Book Review: Nothing Bad Happens Here, by Nikki Crutchley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nothing_bad_happens_here.jpgSet in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, life for everyone is disrupted when the body of a tourist who went missing several months earlier is found in a shallow grave.

Journalist Miller Hatcher is sent to cover the murder, but is she up to the task? As with most journalists in crime novels, Miller is troubled; she’s trying to get over a broken relationship and the death of her mother, she drinks too much, and she pulls her hair out when stressed.

An out of town detective is brought in to run the investigation, which doesn’t impress the local police sergeant, Kahu Parata. He feels pushed out, and upset at the ghoulish interest the murder has attracted to his town.

The plot of this book feels like a script for one of those crime shows that crosses over into another show’s territory – in this case a mix of Brokenwood Mysteries, 800 Words and Criminal Minds. I found some of it way too far-fetched to believe in a New Zealand setting.

There are several red herrings and Miller – who is staying in a healing retreat run by an aging hippy as the town’s accommodation is booked out – is given an anonymous tip that leads to another death. When one of the fellow retreat guests goes missing, Miller realises the murderer could be still in town.

As an awful lot gets conveniently tied up in the final few chapters, it’s hard to say much about this book without giving the ending away. It was a fast read, but ultimately not a satisfying one. A word of advice too, be careful where you read this book. When a drop of water from my cold drink landed on the page, the ink ran.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Nothing Bad Happens Here
by Nikki Crutchley
Published by Oak House Press
ISBN 9780473404505

Book Review: The City of Secret Rivers, by Jacob Sager Weinstein

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_city_of_secret_riversWho knew there was a maze of secret magic rivers flowing underneath London’s streets? Certainly not Hyacinth Hayward, the young heroine of this contemporary fantasy adventure. When she ‘fixes’ the plumbing and inadvertently releases a single drop of magic water she finds herself caught in the middle of a centuries old struggle for power.
A knock at the door reveals the strange Saltpetre Men who work for the Royal Mail. Slow moving and sibilant, they are the first of many strange characters she encounters in her race to recover the magic droplet and save her mother.

Aided by her neighbour, the elderly and feisty Lady Roslyn, the pair escape down into the sewers and into an underground escapade full of twists, peril, surprises, double crosses and riddles. Hyacinth has to trust her instincts in order to work through the situations she finds herself in. As her adventure progresses she uncovers a family connection to the magic which adds to her determination.

The story is full of clever plot points, many of which relate to real London monuments and events in the city’s long history. The characters are funny and unique; from the charming huge pig who communicates via printed cards, to the Saltpetre Mailmen and some who are seen here in a totally different guise than normal – I’m talking to you, unicorn!

Readers who enjoy magic and adventure will surely enjoy The City of Rivers and will be drawn into this engaging and well-paced story. The ending, while closing off this adventure, leaves you with a hint of further mysteries and questions to be answered in a follow-up sequel, which I am hoping is in the pipeline (pun completely intended!).
Now that we have been introduced to the magical world existing below the city streets, a visit to London will never be the same again…

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The City of Secret Rivers
by Jacob Sager Weinstein
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406368857

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_darkest_part_of_the_forestThere are no words to describe how brilliant this book is. Holly Black is an amazing author with a very broad imagination, and has had many books published previously. This is the only book of hers that I have read, but I can’t wait to read and review more now.

The Darkest Part Of The Forest is about a teenage girl called Hazel and her older brother Ben. They live in the little town of Fairfold, near the darkest part of the forest, and in the forest is a glass casket. Inside lies a sleeping faerie prince, that none can rouse. But after years trapped inside his casket, someone (or something) wakens him. This may seem like your average fairytale full of faeries, knights, princes and true love, but it certainly is not.

I really enjoyed the drama and mystery of the storyline. The Darkest Part Of The Forest is a good book for any teen interested in romance, adventure, or who loves a great fairytale. I am inspired to read more of Holly Black’s novels.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston

The Darkest Part of the Forest
by Holly Black
Published by Indigo
ISBN 9781780621746

Book Review: The Sea Detective, by Mark Douglas-Home

cv_the_sea_detectiveAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

‘What is a sea detective?’ I hear you ask. Well, it is not a police officer who is based on a police launch that is part of a country or city’s policing unit: pulling bodies out of the water, dealing with stolen boats, drug runners, carrying out search and rescue. No, this sea detective is a completely different type of problem solver.

Edinburgh based oceanographer and environmentalist Cal McGill, is basically a scientist. As a young boy he became fascinated with the sea, its currents, its movements, and how something put into the water at one place can end up days, months or years later in a totally different place. There is a map at the beginning of this book that gives you an idea of the ocean currents in the North Atlantic, particularly around the west and north coasts of Scotland, where much of this novel is set.

The intriguing thing about this novel, is that although it sounds like a mystery or a thriller, it is really a number of stories or plots that are quite skilfully intertwined. Firstly, the body of a young Indian woman is washed up, which piques Cal’s interest, as he attempts to ascertain where it entered the water, and as a result where she may have originated from. In terms of crime and crime-solving, this particular mystery is the moral heart of the story.

As an aside, Cal also finds he is putting his unique skills into use when two severed feet wash up miles apart from one another, and one of the feet actually matches a third foot in a different shoe washed up somewhere. The day after I finished reading this book there was a story on the NZ Herald App from Canada about severed feet, still inside shoes, mysteriously washing up on the coastlines of Canada and the US. Quick, call Cal McGill. Here is the link – Very bizarre.

At the same time as all this is going on, Cal finds himself taking steps back into his family’s past. An elderly woman is dying and she has some secrets she needs to share with Cal concerning his grandfather during the second world war. Cal always knew there was something not quite right with his family history, and using his specialist knowledge of ocean and wind currents he has the opportunity to put right a terrible wrong.

With the exception of a very small section, the whole novel is set in Scotland, much of it on the Outer Hebrides islands and west coast of Scotland. Cal leads a very solitary existence, this wild untamed environment suiting his temperament, and his slightly subversive nature. For he never lets a chance to annoy the authorities go by. As an environmentalist, he has got himself offside with the Edinburgh police HQ, an interesting little sub-plot that becomes quite crucial in his investigations into where the severed feet and the young Indian woman came from.

If it all sounds a bit quirky and light, it isn’t. Far from it. You know from the first page that some pretty awful things are going to be happening. The plot does wander a bit, weaving these various threads together, the tension being slowly turned up as the story gathers pace. Cal is an extraordinary detective, uncovering some very bad things, putting his own life in danger.

A great story, well told.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Sea Detective
by Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN  9781405923569

Book Review: I’ll See You in Paris, by Michelle Gable

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ill_see_you_in_parisThe stories of three women are skilfully braided together in this tale of love and a family secret. We first meet Annie, a young recent graduate, newly engaged to her marine boyfriend. She is sure of her love for him but feels some reservation about their rush into marriage after only a few months. With her fiancé’s immediate deployment to war, Annie tags along with her mother Laurel to Banbury, England on a trip that leads to the unravelling of a family secret.

Laurel, a single mother and hard-working lawyer, is in England to finalise negotiations for the sale of a property she owns there. Just how she came to own it when she has no family is something of a mystery to Annie, as is the old, blue book she catches her mother clinging to on the night of their departure. A literature major, Annie is intrigued and is amazed to discover that the subject of the biography is one Duchess of Marlborough; a famous eccentric aristocrat who denied her title and grew increasingly mad, living out her days in the very village her mother’s property is in.

Over the course of a few days spent talking to a village local, Annie unwinds the behind the scenes background of the book. The more Annie talks to Gus, the more she is fascinated not only by the question of whether or not the crazed old lady Gladys Spencer was really the missing Duchess, but also the growing relationship between the writer and Gladys’s young American companion, the quiet and sweet Pru.

I’ll See You in Paris is cleverly interwoven via three perspectives, Annie’s time in Banbury talking to Gus and investigating, the events happening during the writing of the book and also through excerpts from the biography itself – set out as chapter introductions, they relate the life and personality of the Duchess herself.

Gable has written a wonderful tale and is skilled at showing us what her characters are like rather than telling us about them and this is particularly well done in the banter of the manuscript transcriptions:

“GD: I believe he passed. That’s the problem I often faced, seeing as how I was so much younger than everyone I consorted with.

WS: That’s not true. I meant the first part! Please! Calm down! No need to throw things, Mrs Spencer.”

Her characters are full and unique with personalities that fit together well and keep you entertained. Gladys/The Duchess is such a hoot, you can’t help but admire her madness and spirit. Even more so when you learn via the Author’s note that Gladys Spencer, aka the Duchess of Marlborough really existed and Gable has included many direct quotes and true stories of her famous escapades in life.

If you are looking for a whimsical read for a lazy weekend, I’ll See You in Paris is perfect. As all good chick-lit stories do, this one sees the characters change and grow as they reach their happy endings.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

I’ll See You in Paris
by Michelle Gable
Published by Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN: 9781250104793

Book Review: Project Huia, by Des Hunt

Project Huia is shortlisted in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

In Project Huia, Des Hunt has oncecv_project_huia again found a winning formula that appeals to both young readers and his own conservation interests. In this book, Logan, the young male protagonist, is thrust back in history as his grandfather Jim recalls a period of unusual excitement and shenanigans from his own young life.

Jim and Logan travel back to the origins of the story and Logan is transported back in time as his grandfather relates the story of what is presumed to be the slaying of the last known huia. Throughout the book there is an air of expectation that the remains of that bird may be found. This is spurred on by a conservation scientist named Ana, who has her own secret mission, which is only partly revealed to Jim and Logan. She needs Jim to lead her to the site where the huia was last seen. She needs Logan to convince Jim to share his story. Jim needs to revisit his past for reasons that slowly reveal themselves.

Thwarting their efforts are two local louts. It soon transpires these two troublemakers are descendants of the Carson family, a family as notorious as the Huia’s extinction is in these parts. Jim had quarrelled badly with them as a boy, and the ill feeling and heartache is still palpable today. Logan is fated to re-enact some of the tension himself.

This is the story of adventure, revenge, bullying, and pointless extinction (of the huia). It is a thoroughly New Zealand story and the modern day action is well woven into historical and conservation aspects. It’s no surprise to me that this book is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Within the pages of the book, the huia, one of our most loved but now extinct birds, is brought back to life but it is also a compelling adventure and whodunit story.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Project Huia
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775431763

Book review: Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride

cv_close_to_the_doneThis book is in bookshops now

The lovely DCI Steel is at it again – overloading McRae and the station’s crew with cases as fast as they arise: missing tramps, a missing teenage couple, a film crew obsessed with their production in the “magic witch” genre, drug bosses and drug gang wars, victims rolling out of the dark – left, right and centre, macabre ritualistic mayhem… The series’ favourite characters – McRae’s co-workers – are as always backing up his investigations with their expertise or plain old foot work, and we enjoy their company, if not their antics.

The opening chapter grabbed me from the start – but fooled me. You’ll see what I mean when you grab your own copy and start reading. That image is revisited in a crime, and again during investigations which lead to discoveries about other crimes, which lead to … a whole interwoven mesh of murder, misunderstandings and mayhem. Lovely. Riveting. “Put your light out – I’m trying to sleep,” stuff.

Having begun the series (Cold Granite, Dying Light and Flesh House, and yes I missed number three) I know MacBride has maintained the standard of the series so can assure readers there’ll be no disappointment here. Apart from the obvious attraction of McRae’s crime scenes and investigations, I found myself looking forward to the dialogue between colleagues – whether aloud or internal, with or without the lovely Steel. Just a quick sampler – relax, not a spoiler:

“The yellow-grey bones were laid out … like some sort of art installation: a toothless skull resting above crossed femurs, the bottom jaw on the other side, then the pelvis and sternum, all held within a rough circle made up of ribs and vertebrae. Little piles of soil dotted the roof around it.

Logan pointed. ‘Can’t have been there for long. There’s no moss or anything growing on them.’

‘Ah.’ Burt Reynolds from the council nodded. ‘Maybe it’s Keith Richards?’ “

Great imagery and descriptive writing bring each scene to light; characters are realised with flair and foibles alike, plot intricacies are so almost impossible for a reader to untangle that one HAS to keep reading. And I will enjoy reading the rest of the series.

Book 8 in the Logan McRae crime series

Reviewed by Lynne Street

Close to the Bone
by Stuart MacBride
Publishered by HarperCollins, 2013
ISBN: 9780007344277