31 October 2023

#Review - Starling House by Alix E Harrow

Book "Starling House" by Alix E Harrow. Among flowers and leaves, a crew of dark birds perch and crawl, beaks open, among them several golden keys.
Starling House
Alix E Harrow
Macmillan, 31 October 2023
Available as: HB, 320pp, e, audio
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9781529061123

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with an advance e-copy of Starling House via Netgalley to consider for review.

Starling House is the creepy story you were looking for - or that you should have been looking for - this Hallowe'en. But it's much much more than that. In the hardscrabble town of Eden, Kentucky, where bad luck seems more common than in the rest of the country, stands a peeling, decaying mansion surrounded by a garden run wild. Sometimes, a single lit window shows at night. 

In the house lives Arthur Starling, a recluse, cloistered among vines and surrounded by stories...

Also living in Eden - a less apt name it would be hard to find - is young Opal, a woman orphaned by her mother's car accident who has devoted herself to racing her younger bother Jasper. The siblings live in a motel room - Room 12 - which her mum somehow managed to secure for them from testy landlady Bev. Everything about Opal's life seems tenuous, from her place in Eden's society (she's widely held, correctly, to be a thief) to her hold on her job, to her right to be her bother's guardian, even to her romantic relationships (dismissed as 'mutual groping'). Opal's overriding project - the one item on her list - is her quest to get Jasper out of the town, where coal dust and asthma are destroying his lungs to a place at a posh college. Jasper is bright and hardworking has been accepted (though he hasn't informed him that she applied...) but how can Opal possibly afford to pay?

Luckily, she manages to blag a job as caretaker at the Scary Old House (don't go near the scary old house, Opal!) and Arthur seems to have cash to spare. Apparently a haughty, antisocial man who gets up to who knows what in the darkness and whose parents also came to a Bad End, he and Opal seem bound to run each other up the wrong way. As they meet - and clash - we learn the origin story, or stories, (we are told several versions) for Starling House, which concern a 19th century writer, Eleanor Starling, whose husband died on her wedding day and whose dark take on the fantastic is still in print 150 years later. Distrusted in her home town, and always daggers drawn with Gravely, the local mine-owners whose fortune was built on enslavement and exploitation, Eleanor lived a lonely life in the house that she built.

It turns out that Arthur is more than just the latest of the Starlings, but that he is a Warden of sorts, fulfilling Eleanor's design but also keeping her supernatural legacy in check. What's going on under Eden is complicated, a delicate balance established by the Gravelys' cruelty and exploitation, Eleanor's determination to make her own stories, and the subsequent decades of conflict. It's a balance that is now threatened by Opal's trespassing on Starling land, for she, too, has secrets - even if she doesn't know them.

This was a powerful and effecting story. There is a strong romantic subplot, which absolutely feels right here but creates great jeopardy. Opal has poured her life and energy into protecting her brother rather than herself which has left her unknowingly vulnerable. Similarly, Arthur, driven by guilt and notions of duty, has turned inwards, determined to do what it takes to be the last Warden. Almost from the first meeting something smoulders between the two, but Harrow delicately draws out the subsequent ignition, raising questions about whether it could result in a fire that burns the town to the ground.

Something Eden does, perhaps, deserve, for all those averted eyes, that tolerance of injustice, that profiting from misery and injustice. Starling House embodies questions about history and about the ability of powerful men to bend reality, to get their way. Eden's chemical pollution - filthy air, filthy river, tainted groundwater - is accompanied by a kind of supernatural wrongness, leading to that aforementioned bad luck. It's a wrongness that has come to the attention of the power-hungry, who will do whatever they need to to grasp at and use it, even if they break Opal and Arthur in the process - another way in which they are vulnerable.

Consequences. Guilt. Original Sin - this version of Eden embodies all of them. The town is built from  that sort of crooked timber of which nothing straight can be made - and everyone seems to know it's and not know it. Against this, what use can Opal's small efforts achieve?

A totally riveting read from Alix E Harrow, possibly her best book yet, you really need to read this.

For more information about Starling House, see the publisher's website here.

27 October 2023

#Review - Normal Rules Don't Apply by Kate Atkinson

Cover for book "Normal Rules Don't Apply" by Kate Atkinson. A golden fox and a silver dog, curled nose to tail, with a pattern of golden branches, fruits and leaves behind.
Normal Rules Don't Apply: Short Stories
Kate Atkinson
Doubleday, 24 August 2023
Available as: HB, 2400pp, e, audio   
Source: Advance copy, audio subscription
ISBN(HB): 9780857529183

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me an advance e-copy of Normal Rules Don't Apply to consider for review. I also listened to the book on audio.

The warning "Normal rules don't apply" is given in Spellbound, one of the more obviously fairytale-like of the stories in this book, but it could well apply to any of them. Talking dogs (and horses), a virgin birth (not, as I'm afraid it's described, an Immaculate Conception...), an observant ghost, a catastrophe that strikes anybody (and anything) caught outside when it comes - these stories are filled with the fantastical, the unlikely and the menacing.

They're also filled with the down to earth, the familiar and even the touching. Take Franklin, for example, a character who appears in three or four of the stories. Despite the limited space available, Atkinson gives a vivid picture of his rackety life - his mother, notorious for her role in a sex scandal; his absent father and flailing career history (until he gets lucky and lands a job with hit soap Greenacres - which also features in several of the takes). Franklin is a channel to the mysterious, encountering said talking horse (and dog), a deeply strange family, and finally an escapee from another story - but he is himself as normal, as ordinary, as anyone else would be trying to live down a minor celebrity of a parent. 

Like other characters here, Franklin doesn't invite the weird, it just happens to him and he has to cope with it - just as later in the book, Pamela, an undistinguished former teacher faced with an extraordinary event, grits her teeth and tells herself it's her time to shine. I liked Pamela, feeling she very much approaches life as, I hope, I would. Or take Mandy, that observant ghost, who uses her apparent ability post-death to perceive what's still going on to track down the facts behind her death. In the course of this Mandy tells her life story, which is shrewdly set out, very ordinary, but truly fascinating. (Mandy gets her happy ending, and even the company of a dog - there are many of them in this book!)

And sometimes, the weird just... wanders in. As you read this collection you'll spot, perhaps, situations and individuals you've already seen. Connections will spark and you'll know - sometimes with delight, sometimes with horror - what is going to happen next (perhaps). It's emphatically not one story but themes recur, alternate paths may be being explored and unlikely links are made. The atmosphere is at times something like Atkinson's Life After Life and A God in Ruins, though without quite the same space for exploration and development of characters.

There is an explanation, sort of, for the coincidences and links, lending a distinctly metaphysical touch to the book. It adds its own charm but the rest of the stories still very much stand in their own terms, every one of them. My favourite would, though, I think be Existential Marginalisation, a rather dark take on Toy Story.

The stories are all great fun, and if, as I did, you read the excellent audiobook version narrated by Paterson Joseph, I think you'll agree that it's just a perfect listening experience.

For more information about Normal Rules Don't Apply, see the publisher's website here.

24 October 2023

#Review - The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft

Cover for book "The Hexologists" by Josiah Bancroft. In head and shoulders three quarter profile, a woman looks left and a man right. She is wearing a natty hat: he has sideburns , a moustache and a high collar. Above them, a circular magical-seeming pattern with cryptic symbols and birds in flight.
The Hexologists (The Hexologists, 1)
Josiah Bancroft
Orbit, 28 September 2023
Available as: PB, 349pp PB, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9780356519067

I'm grateful to Orbit for sending me a copy of The Hexologists to consider for review.

The Hexologists is a story of Iz and Warren Wilby, a married couple, living in the fantasy city of Berbiton, whose business is to solve magical mysteries. There's a bit of the famous Edwardian consulting detective both in the way that the popular press follow their exploits, and in the wider context. Berbiton is the capital of a powerful empire, with resident royalty whose peccadilloes, and political shenanigans, create many opportunities for mischief (magical or not). It is also at the forefront of (magic assisted) technological development - the equivalents of the telephone and wireless are novelties, and that of motor cars is beginning to be a nuisance, with pollution blanketing the city. 

I liked this setting. I also enjoyed the politics. The Wilbys' fierce anti-Monarchism means that when, at the start of this story, they're visited by a Royal flunky asking them to carry out an assignment for the Palace they take a lot of convincing. There are hints of revolution in the book, and also of scandal in the Wilbys' past, and of past dabbling in Forbidden Magicks - always fun. (The theoretical side to the magic here was a little hard to follow. I grasped that Hexology is a particular discipline of magic among several, some of which have fallen out of use while others are suppressed, but the relationship between all of them, despite being the subject of detailed exposition, was still a bit obscure). 

Anyway, once the Wilbys' scruples are satisfied and their investigation of the Royal Family's current difficulties begins, the story fairly rattles along with plenty of jeopardy - both moral and physical - numerous red herrings, double crosses, and no-holds-barred fights. Berbiton certainly has its seamy side, with slums, sweatshops and the magical equivalent of dark Satanic mills in evidence, so there's plenty of grimness here but I'd say nevertheless the story remains in the cosy subset of fantasy with the Wilbys' banter and sheet middleclassness playing a large part in keeping it there. That makes the book fun to read, though at times, it seemed to me that it did seem to lower the stakes rather, however desperately perilous things things are supposed to be.

Another aspect of the story that didn't really work for me was the alleged lustiness of Iz's and Warren's relationship. While the fact of this is stated a number of times, and indeed, given any opportunity, they're at it like there's no tomorrow, the atmosphere between them seems in contrast quite passionless. It's as though this strand has been written in to add spice to the story but doesn't quite touch the characters as they're drawn.

In contrast, the hints of past misbehaviour, especially by Iz who has some dangerous friends, were intriguing and I appreciated this fantasy focussing on a middle-aged couple rather than a young upstart or other chosen one. All in all, an entertaining and engaging story but one which felt like it could have done a bit more.

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

20 October 2023

#Blogtour Review - White as Snow by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Book "White As Snow" by Lilja Sigurðardóttir. A cover in white, grey and icy blue, shattered by diagonal strokes which divide it into parallel bands, one of them showing a scene of a shipping container in a snowstorm with hills behind and two dark figures standing amidst the falling flakes.
White as Snow (An Áróra Investigation, No 3) 
Lilja Sigurðardóttir (translated by Quentin Bates)
Orenda Books, 12 October 2023
Available as: PB, 276pp audio, e   
Source: Advance copy

I'm grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the blogtour for White as Snow and for sending me a copy of the book to consider for review.

It was a great pleasure to return to the Reykjavik of maverick financial investigator Áróra and police detective detective Daniel, in a story that very much picks up the thread of the previous book, Red As Blood.

Some months on fro the end of that story, Áróra is still hunting for her vanished sister but seems to be making little progress. Daniel almost finds he has too much family on his hands when his ex sends their two kids to stay, just as a major investigation kicks off. I enjoyed the awkwardness Daniel displays trying to look after two teens who are clearly feeling a bit uprooted and inclined to resort to moods and monosyllables - through they are brought out of themselves when they meet Daniel's drag queen neighbour, Lady Gúgúlú. 

Daniel and his colleagues are investigating people traffickers who have abandoned a shipping container in which are the bodies of several young women. The story - one can almost smell its repressed anger coil from the pages - follows one of the trafficked women, dipping backwards and forwards to show how and why she ended up where she did. It exploits the same rackety side of Ireland that earlier books in the series established, replete with sinister foreign gangsters and their Icelandic collaborators.

I enjoyed the balance between the crime plot here and the personal. Daniel and Áróra may, or may not, be finding their way towards a relationship, though neither is one to rush these things and it's all complicated by Daniel's recommending Áróra to Erín, another of his exes, who is having issues of her own with a boyfriend who may not be what he seems. Áróra is perhaps less central here than in the previous books, with Daniel more prominent.

We also see Helena, Daniel's colleague, wrestling with the tension between no-strings fun and having someone special in her life. All in all it's quite the romantic dance that takes place alongside the investigation of the crime. For me, that creates a unique atmosphere, tender moments and episodes of yearning and self doubt juxtaposed with the realities of 21st century crime, its pitiless nature established early with those scenes of the shipping container. It also creates tension - there are high stakes here with favourite characters potentially in jeopardy and the insidious coils of organised crime spreading throughout the city.

It's a fine, tense and engaging story. As ever, Quentin Bates's translation doesn't get in the way, it lets the reader understand what's going on without smoothing away the fact that this is a story with a foreign setting. I hope there will soon be more to come. 

For more information about White as Snow, see the publisher's website here (where you can also buy it) and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can also buy White as Snow from your local highstreet bookshop, or online from Hive Books or Bookshop UK as well as the usual Blackwell's, Foyles, Waterstones, WH Smith and Amazon.

17 October 2023

#Review - Thornhedge by T Kingfisher

T Kingfisher
Titan Books, 15 August 2023 
Available as: PB, 128pp, audio, e  
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781803364230

I'm grateful to Titan Books for providing me with a digital copy of Thornhedge to consider for review.

In a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, or perhaps, an anti-Sleeping Beauty, T Kingfisher gives us, yes, a beautiful princess sleeping in a tower around which thorns and briars have grown up - but the princess is not the centre of the story. Rather, the author asks, exactly why might a princess be cursed to sleep, and what are the thorns really all about?

Are they, as often assumed, to keep others out?

Or are they to keep her in...?

In a short novel, Kingfisher provides answers but more interestingly she gives us Toadling, the fairy who wrought the magic and who now guards the castle through endless centuries. Generally successful, she is thought about to encounter a particularly resourceful and determined knight. Salim, is driven neither by desire for a bride nor lust for treasure, but by simple curiosity. 

In other words the very worst, most difficult challenge an overworked fairy could face.

The blooming relationship between knight and fairy, people from unimaginably different backgrounds, casts light on the sort-of history to which Kingfisher assigns the story. It's sometime after the breakup of the Roman Empire, in a region populated by Muslins, Christians and Jews, where a knight might be of any faith or none. Fairies are respected and feared, but not hated, and people get along in general. 

The sleeping princess is, though, a problem, for reasons I won't go into as they would spoil the story. Finding a solution to that problem will require Toadling to explore her own past, confront loss and consider her place in the world. Above all, after being alone for hundreds of years, she will have to learn how to actually be with others - whether these are the fairies that raised her (the Greenteeth of I think Northen English legend) or the humans from whom she was snatched as a baby.

A sweet, engaging story with a core of steel (or perhaps, thorns) at its heart. 


For more information about Thornhedge, see the publisher's website here

13 October 2023

#Review - Maeve Fly by C J Leede

Cover for book "Maeve Fly" by CJ Leede. A woman in a low cut dress, turned three quarters towards the reader. She has shoulder length hair. Her eyes are obliterated by a red daub. IN front of and below her, several outsides eyeballs.
Maeve Fly
C J Leede
Titan Books, 19 September 2023
Available as: PB, 304pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781803367149

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of Maeve Fly to consider for review.


This one was A Read. I will say at the start that it won't suit all tastes. Be warned that there are explicit themes of sex, drugs, violence and torture here. It may not be for you. I'm not sure it was for me.

The story is told through the eyes - indeed the gaze - of Maeve Fly, a young woman (twentysomething, I think) working at a Los Angeles studio-owned theme park where she performs daily as one of the studio's popular princess characters, a Nordic ice princess known worldwide for her iconic song. She and her colleague Kate are very popular with the children, more so than the "classic" characters associated with the studio. (You may think you know Maeve's film and the studio, but I can't possibly comment, nor does Leede even once mention them, even among the references to mouse ears and to some, presumably public domain, characters like Snow White, Pocahontas and Cinderella.)

Maeve has three loves. 

First, the connection she has with her grandmother, Talullah, an actress (and Playboy model) from the Golden Age who has taken her in. Maeve feels an affinity with Talullah, very possibly the first time this has ever happened. 

Secondly, her friend Kate, who plays her character's sister. Kate is an aspiring actress who wants to make it and is prepared to do whatever it takes for that (again, it's pretty clear what that is). 

Finally, Maeve just loves her job, despite the long hours, the oppressive working conditions and the corporate nonsense.

She is though at risk of losing the first two, as her grandmother is in a coma and seemingly only with months to live and Kate has - finally, finally - got the prospect of a big part, albeit she has had to humiliate and abase herself to achieve that.

Faced with the prospect of her life changing, Maeve engages in denial, haunting LA's bars, brothels and strip clubs (a fourth love of Maeve's is Hollywood/ LA) where she certainly doesn't present as an ice princess. However it's not till she encounters Kate's brother Gideon (who, ironically, is an ice hockey star) that things start to change in Maeve's world - and to get dangerous.

I found this a compelling book: the sort you have to keep reading, but also, that you are desperate to look away from. Did he really say that? Did she really do that? Maeve's outlook-as-narrator is all bound up with the idea of the woman who can be a villain without the need for a justification from her circumstances - she analyses her theme park character's iced over film and its dynamics from that point of view. But it's far from clear whether this is theoretical, or whether she would cross that line herself.

Until one particular scene involving Maeve, Gideon and unfortunate bartender, Claire... 

For all the horror and gore, I found this in some ways very much a book of ideas. Behind the relationship between Maeve and Gideon - which is drawn very subtly and which is continually changing and evolving - there are ideas about how people ought to be, what they should do, and how far they might go. It's not a story where one can see a neat or happy end, and indeed, I soon stopped trying to work out where things were going at all, as that seemed to be missing the point. A degree of mystery is I think needed and I don't want to comment in too much further detail. I'll just say, I strongly recommend this book as a wildly different take on horror, but if my warnings above suggest it may disturb you, leave it alone.

For more information about Maeve Fly, see the publisher's website here.

10 October 2023

#Review - A Stroke of the Pen by Terry Pratchett

Cover for book "A Stroke of the Pen" by Sir Terry Pratchett. A dwarf holds up a lantern. Behind them is an elaborate scrollwork supporting more lanterns at the top, and, on the left, a sword, on the right, a pen. Around the scrollwork are holly berries and leaves. Next to the dwarf is a stringed instrument (a lute?)
A Stroke of the Pen (The Lost Stories)
Terry Pratchett
Doubleday, 10 October 2023
Available as: HB, 220pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(HB): 9780857529633

I'm grateful to Milly at Doubleday for sending me an advance copy of A Stroke of the Pen to consider for review. I've been so eager to share this review, but barred by solemn and strict prohibitions form doing so before now.

As you can imagine I was delighted to see these stories had been discovered - the background to that, set out here, is truly intriguing: nobody knew about most of them as they were written and published, under different names, in newspapers before Sir Terry was widely known. The stories only came to light when Pat and Jan Harkin were asked to track down a potential serial, The Quest for the Keys, which is also given in full here. As well as finding all of Quest, Pat and Jan located another 18 stories besides.

The resulting collection is a glorious, if bittersweet, read - surely this must be the last posthumous Pratchett collection, even if one or two more pieces may emerge? Being home alone for an evening, I sat down and read them all without pause, savouring not just the Pratchettness of them all but also the overall effect of the collection. Yes, there is the occasional foreshadowing of something Sir Terry would return to later. As a child of the 70s, though, I also spotted a certain taste of that decade, for example the thinly disguised celebrities referenced in "How Scrooge Saw the Spectral Light..." or the industrial relations problems described in "The New Father Christmas".

If you can sense a theme here, yes, given their origin in newspapers, it's perhaps not surprising that a number of these stories have a Christmas theme, affectionately playing with the absurdities of the season. I did think that at the back of them one might see the ghost of Hogfather or perhaps even of Death, as an anthropomorphic projection finds itself needled out of its accustomed role. Maybe. I wouldn't insist on it - though I'd also point at "Mr Brown's Holiday Accident" which plays games with the nature of reality - creating a well developed and twisty example of SF as well as a very funny story.

Being funny is not unusual in this collection. While Neil Gaiman writes in the Introduction that Pratchett here "is not a humorist, not yet" there is certainly a sense of fun here, a willingness to send things up, with "The Quest for the Key", the longest and most developed story, already taking on the satirising of fantasy that later developed in Discworld. There is also a bit of a shared world going on, with the town of Blackburn recurring as a location for the bizarre. Not everything takes place there, though, these stories are varied, from a parody of a Gold Rush Western ("The Real Wild West") to a sort of Close Encounters spin-off ("The Blackberry Thing") to time-travel, dragons and ghosts.

Overall, the impression is of a writer whose mind is seething with ideas, busily selecting from them to fill the (scanty) room allowed for a newspaper story, salting them with puns and allusions, hinting at a complex world behind the whole, and having a great deal of fun in the process.

Much, in fact, like the later writer, apart, perhaps, from that need to get the whole thing down in 500 words...

In short, read this, it'll make you happy. (It might also make a good Christmas present...)

For more information about A Stroke of the Pen, see the publisher's website here.

6 October 2023

#Blogtour #Review - The Beaver Theory by Antti Tuomainen

Cover for book "The Beaver Theory" by Antti Tuomainen. Against a green background, an enormous beaver sits upright. On its head is a man in a suit, sitting hunched in thought, facing away from the viewer.
The Beaver Theory (The Rabbit Factor, 3)
Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston
Orenda Books, 12 October 2023
Available as: HB, 300pp, audio, e   
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 9781803367149

I'm grateful to Karen at Orenda for sending me a copy of The Beaver Theory to consider for review, and to Anne for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.

It was wonderful to return to the world of Henri Koskinen, actuary and accidental owner of a Helsinki adventure-park.

Since taking the reigns at YouMeFun after his brother's death, Henri has confronted various challenges - financial, managerial and criminal - and to do this he's developed a methodology that, while seeing the world very much in mathematical terms, is flexible enough to take account of a range of other factors too. In the course of the books he has developed and become more confident and The Beaver Theory very much shows him at the top of his game, as a rival adventure-park tries to undercut YouMeFun. Drastically undercut, as in, offer free admission and food. It's hard to see how YouMeFun can go on, even though Henri isn't above a little gentle burglary to resolve the issue - especially as things spiral into murder and he's faced with the need to prove his innocence as well as develop a business plan.

I loved that in this book Tuomainen raises the stakes not only by piling on the threats but also by giving Henri a deeper personal life. At the start of The Beaver Theory, Henri moves in with his girlfriend, artist Laura Helanto, and her young daughter. Not only does this give him new challenges to overcome - the dads at Tuuli's school, who induct Henri into their fundraising team, are truly terrifying and he spends most of this book coping with that - but it adds a resonance by giving him more to lose as well as more to love. One of the joys of these books is the depiction of Henri's internal life. Tuomainen has created a character who could have been pigeonholed as merely a depiction of someone on the spectrum or otherwise neurodiverse. Perhaps he is - but Tuomainen makes sure that's not all we see. Henri's a rounded, warm and complex man, a character it's truly fun spending time with, Tuomainen's writing really bringing him alive (helped in no small part I'm sure by David Hackston's lucid and compelling English translation).

And Henri's a person one can't help but fear for, surrounded as he is by rogues who may have a comic aspect but are nevertheless deadly (we witness several killings in the course of the book). And Henri's nemesis in the Helsinki police, Osmala, is also back, with a couple of rather sinister young colleagues who feel free to try and shake done YouMeFun.

All this, and a twisty, complex plot as well, makes The Beaver Theory very readable from the first page to the last and left me wanting more - though given what Henri goes through here I have to concede he deserves a bit of peace and quiet and the chance to spend time with his new family (not to mention his cat, Schopenhauer).

Overall a fun and satisfying read.

For more information about The Beaver Theory, see the publisher's website here - and of course the other stops on the blogtour which you can see listed on the poster below. 

You can buy The Beaver Theory from your local high street bookshop or online from Bookshop UK, Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyle's, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

Blogtour poster for book "The Beaver Theory" by Antti Tuomainen

3 October 2023

#Review - Case Sensitive by AK Turner

Cover for book "Case Sensitive" by AK Turner. Against a purple background, a scary looking surgical implement - pliers? Forceps? - and a couple of delicate seedpods.
Case Sensitive (Cassie Raven book 3)
AK Turner
Bonnier (Zaffre), 20 July 2023 
Available as: PB, 352pp audio, e  
Source: Advance copy
ISBN(PB): 978-1804180594

I'm grateful to the publisher for providing me with a copy of Case Sensitive via Netgalley to consider for review.

Coming a bit late to this series I can already see I'll have fun catching up with books 1 and 2.

Cassie Raven is a mortuary technician with a very special talent - she can hear whispers from the dead. Or she used to be able to - at the start of this book her ability has apparently dried up, leaving her struggling rather with her profession, as well as with personal issues (her relationship with her father, and whether or not she should be dating one of the pathologists from the morgue). 

Set in Camden Town, where Cassie lives in a boat on the canal, the story is high on atmosphere. This is a slightly rowdy part of London, the centre for a thriving alternative scene but also with pockets of deep poverty, and, in contrast, ongoing gentrification. Turner makes good use of this, really getting inside the different settings as well as peopling the story with intriguing characters for what is basically the eruption of a decade-old murder mystery into the present day.

And it's a solidly based detective mystery - while there is a hint of the supernatural, this isn't allowed to overshadow the story: Cassie spends much of the book doubting that her ability ever was real, and even when it does work, it only gives her the barest of clues about what happened. The detective work here is at the centre of things and the truth will only be revealed through rigorous sleuthing. While that is not all by the police, Cassie does have a partner there in unravelling things - DS Phyllida Flyte, also I think a returning character to this series. The chapters are alternately written form Flyte's and Cassie's point of view, allowing us to see what each woman is thinking about the other - useful because while they spar pretty dramatically there is a definite will-they, won't-they element between the contrasting pair.

Flyte herself is an interesting and well-drawn character, an incomer from leafy Winchester to North London and to the Met and - because of this and because she's a woman - something of an outsider in the cliquey Major Crime team. Many of the undercurrents of this book are about how she deals with that and the threats and problems to be suffered in a far from reconstructed section of the Met Police - something numerous recent real events support. Flyte also has her own problems; she's mourning a stillborn child and has a frosty relationship with her mum and with her ex. Like Cassie, she, too, faces romantic dilemmas and there's a definite sense that both women are trying to find a way forward.

The crime plot at the heart of the book is twisty and well done, with surprises to the very end. There are, of course, Secrets to be revealed - but they aren't always what you'd expect. I enjoyed the balance between the two sides - professional and personal - here and, like real life, loose ends are left on both fronts. I look forward to seeing where they will lead Cassie and Phyllida in future books.

For more information about Case Sensitive, see the author's website here.