Vanished by Irene Hannon

vanished.jpgI came across this book while browsing in my “local” Christian bookshop in Canberra.

The author has written many books, most of them seem to be romance novels, but several lean more to mystery and crime, or as the author describes them “romantic suspense”.

The latter titles belong to a few different series of stories such as “Heroes of Quantico”, “Guardians of Justice”, “Men of Valor”, Code of Honor” and “Private Justice”.

Vanished is the first of the “Private Justice” series.

I’ll confess that the other series titles don’t really appeal to me.

“Private Justice” seemed to have a more down to earth sound to it than the almost super hero sounding labels of the others.

Vanished launches straight into the action, with reporter Moira Harrison suffering a car accident during a late night storm. She crashes after trying to avoid a woman who appeared on the road in front of her.
A man seems to come to her aid, promising to call emergency services and to attend to the possibly injured woman somewhere out on the road. The reporter passes out, and when she regains consciousness it is clear that the apparent good Samaritan didn’t fulfil his promise.

No one believes her story about the woman she is sure she ran into, or the man who failed to help.

How does she find the truth and bring it to light?
She enlists the help of private investigator Cal Burke, a former homicide detective. Not surprisingly, considering the “romantic suspense” genre, a growing attraction between the two develops.

While the writing style and the authorial voice didn’t personally appeal, the story itself was compelling enough to help me enjoy the book.

Not surprisingly, considering this is a book by a Christian writer, sold in a Christian bookshop, belief in God plays a significant part in the lives of the major characters. Each of them has their own faith struggles and the ways they resolve those struggles is not always beneficial to them or those around them. It becomes clear that religious belief, and even devotion, can be a destructive force if its foundations are faulty, but can be a vital help when based on something legitimate.

One interesting dilemma I found within the story was the extent to which characters could justify their actions by appealing to a sense of greater good, or the pursuit of justice. The bending of truth is portrayed as an acceptable necessity in the case of the “good guys”, because their actions are in the name of pursuing justice. But in reality I have a problem accepting their end justifies the means outlook is any more acceptable than the same kind of mindset applied to the “villain” of the story.

 

More about the author and her books here:

Irene Hannon Official site

In “Defense” of Crime Fiction

A one time friend of mine has taken exception to my reading of crime fiction. He is a professing Christian with some extreme theological views that would be rejected by the majority of Christian believers, including myself.

But added to his “theological” issues he has been particularly insistent about the evils of crime fiction and critical of my reading of “death and murder”.
He also objected to me maintaining a “reading list”, claiming I am:

” de facto recommending appalling books to Christians and shd be stopped. [my] Books Read list is available to the public. It shdn’t be…”

Clearly he has read ever single book on my Books Read list and knows without doubt how appalling all of those books are. But as for the claim that I’m recommending any of those books to Christians… it’s very rarely that I recommend any book to anyone, Christian or otherwise.

Ironically, this man introduced me to a Christian author of crime novels, an author his wife had been reading.
I read one of that author’s books and found aspects of it more disturbing than the majority of those “death and murder” books that he condemns; with its Christian good-guys resorting to shooting their criminal opponents on several occasions (it’s American of course).

But overlooking the 100s of non-crime books on my reading list, as well as the many non-fiction titles about a variety of topics, what about the “death and murder” books he finds disturbing?

While crime books mostly have a murder (or murders) as the ignition point of their story, few of them dwell on death. The stories are about the living, those attempting to resolve the crime, or those left to make sense of the life changing loss of a loved one. They are occasionally about the perpetrator, who in most books I’ve read haven’t been evil blood-thirsty psychopaths (although there have been a couple of exceptions out of the many I’ve read). The guilty parties are often everyday people who have committed an out of character act of violence upon the victim.

Most of the authors I’ve read don’t write explicit descriptions of violence or killing, with murders mostly happening beyond the page. There have been exceptions, sometimes gratuitous exceptions, but those are the minority, and aren’t the kind of books I choose to read – although with an unfamiliar author a book has to be read before its nature is discovered.

The majority of the crime fiction I’ve chosen to read, the way I’ve narrowed the field in a very wide genre, has been because of two main factors: geographical and temporal settings. I suppose both have a relationship to nostalgia. The majority of my chosen authors set their books around Derbyshire or neighbouring counties – where I lived during my pre-teen years. Others relate to the mid-1960s – 1970s, the period of my childhood and adolescence. They often weave landscape and time-scape with vaguely familiar references to news events of their time, or to places, and types of people, I thought I’d forgotten about – stirring memories.

Despite the claims of that one time friend, the average crime novel has nowhere near the amount of death and murder as there was in so many of the accounts of WWI and WWII that I was reading a year or two ago; books he was all too happy for me to read, even encouraging me with links to associated articles.

Genre Eclectica

“I beg your forgiveness for this unexpected change to the evening’s proceedings. but we find ourselves confronted with the urgent need to conduct an impromptu séance for reasons of national security.”

feaster.jpgThe Feaster From the Stars by Alan K. Baker is a strange blend of multiple genres.

It is a science fiction/  horror/ mythic/ Faerie/ occult/ crime story set in a Victorian era, where new technologies have been borrowed from alien civilisations.

It’s a Victorian England, compatible with Wells’ War of the Worlds, where both Mars and Venus are inhabited, and their citizens have made their mark on earth.

Many Victorian “interests” collide within the book, which seems to be written in, and inspired by, the  style of the macabre literature of that time.

I first came across this book via an ad for The Martian Ambassador, another novel by Baker. When I followed that book up with local book sellers, I saw this one also on sale, for around half price.
I ordered both and this one was delivered first. They are parts of a “Blackwood and Harrington” series.

After starting to read this book, I realised it was the more recent of the two, with several semi-spoilers for the other book being revealed throughout this story.

Thomas Blackwood, Special Investigator from Queen Victoria’s Bureau of Clandestine Affairs, is sent to investigate strange events in the London Underground railway, assisted by Lady Sophia Harrington, secretary of the Society for Psychical Research and Detective Gerhard de Chardin from the Metropolitan Templar Police.

Rail workers report an increase in ghostly activity throughout the rail tunnels, and a train driver has an encounter that leaves his mind broken, and he is committed to the Bethlem Hospital. The only clue to what he experienced is his utterance of the word “Carcosa”.

Blackwood recalls this is the name of a mythical place in literature. A place that the investigators discover is actually a planet in a distant star system.

A link between the underground events is made to Carcosa, from which there is an approaching, imminent danger to the earth .

Aided by psychics. mediums and occult scholars, as well as Faery royalty, the investigators have the challenge of saving earth and countless other civilisations from a powerfully destructive entity known as The King in Yellow.

I thought the blending of science fiction and crime investigation, with a dash of ghostliness would make a compelling story. However, while the book was relatively easy to get through, I found too many genres swirled together with almost every kind of supernatural character imaginable (aliens, faeries, ghosts, angels…) made for an overall, disappointing reading experience.

A third story in the series was also published but it seems to be very hard to obtain. It must be out of print. Second hand copies are available however they aren’t cheap, but after reading this one, I wouldn’t be interested in it anyway.

This book and the one before it (The Martian Ambassador – which is still on order) will be more than enough for me.

Already Dead, Stephen Booth

already deadAlready Dead travels down multiple, seemingly unrelated story paths.

A possible murder investigation.

An adulterous relationship.

DS Ben Cooper on extended personal leave.

Dianne Fry seconded back to Edendale to replace him.

The events of the previous book have taken a serious toll. Cooper is unfit for work and has become reclusive, worrying his work colleagues.
While they investigate the suspicious death, Cooper conducts a more personal investigation that could lead to the end of his career. Or worse.

Booth takes the reader on this varied journey and then somehow is able to bring the seeming unrelated theads together in a surprising conclusion.

Even a good turn can have unexpected deadly consequences.

I particulalry like the following brief exchange between a potential witness and DS Fry.

Baird seemed to notice the hovering youth outside for the first time, and gestured to him irritably. The young man came in and handed him the file without a word.

‘Thank you, Aaron,’ he said.
He waited until the boy had gone, and grimaced at Fry. ‘Aaron, I ask you. Why do so many parents give their kids these ridiculous biblical names?’

Fry hesitated. ‘Perhaps they’ve never read the Bible and wouldn’t know a biblical name when they heard one, Nathan.’

‘You’re probably right. Ignorance is everywhere.’

Unlike previous books in this series there were no significant music references, however a historical note caught my attention and led me to investigate further to find out more. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post: the 1973 murder of Wendy Sewell in the Bakewell churchyard.

Dead and Buried by Stephen Booth

Another Ben Cooper music reference, a regular part of Booth’s Cooper and Fry series. This song is about the landscape of the peak district, the setting of Booth’s books.

 

______

Dead and Buried starts in north Derbyshire moorland  with fire burning through the dry peat landscape.

dead and buriedInvestigations are reopened into the unsolved disappearance of a wealthy tourist couple when the fires help uncover new evidence.

Diane Fry has been transferred to a city based department, but along with her new senior officer is brought back to Edendale as part of a “serious crimes” investigation. Inevitably old difficulties are rekindled when she has to work with Ben Cooper again.

Those difficulties are exacerbated when Fry discovers the body of a murder victim in an isolated, abandoned pub that Cooper had intended to check out, before being distracted by the nearby firefighting efforts.

This is the 12th in the Cooper and Fry series, and while each book is self contained, with its own specific central crime investigation, there is an increasing overlap between books as relationships develop and characters grow.

In the past few weeks I’ve read four of the series one after the other, being drawn along by the ongoing lives of the characters. I suspect it won’t be long before I start the next book. This one has an almost cliff-hanger ending, with Ben Cooper having to face the life changing consequences of this current case.

When I wrote about the previous Stephen Booth book, I mentioned the mix-up with Diane Fry’s car, where the Peugeot she’d disposed of in book 10 made a reappearance in book 11. With Dead and Buried, Booth restores the new black Audi she’d bought to replace the Peugeot.

I’ve previously (as above) provided videos of Ben Cooper’s musical choices. For a change here’s a song from Diane Fry’s playlist.

The Devil’s Edge, by Stephen Booth

devils edge

A series of home invasions seem to be getting increasingly violent. 
Labelled “The Savages” by the press, the gang responsible, who tend to target the rich, start to get a fan following on social media, being portrayed as modern day Robin Hoods.

In the village of Ridding, overlooked by an escarpment known as the Devil’s Edge, the gang seem to have escalated the violence, leaving a woman dead and her husband critically injured.

Ben Cooper, recently promoted to Sergeant, leads his new team in the investigation, while his former boss DS Dianne Fry has basically been sidelined and sent on a bureacracy-laden course.
Cooper has his suspicions that the local deadly attack had nothing to do with the previous violent robberies, but it’s a view not shared by his superiors.

When it seem like there has been a breakthrough in the case, DS Cooper’s position becomes precarious due to disturbing personal developments, and DS Fry is returned to the local fold to liaise with investigators brought in from another division.

A minor quibble: the author seems to have forgotten that Dianne Fry changed her car in the previous book, in this one the traded Peugeot returns.

Whenever I’ve written about Stephen Booth’s books, I’ve mentioned their mix of local folklore, history and landscape. Also frequently mentioned is the difficulty faced by the farming community, having to face significant change  in the business landscape, often making untenable the farming life that has been passed down from generation to generation. Ben Cooper listens to the following song towards the end of the book.

 

 

Revenge and Dysfunction

kill callThe Kill Call and Lost River are almost two parts of a single story, linked by Dianne Fry having to revisit an event in her past that has shaped her life and career, and is deemed to be affecting her work as a Detective Sergeant.

In The Kill Call there seems to be links between the discovery of a body in a field, and the local fox hunting traditions. Around the time of the suspicious death, blasts of a hunting horn had been  heard, signalling the “kill call”, that in earlier days heralded the killing of a hunted fox.

Booth’s stories mix contemporary issues, folklore, tradition, and elements of recent history into police crime investigations. This book includes references to cold war era nuclear warning procedures as well as modified, present day fox hunt practices (where the trappings and colour of the chase are maintained without the cruelty of killing a fox).

These things are woven around central crimes in which extra-judicial attempts to right past wrongs seemed to have played a part.  How could these disparate elements of traditional and history have a bearing on the investigation of the man’s death, and how do they explain why an important witness seems to have gone into hiding, without trace?

During this investigation, DS Fry finds herself drawn into a scenario related to her personal history where she might finally see justice done, but what will be the personal cost?

lost river

Lost River continues Fry’s story.

In the latter part of The Kill Call she was approached by a rape cold-case team who are confident of finally getting a conviction for an attack on Fry several years before. She travels to Birmingham to help with the enquiries, as a witness instead of investigator.

However the investigation doesn’t progress smoothly and it seems like someone wants the truth to remain hidden.

DS Fry tries to find out why the case has stalled again, seeking help from a paranoid ex-colleague who leads her to look for answers from a disbarred lawyer. She discovers that finding the truth is potentially  not always the best outcome.

I was annoyed by the beginning of the book. Long parts of it seemed to be cut and pasted from sections of the previous book. Word for word repetition of significant slabs of text might not have been so noticeable if I’d had a break between books, but I started reading this one immediately after finishing the other. It was a laziness I didn’t expect, and the desired recapping ought to have been handled better.

While DS Fry has to follow her uncomfortable personal path, DC Cooper faces his own troubles after being present at, and unable to prevent, the drowning of a young local girl. He has flashbacks of the experience which seem to indicate the drowning wasn’t an accident, but can those apparent recurring memories be trusted?

Both Cooper and Fry, in their respective cases, discover the complications and hazards of family dysfunction and its potential to cause harm.