rather Be The Devil, Rebus is retired, though rather unwillingly, and is haunted by an unsolved murder from forty years ago: Maria Turquand. Alongside this, a crime syndicate is trying to evade justice and capture. Naturally, a retired Rebus becomes embroiled in these cases, assisting his former colleagues as he grapples with health issues that he is hiding from those who care about him.

Told in third person, most scenes involve Rebus but there are a few that are seen from the perspective of another character, giving the reader insight into the world Rebus lives in. It is a world of history and darkness, in a city I have visited and could picture in my mind: Princes Street lined by old buildings, the Royal Mile and cobblestones leading up to Edinburgh Castle. Even the names of some of the surrounding areas of Leith were familiar. It is set in a place that has a varied history, an interesting one, that towers architecturally over Rebus and his colleagues as they uncover the unsavoury figures that seek to destroy lives.

Rather Be The Devil refers to events that have occurred in earlier books, and though some things may follow on from what has come before, they do not have a large impact on the story. Hints of what has made Rebus who he is made me want to find out more, so hopefully I can track down some more of the books but overall, I was able to follow the plot as a stand alone story.ian-rankin-2017a

It is a dark and gritty story, but not overly violent. Ian Rankin has taken a beautiful city and placed a gritty misanthrope within it, and contrasted the beauty of Edinburgh with the horror of crime and rankled Rebus, and this works well. The contrast allows for an ongoing story to be told, and for immersion in Edinburgh and the world of Rebus.

With an interesting character, and a mystery that refuses to be let go until it is solved, Rather Be The Devil marks the thirtieth anniversary of Rebus well. Fans new and old will enjoy this outing of Rebus.

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Ian Rankin will be appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, held between the 22nd and the 28th of May. Appearances are:

Conversation: Ian Ranking – Rather Be The Devil, Saturday, 27th of May, 2017 7.30 – 8.30 PM at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/ian-rankin-rather-be-the-devil-parramatta/

Ian Rankin: Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

Friday, 26th of May , 6.30-7.30 PM at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/ian-rankin-who-says-crime-doesnt-pay/

Special Event: SWF Gala – Origin Story

Wednesday , 24th of May, 2017 6pm to 7pm at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/swf-gala-origin-story/

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Murder On The Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Murder on the Ballarat Train

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: March 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: In Phryne’s third adventure, Phryne is off to Ballarat for a week of fabulousness, but the sedate journey by train turns out to be far from the restful trip she was planning.

For the elegant Phryne Fisher, travelling sedately is not at all what it seems.

‘Lie still, Dot dear, we’ve had a strange experience.’ But neither the resourceful Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher nor her loyal maid, Dot Williams, are strangers to odd events.

When the glamorous Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, decides to leave her delightfully fast, red Hispano-Suiza at home and travel to the country in the train, the last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save their lives.

What was planned as a restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumours of vile white slavery and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. And Phryne is at the centre, working through the clues to arrive at the incredible truth before another murder is committed.

Fortunately, Phryne can still find a little time for a discreet dalliance and the delicious diversion of that rowing team of young men.

~*~

aww2017-badgeJourneying to Ballarat on the train with Dot, Phryne is expecting a week of elegance and a break from the bustle of the city. However, Miss Fisher finds herself midst a murder case, a young girl whose memory has disappeared and rumours of white slavery occurring in Melbourne. Returning back to Melbourne with Dot, the young girl, Jane, and the daughter of the murder victim, Phryne sets herself the task of finding out who killed the old woman, and where Jane comes from so she can help her, and engaging in a dalliance with a rowing team from the local university, culminating in events that Phryne had not thought possible.

As always, Phryne engages the Communist drivers, Bert and Cec to help her look into the less savoury aspects, people and locations that are linked to Jane in order to help her, and eventually, another young girl called Ruth. Little does Phryne know that somehow the rowing team and the two cases she picked up on the train are to become linked, and the killer and their secrets revealed.

Kerry Greenwood has succeeded again in creating a female character who simultaneously fits in with the time period she lives in yet also flouts all socially acceptable behaviour for a woman of her standing. She allows the male police to act when necessary, but assists them and uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Detective-Inspector Robinson into helping her, which he does, gladly, and in awe of her.

Set in the late 1920s, during the early stages of the Great Depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, and up to the Second World War, Kerry Greenwood at times hints at moments of Australian history that are significant, though these moments are a bit more prevalent in Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series, set roughly during the same time, and with a character who is also an amateur detective and gives the police he deals with a run for their money.

A series of historical fiction crime books with a female character who is strong and feminine in equal measures, and whose escapades shock the prim and proper, and traditional echelons of society in a young Australia, merely ten years fresh from a world war and almost three decades old, Kerry Greenwood has captured an essence of the Australian character in a unique way. I am enjoying this series, and look forward to reading more, and hopefully getting through them all this year.

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A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

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Title: A Game of Ghosts

Author: John Connolly

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 455

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: It is deep winter. The darkness is unending.

It is deep winter. The darkness is unending.

The private detective named Jaycob Eklund has vanished, and Charlie Parker is dispatched to track him down. Parker’s employer, Edgar Ross, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has his own reasons for wanting Eklund found.

Eklund is no ordinary investigator. He is obsessively tracking a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to reports of hauntings. Now Parker will be drawn into Eklund’s world, a realm in which the monstrous Mother rules a crumbling criminal empire, in which men strike bargains with angels, and in which the innocent and guilty alike are pawns in a game of ghosts . . .

~*~

The latest in the Charlie Parker series, A Game of Ghosts is full of chills and mystery. In the aftermath of a previous storyline, Charlie is grappling with the prospect he may not see daughter Sam, after a case put his family in danger. Also hinting at previous novels, Charlie’s dead wife and daughter are mentioned, the impetus that began the series, and the character. In this offering, my first outing with Charlie, a private investigator – Jaycob Eklund has gone missing – an investigator unlike any other, one who has of late, been looking into homicides and disappearances that are linked to reports of hauntings, where a paranormal, ghostly presence is constantly felt. The mystery lies in who the people behind these events are, and why.

Slowly, the novel brings to light the Brethren, the group that Eklund had been looking into, and their history, going back generations and linking them together as family, in some ways that are quite unusual and the close-knit community resembles a cult, though this word is not often used to describe them. Charlie must look into this group, find them and bring them to justice, whilst protecting his daughter and maintaining a relationship with her, and ensure that she is not harmed or hurt in any way. It is as much a story about the family dynamic as it is about the crime.

John Connolly’s narrative explores various aspects of the human psychology, from the protective instincts of a parent, to what drives someone to join a cult and kill, and beyond. With a cast of characters that appear sometimes for brief moments, Connolly’s story is chilling and compelling, something that demands to be read to the conclusion. In varying the length of the chapters, Connolly ensures a great pace, so that I was able to read up to fifteen chapters in one sitting, but not have the story drag along nor speed along – the slow chapters interrogated the psychology of the various players in the story – the victims, the killers, the investigators and those around them who weren’t involved in the case, and the fast chapters showed action and a little bit of the psychology, hinting at things to come for some characters. These fast and slow, short and long chapters work for this genre really well – the crime thriller genre, to keep the reader interested, and keep the intrigue up.

The pacing picks up in the last few chapters as events and those involved come to a head, and it feels like it is all over quickly, however, this ending works well for the novel, and doesn’t drag on for ages. It is action packed as well.

All in all, a decent crime thriller for fans of the genre and series. An enjoyable read, and one that can be devoured quickly or savoured.

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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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Title: See What I Have Done

Author: Sarah Schmidt

Genre: Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 328

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A deeply atmospheric novel by a startling new Aussie talent; an incredibly unique look inside the mind of Lizzie Borden, famously accused of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892.

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away.’ – Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

‘He was still bleeding. I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.” I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I looked at Father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinky finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it. “Daddy,” I had said. “I’m giving this to you because I love you.” He had smiled and kissed my forehead.

A long time ago now.’

On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. During the inquest into the deaths, Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the murder of her father and her stepmother.

Through the eyes of Lizzie’s sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, the enigmatic stranger Benjamin and the beguiling Lizzie herself, we return to what happened that day in Fall River.

Lizzie Borden took an axe. Or did she?

~*~

aww2017-badgeSee What I Have Done brings the mystery of Fall River, and the deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden to life. Living together in the Second Street house with Lizzie, the youngest daughter, and the maid Bridget. Emma has since moved out, and a fourth narrator to this tale, Benjamin, who has links to Uncle John, the first Mrs Borden’s brother (Emma and Lizzie’s biological mother), arrives the day before the murders, on the 3rd of August 1892. The next day, Andrew and Abby were dead. And this is where See What I Have Done begins, going between the perspectives of Lizzie, Emma, Benjamin and Bridget on the day of the murder and the day before, and then the days and weeks following, where one character recounts the trial as they recall it, and the events that lead to the conclusion of the case, and leaving a murderer to go free, and live out their lives.

What Sarah Schmidt does in See What I Have Done through the other three perspectives is to present alternative suspects to Lizzie. Throughout the book, each character’s motives are shown through memories and flashbacks as they navigate the day before, the day of and the days after the murders, hinting that it really could have been anybody who had been in the house, and interrogates the life that Lizzie may have lived with her father and stepmother. The loss of her pigeons is what I felt finally made Lizzie lose herself, and may have led to why she murdered her parents.

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A mixture of historical fiction, literary fiction and crime fiction, See What I Have Done evokes an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue and transports the reader to the late nineteenth century in America, and into a family where secrets are kept, and tensions felt deeply by all. Because the novel is told in first person, the reader gains insight into the minds of Lizzie, Emma, Benjamin and Bridget, and we see in Lizzie and through Bridget and Emma’s perceptions of her a woman who is childlike, who perhaps has not let herself mature, or who hasn’t been allowed to be mature – this is part of the mystery, why Lizzie became who she was. Perhaps losing her mother at a young age contributed, perhaps her sister’s protection became a factor. Whatever the reason, Lizzie is shown as someone who needs protection and understanding, to whom some things might not make sense.

Out of all the narrators, Emma was the only one who was not a suspect, whereas the others had motives and could be seen as unreliable narrators – in presenting them as so – where we only see their perspective and understanding, and these narrators hide things from everyone – Sarah Schmidt has crafted a novel that presents a puzzle to the reader. It is successful in that it made me question what is known about the case, what is known from popular culture and other stories. In suggesting there may have been other suspects, another killer, Schmidt paints Lizzie the killer as an ambiguous one at times, but at others, having people question her innocence.

A novel of mystery, intrigue and literary quality, See What I Have Done sets up a story inspired by events that are yet to be solved, and gives Lizzie, Emma, their maid, Bridget and the stranger, Benjamin, a voice, and motives to kill, apart from Emma. It is a story that can stay with you long after finishing it. It is engrossing, and authentic. Reading it, I could clearly see the nineteenth century setting, hear the way they may have spoken and felt immersed in their daily life. And not only see and hear, but smell, taste and feel. It is an astounding debut novel and one that I do want to revisit, but maybe I’ll let Lizzie rest for now.

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Tattletale by Sarah J Naughton

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Title: Tattletale

Author: Sarah J Naughton

Genre: Ficiton/Thriller

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: One day changes Jody’s life forever.

She has shut herself down, haunted by her memories and unable to trust anyone. But then she meets Abe, the perfect stranger next door and suddenly life seems full of possibility and hope.

One day changes Mags’s life forever.

After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her brother Abe is in hospital and no-one knows what happened to him. She meets his fiancé Jody, and gradually pieces together the ruins of the life she left behind. But the pieces don’t quite seem to fit…

~*~

After a mysterious beginning, the reader is introduced to Mags and Jody, the sister and the fiancé of the victim, Abe. Beginning where they meet at the hospital following Abe’s fall, Mags meets Jody as the fiancé she never knew about, and a myriad of stories and reasons for her brother’s injuries that are explained away as an accident. Frustrated, Mags starts digging deeper into the lives of the other residents of the charity home her brother has been living in to uncover what really happened. As the story unfolds, secrets of each character are revealed, and one character’s past is cleverly revealed through third person flash backs amidst the first person narrative that do not directly identify whose story is being told. The big question hanging over this novel: Was Abe pushed and murdered, did he fall or did he commit suicide? And who will find out and reveal all?

Both Mags and Jody come from troubled, broken backgrounds – and show how each has dealt with them – where one is completely broken and child-like, the other is assertive and overly confident, even a bit pushy. It was an interesting way to illustrate the outcomes of abuse, and how people are treated based on biases and perceptions of them, and in a subliminal way, how wealth and money can influence outcomes and ensure the victim feels at fault – unless the truth comes out.

It was the kind of novel where as a reader, I was constantly at odds with whom to like and believe – which is the purpose of a psychological thriller. In a way, all the characters were playing games and hiding secrets, and most, such as Jody, appeared to have a reason to, and past horrors that impacted their current story line.

Following a path of twists and turns to the conclusion, the story shows just how flawed the act of manipulation of people and the law can be, and that people can move past a trauma, and show that they are more than who people assume they are based on a few stories of hearsay to protect the reputation of those who have the power.

It leaves much open to interpretation as well – and you may find your thinking about whom the victim is and who the suspect is will be questioned at some stages. Why would some characters be hiding the truth? As these facts are revealed, the path towards those who did not commit the crime but are merely witnesses becomes clearer, though the suspect is left as a shadowy figure for quite a while. It is cleverly done, as is the finale of the novel, and the ending that feels hopeful for both Jody and Mags.

An intriguing novel, that slowly reveals the true nature of the main characters and how they interact with each other, and what makes them who they are. If you enjoy thrillers, this is an intriguing novel to pick up.

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Stasi Wolf by David Young

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Title: Stasi Wolf (Karin Müller #2)

Author: David Young

Genre: Historical/Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre/Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: How do you solve a murder when you can’t ask any questions?

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive…

~*~

Set during the height of the Cold War and East Germany, under the control of the Stasi and communist influence, Stasi Wolf is the second in the Karin Müller series. Oberleutnant Müller, a member of the People’s Police, is sent to Halle-Neustadt to investigate the disappearance of infant twins. Forbidden by the Stasi to publicise the disappearance so the flawless image of Halle-Neustadt remains intact, Karin and her team run into a series of problems and roadblocks that prevent them from completing the job in a timely manner. As the months pass, the child snatcher hides in plain sight amongst the nameless streets, and a much larger mystery is lurking in the shadows of the missing twins.

The world of Stasi Wolf shows East Germany thirty years after the end of World War Two, under Soviet and Communist control. It is a world that Karin Müller has grown up in, and as a member of the People’s Police, struggles against doing what is right for the nation, what the Stasi demand, and working to resolve cases of missing children, at times having to use subversive methods to get by the watchful eye of the Stasi, especially Malkus, the Stasi officer in charge of Halle-Neustadt, vetting every move Karin and her team make in the search for the missing babies. It is a story full of twists and turns, that shows hints of the past at times, and these hints are slipped in effectively and in a way that keeps the reader guessing.

The development of Karin’s character is excellent too – from the hints at what happen to her during her training, to her family dynamic and the scenes that give the reader a glimpse into her past, and what made her the person she is in the novel, and the way she uses these past experiences to subvert the orders she is given. Her ability to find a way to bypass the orders shows that she is creative and innovative – as much as she can be in a Communist run state.

I thought that the suspense and pace of this book were well written. The scenes that flicked back and forth in first person held much mystery, and added to the thickening plot and case that Karin was investigating. Another nice surprise was the side story of Karin’s relationship with the doctor, Emil. It didn’t take over the rest of the story, and was effective, and tied in nicely with the eventual conclusion of the story. It is a gripping story that ensnared me and captured my attention, wanting to know what happened next, and what kind of person would kidnap twins, and why.

David Young has captured the characters well, and the hints he leaves about some of the characters creating a well-thought out sense of mystery, and his backdrop of the Stasi controlled East Germany ensured a story that had many twists and turns, and complex and flawed characters, in a world where knowing who to trust was hard. It was a great novel, and I hope the series will continue.

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RebusFest: Thirty Years of Ian Rankin and John Rebus – 1987-2017

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2017 marks the thirtieth anniversary of John Rebus in print. Rebus’s first outing, Knots and Crosses, came out in 1987, and his thirtieth adventure, Rather Be The Devil, came out on the third of November 2016, so keep an eye out for my review of this soon. To celebrate this anniversary, Edinburgh, Rebus’s hometown, will be hosting RebusFest – all things Rebus. It will be a festival of literature, music, art and film, and will be on between the 30th of June and the 2nd of July.

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Rather Be The Devil, published in November 2016 – thirtieth Rebus title

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This festival will give fans – old and new – the chance to explore the town Rebus lives in, and discover the story behind this iconic character of crime fiction in the modern world. When I read Rather Be The Devil, this will be my first Rankin novel, and my first outing with Rebus. Edinburgh is a great place to set a detective series – the old and new combine to create a world shrouded in mystery, set in the historic town, where shadows and mist hide crimes that a detective like Rebus can uncover.

Ian Rankin has curated the festival of music, talks about the historic and contemporary influences on Rebus – I am looking forward to discovering these as I read. Other activities at the festival include walking tours, screenings, food and drink, and experts, performers and artists, who will give more insight into the character of Rebus with Ian Rankin.

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Knots and Crosses, first published 1987

I look forward to reading my first Rebus novel, and hopefully will read more from there. The upcoming festival sounds like it will be exciting and a fabulous experience for readers of this series.

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The full festival line-up will be announced on the seventeenth of March, in just over a month’s time, so keep an eye out for that too if you are interested in going.

As well as RebusFest in Edinburgh, Ian Rankin will be touring Europe, North America, the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand) and South East Asia.

Use one of these links to purchase the titles in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series:

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