28 May 2018

Review - The Cutting Edge by Jeffrey Deaver

The Cutting Edge (Lincoln Rhyme)
Jeffrey Deaver
Hodder, 17 May 2018
HB, 434pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of this book.

This is a tense and cunningly plotted thriller set around the workshops and showrooms of New York's diamond district.

With Lincoln Rhyme and his associates, Deaver has created a magnificent ensemble. Based around the ex-cop's New York townhouse, which features a fully equipped modern forensics lab, the team support Rhyme who acts as consultant to the New York police, the FBI and also more esoteric law-enforcement agencies.

Rhyme may be quadriplegic but dominates the books through his leaps of deduction and understanding of forensic science. Very much a Sherlock Holmes figure - in places this book reminded me of Holmes's reading a man's entire life from the observation that he had mud on his shoes particular to a certain area of London - Rhyme nevertheless has a degree of humanity and empathy that, perhaps, the Great Detective lacked.

He needs all of it here. A serial killer is targeting newly engaged and married couples. Will Rhyme and Amelia Sachs come into the killer's sights?

This is a story that seems to be resolving fairly early. We see a killer at work, and surely it is it just a mater of time until Rhyme and his crew join the dots and catch them.

But. Things start to get... complicated. The book has a truly fiendish plot, continually seeming about to resolve but then only getting more complicated. Rhyme seems to be getting distracted, taking on private work for, of all people, a South American drugs lord. What's that about? And as the jewellery killer flits about Manhattan, other, older forces seem to be causing destruction as well.

It's a very enjoyable book, full of sharp turns, misdirection and relations. You have to watch everything, but trust nothing. Once or twice I thought Deaver was being sloppy with the story, then turned the page and kicked myself for missing what was really going on.

An enthralling mystery, lots of peril, a cast of well established and likeable characters - and a killer. What more could you want?

For more about the book, see the publisher's website here.

26 May 2018

Review - Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell

Charmcaster (Spellslinger 3)
Sebastien de Castell (illustrated by Sam Hadley)
Hot Key Books, 17 May 2018
HB, 432pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

This is the third in de Castell's Spellslinger series, following the adventures of runaway mage Kellen. If you haven't read the earlier books yet you definitely should - read on to see why! (I've tried to avoid spoilers here for the earlier books).

Kellen is a credible and engaging protagonist. He's had to flee his home and leave his family (albeit after they treated him appallingly). He is struggling with what he believes to be a full blown curse. He's not all-powerful, he has been wounded and limited in his earlier encounters with his fellow Jan'Tep. Yet still he tries to make his way - essentially, he brags his way through dangerous situations using the skills taught his by the wandering Argosi, Ferius. There's an air of tension in any encounter with more powerful mages or warriors, albeit one frequently offset by the humour of Kellen's bickering with his squirrel cat 'business partner', Reichis - the relationship between the two often becoming quite touching. And Ferius is a great support, although she seems to be repeatedly getting into danger in defence of Kellen...

In this book, the three are joined by another renegade Jan'Tep, who has also been damaged by that community, and the group is beginning to shape up into an interesting crew, quite different from the typical fantasy band of arrogant adventurers. The language and atmosphere of continues, at the start,  to echo that of a Western, focussed on the idea of escape into an unknown frontier - albeit, as this book makes clear, it isn't really, it's already occupied by other people - but that changes somewhat when the group arrive at a city.

Gitabria is renowned far and wide for its cunning inventions. There, the friends  find themselves caught between angry mages, visionary 'contraptioneers' - inventors - and a rather nasty Secret Police. There's a messy, many-sided power struggle going on and Kellen has to dig deep into his reserves of courage and also of trust. When family, clan and friends fall - like Ferius's cards - into such strange patterns, how will you know who to rely on?

There is a danger with drawn out series that the pace will flag, the clarity of the original vision be lost, as the author explores a wider and wider world. Nothing like that is going on here. I felt that Charmcaster is, rather, more sharp and focussed than Spellslinger or Shadowblack with some juicy moral dilemmas and with an awful choice (well, actually, several) confronting Kellen. In a sense, he's growing up and needs to decide where his life is going, conscious that he's bringing danger to those around him.

It's also a book that is more ensemble than the earlier volumes - with one new character in particular (well, not actually new, but, at the same time, new) who is another complex, conflicted and wounded person and easily a match for Kellen.

It is all, really, getting darker and messier. Just how I like things.

With the fourth volume, Soulbinder, due this Autumn, you've got time to catch up - so get reading!

You can see my reviews of Spellslinger and Shadowblack here and here. For more about the book see the publisher's website here.

23 May 2018

Review - 84K by Claire North

Claire North
Orbit, 24 May 2018
HB, 452pp

I'm grateful to Orbit for an advance copy of 84K.

Trying to sum up this book, and North's writing, in a discussion with a friend on Twitter recently, I said that she is a remarkable writer, doing extraordinary things. There's a sense in which case I ought perhaps to stop there because I find that - like many of the books I enjoy most - it's hard to say a more. A book can take you like that. The reading catches you so strongly that you can't uncouple and analyse it.

But I want to say more because I want to persuade you, my readers (yes, both of you) to try this book. In doing that I'll assume you haven't read North's work (although... why wouldn't you have...) and try to explain why it grabs me so much.

First, there's her language. More than any other I currently read, North is disassembling and reconstructing English as she goes along. Her books are full of half completed sentences, implied and finished in the reader's head rather than on the page. Sometimes, that is to catch the roughness and jumble of actually spoken language but sometimes it's...

It's hard to give an example because the way the words works is intimately wired into their layout on the page. Spaces, blank half lines, gaps, all matter. It must have been sheer murder to type because the shape is important, this isn't "content" than en e-reader can crunch or MS Word repaginate. So I'm afraid that if I try and quote some the blog sprites will munge it up and lose the effect. But try this (I have removed a character's name to avoid a spoiler)

'The police had an inventory of items removed from [ ]'s flat
      toothbrush hairbrush shoes bedside cup
      splatter evidence blood evidence fingerprints DNA not that
anyone would
      A confession has been received, and given the low estimate value of [ ]'s death, it is not considered necessary at this time to run any more tests on...'

Reading the book, the cumulative effect is almost theatrical, almost once of dance. The words are choreographed, organised, creating shape quite outside the literal meaning. And the literal meaning itself isn't the literal meaning, if that isn't too daft, the suggestiveness of the language doing more than that. Honestly I could drive myself round and round in circles trying to describe this, but you just have to read this, you really do. They're beautiful - both the meaning you take and also the sheer verve, the brilliance, with which North makes her words sing and dance.

If that was all, the book might be interesting but no more. It isn't all, though. There is a thrilling and angry story in this book. Set in the near future (maybe decades from now - global warming in in evidence through rising sea levels, but technology hasn't moved on much) this is a nightmarish world of rampant corporatism. Outsourcing totally out of control, the country is being devoured by the ever-present Company. Not only does it carry out most of the functions of Government, it buys and sponsors whole towns - we hear of Shawford by Budgetfood, the hometown of Theo Miller, our sort-of hero. We hear of how everything is now a matter of money, crime settled by the computation of an "indemnity" to be paid by the perpetrator. We hear how those who can't afford the indemnity are sent to the "patty line" to make restitution. We hear how, impossible to obtain ID being required to vote, the country has slipped out of being a democracy.

The "patties", mentioned in passing to begin with, occupy more and more of the focus of this story as the story reveals how their cheap labour is hollowing out the whole economy, leaving communities abandoned - outside the comfortable enclaves patrolled by the Company police - and whole swathes of the population marginalised, able only to express their despair by howling with rage in the night.

It's a nightmarish, dystopian vision, hard at times to bear - there is a market for everything, we're told, and any offences committed in driving those markets are easily wiped out if the Company will pay the indemnity - but, like the most hard-edged, disturbing destinies I'd venture that there is nothing described here that hasn't actually happened somewhere, sometime. I certainly found it scarily plausible.

Through this broken world, Theo takes a journey, on foot and by canal boat (the latter belonging to Neila, the most truly likeable characters here). North is cagey, to begin with, about where he's going and why, and indeed she dices Theo's story and tells it in thin slices, moving back and forward: it takes till almost the end of the book to work out what order things might have happened in, so I won't say anything more here because spoilers.

Who is Theo? He's an investigator with the Criminal Audit Office, one of the few remaining parts of the Government, and his role is to compute the price of crimes so that the appropriate indemnity can be levied and the patty line keep moving. And, if you were wondering, 84K is the price of a life. (Though I think that combined with the prominence in the book of the "19 Committee" there's also an allusion to another book in which individuals have become part of the machine). In the course of his work, Theo crosses paths with an old friend who knows a secret that could ruin him.

She wants something, and that drives the story in a satisfyingly thriller-y way - but behind this is a story of lives ruined, by a pitiless, profit-maximising system, yes, but also by more ordinary, human quirks and failures. Many of the behaviours exposed here - the sexism enabled and abetted by wealth and privilege, the greed, the seeing others as things to be used and then thrown out, the cowardice, the refusal, 20 years before, to see the way things were going - are not of course troubling new things to be found in a grim future but features of our world, now, things only held in check - if they are held in check - by fragile social norms. North's book is a scary warning, akin to Swift or Orwell, of where all that might lead.

Unlike North's recent books (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Touch, The End of the Day) there is nothing straightforwardly fantastical here, unless one takes the almost prophetic anger of The End of the Day, dialled up in this book to 11, as fulfilling that role. yes, the timeline is tricksy, and to a degree, the story is punctuated by Neila use of Tarot cards, but the world of 84K is probably too grim to be redeemed by a protagonist who explores successive different timelines or is forgotten when out of sight. Indeed, its grimness is the point - the "thing" about 84K is that future, beckoning us to, oh-so-gradually, give ourselves up to its marketing and its economic efficiency.

Put simply, this book just blew my mind. A remarkable writer, doing extraordinary things, and I think this is her best book yet.

I could say a lot more about it but I only really want to say two.

Buy this book.

Read this book.

12 May 2018

Review - Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Cross Her Heart
Sarah Pinborough
HarperCollins, 17 May 2018
HB, 373pp

I'm VERY grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book which I've been eagerly awaiting.

Cross Her Heart must be a strong contender for THE psychological thriller of 2018. Building on the success of last year's Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has packed in even more reversals, even more revelations, combined with a sense of sheer page-turning dread that made me equally desperate to find out what happened next - and fearful of knowing.

In this book, innocence is abused, the past explodes into seemingly orderly lives and secrets corrode relationships.

Lisa has worked hard to build a safe home for her daughter, Ava, far from her abusive alcoholic father, Jon. Their life might be quiet but it's secure.

Marilyn has secrets of her own. But she doesn't want to burden her best friend Lisa. 

But when Ava heroically saves a young boy's life, and it makes the national press, it looks like Jon has found them at last.

As danger draws closer Marilyn is the only person Lisa can turn to for help. But can they protect Eva when the threat seems to be everywhere?

Cross Her Heart escalates quickly. Almost from the start there's an atmosphere of menace. We sense that Lisa is in danger. We see clearly that she's troubled by the past and fearful, on edge - though we don't know why. But to distract Lisa there is the day to day routine of her work, rivalry with an unwelcome new colleague who may have secrets of her own, worry over ordinary teen problems with Ava. Maybe, just maybe, Lisa's a bit paranoid.

Alison, in whom she confides, certainly thinks so.

Pinborough excels at describing the day to day anxieties, insecurities and concerns of the women in this book. Eating. Dissatisfaction with their bodies. It's not only Lisa and her workmates, there's sixteen year old Ava too and her gang in the swimming club. They are so young, so insecure, but so much want to be grown up and at the same time they think they're so wise, so worldly, so much cooler than fuddy duddy mothers - just like every generation before them. Portrayed warmly and with heart, their lives are vivid and yearning. As the sense of dread builds, it's entwined with these mundane concerns, Lisa's work worries both fuelling her other fears and taking the edge off them.

Taking her edge off, too, so she doesn't see what's coming, despite spending years looking over her shoulder. The reader sees some, not all of it - several times I was almost shouting "LOOK OUT!" at Lisa. But of course she doesn't want to be worried, she wants to believe that all is well.

And then it hits.

Even as the storm rises and catastrophe strikes, Ava still focusses, though, on her own concerns, her boyfriend, sex, the uncertain tides and currents of her friendship with Angela, Jodie and Lizzie, the fraught relationship with her "weird Mum" who's oh so clingy and should just BACK OFF. Because it's all about Ava, isn't it? With great sympathy and compassion, Pinborough has I think absolutely nailed that desperate stage of life when everything is changing too fast and yet not fast enough, especially if your mother won't let you alone, texts three times in the evening to check you're OK, insists on driving you to school.

But why IS Lisa so overprotective? Parents always are, yes, but... there's more here. What's Lisa hiding, and why doesn't she just come out with it and tell Ava? But then everyone here is hiding something.

Ava certainly is.

So is Marilyn.

DON'T let anyone spoil this book for you by telling you what's going on. DON'T flick to the end. DON'T, above all, trust the book. It escalates quickly, yes, but it's twisty too, indeed even the twists have twists. Always remember it may not be going where you think!

All in all, an electrifying read but also, such a sad book. At times - be warned - it makes very dark reading and these characters really suffer. But Pinborough is never gratuitous. There is abuse here, and there are desperate, stunted lives. But there are also friendships, and loyalty, and trust given against all appearances and there is a moment towards the end of the book when a character says "I'm not going to wait around for a man to save the day. Fuck. That. Shit" and after what you've read through up to that moment you will, I guarantee, punch the air (please bear this in mind if you're reading the book on a crowded train).

This is vintage Pinborough, clever, insightful, deeply human, compassionate and perceptive. If you want to read about how modern lives work, and don't work, you need to read Sarah Pinborough's books. You need to read THIS book. Remember, though, the tricks that she plays with you, the reader, in them.

11 May 2018

Review - The Rig by Roger Levy

Design by Julia Lloyd
The Rig
Roger Levy
Titan Books, 8 May 2018
PB, 615pp

I'm grateful to Titan for an advance copy of this book.

How to sum up The RigThe Godfather in space, but more tricksy? A SPACE noir? The apotheosis of social media?

None of those are quite right - but they all have a bit of truth.

In the future, Earth is abandoned to ecological catastrophe and humanity has migrated to the System to live on terraformed worlds. It's a hard life (one of those planets is simply called 'Bleak' and it lives up to that) and a short one, fifty being a good age. Contradicting shiny expectations of the future, disease hasn't been conquered (several of the characters here suffer form incurable cancer) and corruption is widespread. Star Trek this isn't.

But with things so hard, and religion - 'goddery' - generally disdained, people need something to believe in and this role is taken by AfterLife, a system of preserving the near-dead in stasis until their condition is curable. Memories are harvested first, and when cures are found, public votes - based on the lives of the preserved - determine who will receive them.

Against this background, two very different boys meet on the sole remaining 'religious' planet, Gehenna, a place of harshly fundamentalist beliefs. (Actually there is another - referred to as 'the unsaid planet', a place so fiercely protective of its secrets that even to mention it risks death). Pellonhorc is cruel, mercurial and obsessive. Alef has difficulty empathising and thinks in numbers. (I sense the author has autism in mind but he doesn't say so). They seem an odd pairing but, forced together by events, go on to be friends - of a sort - and, as the book's blurb says, to remake the System. Certainly their relationship is at the centre of this book. It's complex, incomplete and at times baffling, but drives both men.

The book follows Alef's life forwards through 'SigEvs' - significant events - which are supposed to be what the voter will use to decide whether a subject is to be cured or left in suspended animation. At the same time, we see a separate story unfold, told from various points of view in the hardscrabble town of Lookout, on the planet Bleak. The main characters here are a policeman (Bale) a journalist/ writer (Razer) and an engineer  (Tallen).

Bale has been suspended from duty after joining the pursuit of a serial killer while off duty, and while drunk. Razor has been sent by her AI, Cynth, to record Bale's 'TruTale'. And Tallen, well - Tallen wakes up one day in hospital and is never the same again.

This part of the story is twisty and - with its grim streets, hard bitten cops and air of sleaze and corruption - supplies the nourish tinge to the book, as Bale and then Razer attempt to work our what's been going on. Some kind of cover up, seemingly - but of what? And why? Whatever it is, it's worth killing for and everyone who gets near it seems to be in danger. There's a real atmosphere of menave  here and a distinct sense that nothing is what it seems: trust nobody, not even yourself.

It's a violent book, with plenty of death. Some of this is foreseen (all that disease) or foreseeable (given all that gangsterism), some of it comes out of the blue (despite the efforts of the Lookout policy). There's no saying who will be next, and doubly so once the two parts of the story emerges, which only happens slowly. Indeed it's not till the last hundred pages or so that it all really begins to fit together. If you love a slowly unfolding, satisfying mystery then you'll enjoy this, likewise if you're a fan of convincing, well thought out world building. On the evidence of this book, Levy excels in creating beautiful, and believable, worlds and it helps that this is a longish book, so he can take his time to build up the atmosphere, whether of the seedy town with its dives and pre fab housing, the underground racetracks through which hurricane winds blow, or the heaving seas containing the rigs which are the key to Bleak's economy. He warps language itself to indicate the alienness of the System, even if it is peopled by humans - so, we have, as well as 'doddery', 'putter' and 'screenery' and a slew of tongue twisting character names (Pelonhorc, but also Pireve, Dixemexid, Maerleyand and so on).

Overall a weirdly thrilling slice of SF, with a great deal of human reality to it and some great characters. One not to miss.

For more information about The Rig see the publisher's website here.

6 May 2018

Review - Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel

Cover design by Martin Stiff
Victory Disc (Vinyl Detective, 3)
Andrew Cartmel
Titan Books, 8 May 2018
PB, 432pp

I'm grateful to Titan for an advance copy of this book.

This is the 3rd in the series featuring the (unnamed) Vinyl Detective, his girlfriend Nevada, annoying best friend Tinkler, getaway driver Clean Head and, of course, cats Turk and Fanny. The setup is well established - the Vinyl Collector hunts down old records, and his commissions typically involve him in a historical mystery, which has enough echoes in the present to threaten considerable danger.

Victory Disc is no exception, but takes the gang out of their comfort zone (if being threatened, drugged, burgled or kidnapped can be so described) as the hunt is for even older and rarer records than before - specifically for wartime recordings of the RAF's Flare Path Orchestra, a band of serving airmen purportedly set up to compete with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Flare Path Orchestra wasn't, of course, real, the Miller band (of course) was. Yet Cartmel has an amazing knack for describing  (totally fictitious) music so convincingly that you're almost there, listening to it. Very evocative, as is the name Flare Path Orchestra itself which made me think of Terrance Rattigan's play Flare Path, also set against the background of bomber crews in the Second World War.

Of course there's a mystery to be unravelled here, the murder of a young woman, Gillian Gadon, during the war, for which a young RAF officer was hanged. (I strongly approved of the fact that in this story Nevada insists on using Gadon's name, making her more than simply an object of male violence). This backstory intertwines with a commission, in the present, by the wealthy Miss Honeyland, to hunt down any serviving records by the Orchestra whose leader was her father, "Lucky" Lucian Honeyland. (One slight gripe: Honeyland's is described as "Colonel" - not an RAF rank, I think). That sets The Vinyl Detective (or the Shellac Shamus, as Nevada describes him now that he's delving into the age of 78s) tracking down surviving members of the band, widening his knowledge of the wartime bombing campaign (at the heart of the book there is, among other things, a compassionate argument about the cruelty of that campaign and its effect both on German cities and on the aircrew themselves).

This is Cartmel at his best, sending the team off on a series of rackety day trips to obscure corners of Kent, portraying the foibles and varied lives of the surviving band/ squadron members while throwing in an eclectic gallery of record eccentric collectors, menacing thugs, murder historians and, inevitably, more cats (poor Abner...) It all moves pretty briskly and - another thing I like in these books - the crew behave intelligently, understanding (from previous adventures) that there may be danger out there. Not that this makes the book staid or boring - it has a pretty scary climax and the revelations that follow complete a satisfying story, bringing the crimes of the past right into the present and showing how evil persists. Indeed there is something of a sense of urgency to the story and a demand to question appearances and remain vigilant. Another strong theme is erasure, particularly of artists (that's a vein consistently explored in all these books).

In all this was an exciting and atmospheric mystery and a good addition to the Vinyl Detective's casebook. I note that a further instalment, Flip Back, is due in 2019 and I wish the anonymous record-finder and his partner plenty of good, fresh coffee and decent food in their next outing.

Final note: while Cartmel avoids using the Collector's name - how long can he keep that up? - he does use pronouns, so I'm not just falling into a lazy assumption that the character is male!

For more about the book see the publisher's website here.

3 May 2018

Blogtour review - Keeper by Johanna Gustawsson

Cover design by kid-ethic.com
Keeper (Roy and Castells 2)
Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)
Orenda Books, 30 April 2018
PB, 298pp

Today I'm joining the blogtour for Keeper, the new book by Johana Gustawsson- almost (but not quite) at the tail end. Do have a look at the poster for the other reviews, there have been some excellent ones so far. I'm grateful to Orenda for a copy of this book to review and to Anne for inviting me onto the tour.

In this second outing for Scotland Yard criminal profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells, Gustawsson again roots a modern day crime in a historical evil. In Block 46, the shadow haunting the present was Nazi medical experiments inflicted on prisoners, in Keeper, it's the Whitechapel Murders of the 1880s (the Jack the Ripper murders).

(Full disclosure, I reviewed Block 46 here and I'm quoted - with lots of others - at the front of Keeper).

Johann Gustawsson
I was relieved that while, in this book, Gustawsson looks back to the 1880s, she doesn't try to unpick or "solve" those crimes (though a theory is mentioned). That road has been well trodden. Rather she places a character alongside the killings, allowing that evil, that taint, as it were, to flow forward. Alongside the narration of the modern day crime, we see Freya in Victorian London, and her descendants, showing how abuse and cruelty can flow forward. Never judgemental, Gustawsson nonetheless presents some pretty shocking scenes - like Block 46, this is not a book for the easily upset, unlike that book there is a theme here of specifically misogynistic violence (as you might expect given the Ripper connection.).

If you've read Block 46, you'l know how good Gustawsson is at drawing you into her world, centred on the relationship between Emily and Alexis. They are not an easy pairing - in Keeper they really fall out over a past case which Emily wants reopened, a case which closely concerns Alexis. It;s an example of how complete a world this is, both women come to the series well established, more as if this were book 7 or 8 than merely 2, not only in their different histories but in how their relationship works.

Again, as in Block 46, the story cuts between the UK and Sweden and Gustawsson assembles an impressive cast to investigate what soon turn out to be related murders of women. I was impressed by this cast, in particular by Aliénor Lindbergh, a young Swedish analyst who has Asperger's syndrome. As someone with a relative who has autism I appreciated the portrayal of Aliénor as a rounded individual, not a set of behaviours, and also that while talented - she's doing a demanding job - Gustawsson doesn't portray her as a genius.The rest of the team in Sweden are impressive too, especially Karla, a woman detective having to put up with a degree of sexist ribbing while more or less running an important case.

All in all this is a complex, well plotted and credible crime novel, with a real punch at the end. It develops its central characters, of whom I hope we'll soon see more, and brings (I hope) a new member to the regular team. And as ever Maxim Jakubowski's translation keeps the story flowing along in English while leaving just a slight edge to the language, giving a hint, no more, of "outside looking in" - a bit of distance, of mystery.

Really looking forward to Book 3.

1 May 2018

Review - Strange Fascination by Syd Moore

Design by James Jones
Strange Fascination (Essex Witch Museum Mysteries)
Syd Moore
Point Blank, 3 May 2018
PB, 448pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy via NetGalley.

I'm also honoured that Syd Moore picked up on an earlier comment of mine which has influenced a particular scene in this book. For the record, Syd, I think the scene in question works VERY well...

This is the third of Moore's Essex Witch Museum mysteries. The earlier books took us on a chase around England (Strange Magic) and to London (Strange Sight) as Rosie and Sam were brought in to investigate different mysteries but now we're firmly back on home ground, with nearly all this story taking place in Adder's Fork (hence the nickname for the locals, the Forkers) where Rosie Strange has her eponymous museum, inherited from her grandfather, Septimus.

I'd been wanting to hear more about Adder's Fork and about Rosie's family and this book doesn't disappoint. Adder's Fork turns out to be a lovely English village - complete with gruesome legends and (allegedly) a buried witch - and trouble kicks off almost straightway with a proposed housing development that would destroy a local landmark, the stone known as the Blackly Be. Like an episode of Midsomer Murders, we get local rivalries, protestors, sexual undercurrents and nasty deaths - and that's even before the supernatural seems to breaking loose.

And before we begin to learn about the history of Rosie's family.

Of course in the end all these things are intertwined, and in this book - at last! - Moore finally clears up some of the mysteries she's been hinting at so far in this series. It's a tangled story and I won't drop any spoilers, but it is worth saying that - as you might have guessed - Rosie's background is a lot more interesting than you'd expect from a holidaying Benefits Fraud investigator from Leytonstone.

As ever much of the charm of the book is carried by the will they/ won't relationship between Sam and Rosie which - given Rosie's rather endearing mixture of perceptiveness and clanging inability to see what's right in front of her - has its inevitable ups and downs. Rosie continues to stand up for herself ("What proper grown-up girl couldn't handle a torch wielding mob, right?",  " 'You, Strange are from a long line of witches and sluts and' she spat... 'and, and, and feminists!' ... I spent most of the joinery back contemplating... how Araminta had... made quite an insightful comment.")

I have to say she has grown on me through these stories, beginning as pretty unsympathetic - a Benefit Fraud inspector, wanting to sell off the museum, obviously reluctant to be involved in all the spookiness that had swept her up - but fighting her way though magnificently, never more so than in Strange Fascination. Rather fittingly, there's a lot more spookiness here than in the earlier books (although, as ever, Moore is careful to leave open-ended what exactly is happening) yet Rosie and Sam come through with aplomb, navigating the gallery of villagers, toffs, Essex girls and distant relatives as well as the police, forensic service and even a greasy estate agent.

All in all I think this book - and the series its part of - an absolute triumph, with its own distinct voice, humour and - at the centre - a rather sweetly romantic story.

The last word should go to Rosie. Asked whether "Some secrets are better left buried" she replies "No... I think it's better to face the strange, however painful... that might be."

And that is what this book does.

For more about the book, see here.