Memory Man by David Baldacci – Book Review

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man by David Baldacci

When Amos Decker returned home eighteen months ago to find the bodies of his wife and only daughter, he didn’t think he could carry on living. Overwhelmed with grief, he saw his life spiral out of control, losing his job as a detective, his house and his self-respect. But when his former partner in the police, Mary Lancaster, visits to tell him that someone has confessed to the murder of his family, he knows he owes it to his wife and child to seek justice for them.

As Decker comes to terms with the news, tragedy strikes at the local school. Thirteen teenagers are gunned down, and the killer is at large. Following the serious brain injury Amos suffered as a professional footballer, he gained a remarkable gift – and the police believe that this unusual skill will assist in the hunt for the killer.

Amos must endure the memories he would rather forget, and when new evidence links the murders, he is left with only one option.

Serving as an introduction to Amos Decker, Memory Man is a terrifically absorbing read and a book I personally struggled to put down, but then David Baldacci has that natural ability to create engaging characters that give you little option but to have a vested interest in the outcome of the book and his protagonists.

Amos Decker has seen better days, following the murder of his wife and daughter, he’s let himself go. Homeless and destitute he sees no reason to continue. Out of shape, fat and carrying so much baggage, Decker wouldn’t appear at first sight to be your typical literary hero. But he is. Despite his troubles, as a reader, you want to bat for him. He’s someone who needs help but isn’t prepared to ask or accept it but as the book and storyline develops he slowly begins to change and we gain an insight into his mind and what could have been. It’s up to him how he moves forward, no one else.

It only takes a small event to change things and with the little credit he has on his credit card he cleans himself up, as best as he can, and starts to put a plan into action, investigating the death of his wife and child and helping the police and FBI with the murder at the school.

Full of twists and turns, entertaining imagery but an intelligent and complex narrative, Baldacci not only has a hit on his hands with Memory Man but with his leading protagonist, Amos Decker. I can see a long and bright future for Decker and his partner Lancaster and I for one can’t wait to see how the author develops this intriguing partnership.

  • Hardcover:368 pages
  • Publisher:Macmillan; Main Market Ed. edition (23 April 2015)
  • ISBN-10:1447277589
  • ISBN-13:978-1447277583

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Ghost Flight by Bear Grylls – Book Review

Ghost Flight by Bear Grylls

Ghost Flight by Bear Grylls

Haunted by his wife and son’s brutal abduction and murder, ex-soldier Will Jaeger runs to the ends of the earth to recover and to hide. But even there he is found, and compelled to undertake one last mission, and to confront a savage past he can barely even remember.

Jaeger agrees to lead an expedition into the Mountains of the Gods in the remote Amazon jungle. At the dark heart of this real life Lost World lies a mystery WWII warplane, one that harbours a secret so explosive its very discovery may tear the world asunder. Terrifying forces are hell-bent on keeping the warplane forever hidden. Unwittingly, Will Jaeger is going in against them.

But as Jaeger joins a team of former elite warriors – including ice-cool Russian operator Irina Narov – he senses that the air wreck also harbours the answer he so longs to uncover: the identity of his wife and son’s murderers.

In the first of a brand new adventure/thriller series Bear Grylls introduces Will Jaeger, a smart and charismatic ex-soldier who just happens to have a few things on his mind and it will come as no surprise to anyone that survival is uttermost in his thoughts. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Ghost Flight!

Held captive on a remote island in one of the world’s worst prisons, renowned for its brutality and an authority determined to inflict severe torture on enemies of the state, Will Jaeger is facing certain death. But let’s face facts, we know he’ll escape or there wouldn’t be a story but the opening chapters are so engaging that I had a vested interested in the protagonist.

The narrative is easy to read and the story flows well, there were a few repetitive paragraphs but I stress I’m reading a very early proof of the book and any inconsistencies will I’m sure be ironed out before publication later in the year. They certainly do not detract from what is an incredibly enjoyable and fun read. A cross between Indiana Jones and a whole plethora of action figures such as James Bond and Jason Bourne, Will Jaeger is a complex character who as the series develops, will no doubt grow but from the very opening salvos. We have the makings of a terrific action hero.

Jaeger is smart and clearly knows his stuff and as a team leader he exudes confidence. Stuck in the middle of an Amazonian jungle, he and his small group of ex-soldiers have to fight their way out of numerous tight corners using guile, wit and a well-developed survival instinct. They come face to face with spiders, piranha fish, huge caymans and the obligatory group of extremely nasty Nazi’s. It all lends itself for a gripping read and I for one wasn’t disappointed, this really is boys own stuff.

If you’re looking for an entertaining and easy read, a good story and a how to survive the most challenging of conditions then this is definitely the book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and can’t wait to see what happens next as Bear leaves the door open at the end and you know full well that something’s about to happen in the future.

 

  • Hardcover:464 pages
  • Publisher:Orion (4 Jun. 2015)
  • ISBN-10:1409156818
  • ISBN-13:978-1409156819

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Death is a Welcome Guest by Louise Welsh – Book Review

Death is a Welcome Guest

Death is a Welcome Guest

Magnus McFall was a comic on the brink of his big break when the world came to an end. Now, he is a man on the run and there is nothing to laugh about.

Thrown into unwilling partnership with an escaped convict, Magnus flees the desolation of London to make the long journey north, clinging to his hope that the sickness has not reached his family on their remote Scottish island.

He finds himself in a landscape fraught with danger, fighting for his place in a world ruled by men, like his fellow traveller Jeb – practical men who do not let pain or emotions interfere with getting the job done.

This is a world with its own justice, and new rules.

Where people, guns and food are currency.

Where survival is everything.

Thought provoking and engaging, Death is a Welcome Guest is an intelligently crafted book that plays with the mind conjuring endless scenarios all the while playing mind games with the reader. This is one of those books that you can’t help but imagine yourself caught in a similar predicament and throughout the experience  you do find yourself – as a reader – wondering how you’d cope if you were one of the survivors. Would you embrace the predicament or fall pray to survivor’s guilt. It’s a tough call.

This is the first book I’ve read by Louise Welsh and just happens to be the second in the Plague Times Trilogy series but it works well as a standalone. I’m not aware of any character connectivity between the first two books and fortunately never felt the need to have read the first one to take enjoyment out of this second instalment.

Characterisation is very well done and I did feel for Magnus McFall, a comic caught up in semi stardom and in the wrong place at the wrong time. McFall is sent to Pentonville prison to await his court date but during his time on remand the “Sweats” break and people fall by the wayside. Young, old, rich, poor, royal or pauper no one is immune and it’s every man, woman, child and dog for themselves.

Nothing is left to chance here, roaming empty streets at night under a military run curfew, deserted shops and hotels and the London underground crammed with dead bodies. Louise Welsh paints an horrific and atmospheric picture of a city under siege from an unseen force. No one can stop it, the government and military are in disarray and it’s left to the survivors to run a lawless society.

What gripped me more than anything were the little touches found throughout the book. With owners falling prey to the sweats who’s left to feed their pets? The pets become wild and will attack for food. It’s all very Stephen King! With no internet, facebook or twitter people resort to the old fashioned way of communicating, who’d have thought things could get that bad – imagine a life without email, ridiculous!

A wonderful and very quick read, Death is a Welcome Guest is certainly welcome on my bookshelf. It will leave you with questions long after you turn the final pages and put the book down for the final time.

  • Hardcover:384 pages
  • Publisher:John Murray (4 Jun. 2015)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1848546548
  • ISBN-13:978-1848546547

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The Tears of Angels by Caro Ramsay – Book Review

The Tears of Angels: An Anderson & Costello Scottish Police Procedural - An Anderson & Costello Mystery 6 (Hardback)Past crimes cause new murder in this tense and twisting psychological thriller A few days before the summer solstice a 92-year-old woman is found burned to death in her home. On the same day, a man’s mutilated corpse is discovered in a field, his arms ripped from their sockets, a Tarot card depicting The Fool inserted in his mouth. When the victim is identified as someone for whom the police have been looking for almost a year, detectives Anderson and Costello find themselves caught up in a case where nothing is as it seems. Was the dead man really responsible for three child murders? And what is the connection with the death of the elderly woman? The investigation leads to the tranquil shores of Loch Lomond where Anderson and Costello will finally uncover the shocking truth.

It has been close on five years since I last read a book by Caro Ramsay and I can’t for one minute figure out why it has taken me so long to pick another title up in the Anderson and Costello series, especially considering my enjoyment with this title. My first introduction to this rather intriguing coupling was with Dark Water, their third adventure and when I had the opportunity this week to take a look at the next in the series with The Tears of Angels I jumped at the chance.

It did take me a few chapters to find my feet with this book, there’s so much going on and a plethora of characters, both old and new, to reacquaint and discover, so many names in such a short space of time, witnesses, victims and police. Once I did, I found my footing and my pace never wavered, such is Ramsay’s storytelling and writing style.

The plot is intriguing and well thought out and developed. There are a number of shocks instore and more than a handful of brutal murders that will have you reeling! No one is safe and that’s what I like about an author who isn’t afraid to take risk and is not afraid to eliminate a character you think as a reader should run and run. The Tears of Angels isn’t all about our intrepid duo, Loch Lomond is a winner too and I lost count on the number of times I wanted to visit this part of the world while reading about murders and past crimes, Caro Ramsay certainly brought the area to life with an imaginative and compelling narrative.

As the story develops I was convinced I knew the truth, only to be shot down in flames at the end. I love books that do that to me, it doesn’t happen all that often but when it does, you know you’ve met your match!! Excellent writing, a great and complex plot and characters you both love and hate equally. I guess you can’t ask for more, maybe a return ticket to Scotland might help!

  • Hardcover:256 pages
  • Publisher:Severn House Publishers Ltd (29 May 2015)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:0727885154
  • ISBN-13:978-0727885159

Posted in book reviews, Books, Crime, Scotland Tagged , , , ,

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo – Book Review

Blood on Snow (Hardback)Olav lives the lonely life of a fixer.
When you ‘fix’ people for a living – 
terminally – it’s hard to get close to anyone.
Now he’s finally met the woman of his dreams.
But there are two problems.
She’s his boss’s wife.
And Olav’s just been hired to kill her.

Jo Nesbo does like his troubled protagonists and in Olav, a fixer for hire, he certainly has another one! Blood on Snow is a standalone story measuring just 200 pages and is over before you know it so if you’re looking for a quick Norwegian fix then look no further.

A dark novel by nature, it does have glimpses of light thanks mainly by his infatuation with Corina Hoffmann, his target. Olav’s voice is strong throughout and the short novel is insular but moves along at a fairly rapid pace. The narrative is typically Nesbo and is both poetic and descriptive, helping to pull the reader in from beginning to end.

Although an enjoyable novel this is no Harry Hole novel and doesn’t have the history we know and love but Olav is a curious character who does have depth. A dyslexic, he struggles with his writing and does appear to some to be a rather simple character but misjudge at your peril and you will pay the ultimate price. He does show glimpses of being a clever fixer without being overly intelligent and is ridiculed by those he comes into contact with.

There are a few nice and unexpected surprises towards the end as Nesbo wraps things up rather neatly and I couldn’t help but enjoy the references to The Snowman, a book that still remains one of my favourite novels I’ve read.

Slick, poetic and dark, Blood on Snow is an enjoyable short story, one that continues to keep the reader highly invested in Norwegian crime, something Nesbo does rather well!

 

  • Hardcover:208 pages
  • Publisher:Harvill Secker (9 April 2015)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1846558603
  • ISBN-13:978-1846558603

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A Song of Shadows – Charlie Parker – by John Connolly

A Song of Shadows - Charlie Parker Thriller (Hardback)Grievously wounded private detective Charlie Parker investigates a case that has its origins in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.

Broken, but undeterred, private detective Charlie Parker faces the darkest of dark forces in a case with its roots in the second world war, and a concentration camp unlike any other . . .

Recovering from a near-fatal shooting and tormented by memories of a world beyond this one, Parker has retreated to the small Maine town of Boreas to recover. There he befriends a widow named Ruth Winter and her young daughter, Amanda. But Ruth has her secrets. She is hiding from the past, and the forces that threaten her have their origins in the Second World War, in a town called Lubko and a concentration camp unlike any other. Old atrocities are about to be unearthed, and old sinners will kill to hide their sins. Now Parker is about to risk his life to defend a woman he barely knows, one who fears him almost as much as she fears those who are coming for her.

His enemies believe him to be vulnerable. Fearful. Solitary.

But they are wrong. Parker is far from afraid, and far from alone.

For something is emerging from the shadows . . .

Charlie Parker is back for another adventure but this time things are very very different. As we’ve already seen (above), Charlie is recovering after being shot to pieces and to put it mildly, the private investigator is a little fragile. In A Song of Shadows it’s very much a case of two steps forward and one step back in his recovery. In a lot of pain and discomfort Charlie moves to the relative safety of small town Boreas to reenergise but as with all of John Connolly’s books, things don’t quite go to plan – fortunately for us!

When I read The Wolf in Winter last year I remember being blown away by Connolly’s overall characterisation but it was one character – a homeless man named Jude – that held me captive throughout, even though he was only in the book momentarily. If you haven’t read it then please do, hopefully you’ll take out of it as much as I did, it’s well worth a read.

This time around it wasn’t so much a character that held my attention but the poignant back story of the Holocaust, Nazi supremacy and concentration camps. Stirring stuff, the amount of research that must have gone into this book is mind-blowing, but one thing I can guarantee, it will make you think about the past.

I presented a radio documentary for the BBC in the second half of last year on the Holocaust and children affected by the depravity and interviewing survivors as I did, this book reopened many of those feelings and for me the book is quite an emotive read.

The first half of the book sets the scene with a terrific and free flowing narrative all the while laying a solid foundation for events covered in the second half of the book. There are numerous storylines floating around and it is a complex read, you certainly need your wits about you but one thing Connolly never fails to do is tie up all the loose ends and leave you wanting more when the final page has been read. He’s also quite adept at throwing in the odd red herring and surprise or two along the way.

One thing Connolly does well is balance the book with some well needed humour, Louis and Angel brought me to tears on many an occasion. I couldn’t help but smile each time they appeared and the partnership never fails to entertain and impress, they are without question a terrific duo.

So there we have it, yet another superb read from John Connolly. Haunting and emotive in parts yet humorous and thrilling in others. A well thought out storyline, Charlie Parker can do no wrong and neither it seems can his creator! Bravo!

  • Hardcover:448 pages
  • Publisher:Hodder & Stoughton (9 April 2015)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1444751484
  • ISBN-13:978-1444751482

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The Defence by Steve Cavanagh – Book Review

The Defence

The Defence

Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.

It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy.

Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible?

Lose this case and he loses everything.

I have to admit that I was curious to see where the author would take this book – The Defence by Steve Cavanagh – given the narrow confines of the story. Eddie Flynn, the protagonist, wakes up to find a bomb strapped to his person, he’s given two days to achieve a favourable result in court or his world ends, literally.

That’s all well and good if you’re allowed the freedom to research, investigate and call in favours but Eddie, under close scrutiny from the Russian mob, can’t make a single phone call or contact the police or feds for fear of retribution. I felt claustrophobic before I began reading and although the feeling does alleviate somewhat it’s a great feeling to have when you begin reading a new book. That feeling of “how the hell is he going to get out of this” more or less sums it up because when you think about it initially you can’t see a way out, it’s a hopeless case!

It’s impossible to go into too much depth with this review due to the nature of the story but what I will say is that I was entertained from the turn of the first page until its frenetic ending. It was never a case of will he or won’t he succeed it was how. It’s the strength of this how that makes the book so engaging and clever.

The narrative affords a rapid read, as does the storyline and supporting characters. I really felt for Eddie and loved him as a character and as a father, determined to succeed against all odds you find yourself rooting for him even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to!

Cavanagh clearly knows his stuff and the court scenes were as entertaining and realistic as any I’ve read before. Of all the chapters, one stood out which highlights his skill as a writer and a lawyer, the cross examination of the exotic dancer. Clever, sharp and relentless the observations and the turn around blew me away. Simple but oh so very effective!

So there we have it, a fast paced courtroom thriller that is so much more than a prosecutor, a defence lawyer and a ruthless defendant. This is one book I’d love to see made into a film.

  • Paperback:320 pages
  • Publisher:Orion (12 Mar. 2015)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1409152308
  • ISBN-13:978-1409152309

Posted in Action, book reviews, Books, Courtroom Drama, Legal Thriller Tagged , , , , ,

A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan – Book Review

A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan

A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan

When Inspector Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad arrives at the brutal murder scene of a young woman, all evidence hints at a sadistic serial killer on the hunt for more prey.

But when the young woman’s father turns out to be a leading government minister, the pressure is on Borubaev to solve the case not only quickly but also quietly, by any means possible. Until more bodies are found…

Still in mourning after his wife’s recent death, Borubaev descends into Bishkek’s brutal underworld, a place where no-one and nothing is as it seems, where everyone is playing for the highest stakes, and where violence is the only solution. 

With each turn of the page, the temperature in Bishkek falls, snow filled pages full of depravity, murder and a bitter chill that finds its way into the very soul of the reader. There are only two endearing aspects about the tale, Akyl Borubaev – a detective from the Murder Squad – and copious amounts of vodka available throughout, and not necessarily in that order! This is A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan.

Akyl Borubaev is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife Chinara a few months earlier and her ghost like persona haunts the book from beginning to end – and there’s a nice little twist at the end too, rather unexpected.

We were up on Ibraimova Street, just down from the Blonder Pub, on the unlit birch-lined path above the carriageway, where the moorzilki, the cheapest railway station whores, hang out in the summer, by the footbridge. Dumpy, surly women, big-bellied and chain-smoking, swigging cans of Baltika beer, dressed to depress in shapeless tee-shirts and tracksuit bottoms, easy down for instant access, easy up for a quick escape. No business ladies here now though, not at twenty below and more snow coming.

Our protagonist is hurting and each day is a chore as he tries to avoid the bottle of vodka chilling outside on the snow laden window ledge, inviting memories of his dearly departed wife and happier times. He goes about his business with pride and dedication, desperate not to fall into the trap of so many before him. Determined not to surrender and become corruptible, all he has left is his pride and his job.

This is a wonderful book and despite the bleak outlook and dark times that have befallen Akyl and Bishkek, the narrative is savage yet at the same time beautifully crafted. I had a smile on my face throughout and despite numerous murders – gruesome ones at that – and scenes of torture there’s something rather endearing about this tale.

Full of great characters, double cross, debauchery and murders that will guarantee to leave you breathless – they are rather gruesome – A Killing Winter satisfies on so many levels and I for one can’t wait for spring to arrive with Callaghan’s next book and Akyl’s new adventure.

Brutal, savage and unrelenting. Браво!!

 

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (26 Feb. 2015)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1848669755
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848669758
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.2 x 24.5 cm

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Primitive Forensics – Article by Robin Blake

PRIMITIVE FORENSICS

When my fictional 18th century coroner, Titus Cragg of Preston, investigates a suspicious death, he takes into account all the different kinds of evidence available to him, which means establishing the physical facts of a case and making deductions from those facts. When thinking like this, he is in effect practising an early form of what we call “forensic science”, in which he’s much encouraged by his modern young friend and informal assistant Dr Fidelis. But Cragg is a man of his time, in which hundreds of years of pre-scientific lore, of folk traditions and superstitions, also has to be reckoned with.

The Scrivener by Robin Blake

The Scrivener by Robin Blake

Enquiries by coroners in Cragg’s time were still governed to a considerable extent by popular belief in divine intervention. The old adage that “mordre wol out”, chillingly evoked by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, derives from the idea that murder was so abhorrent in the eyes of God that sooner or later he always exposed and punished the murderer. Long ago physical trials by water or fire had been ways of hurrying the process up: if the suspects floated, or were not burned, they were not guilty, and vice versa.  By the 18th century such procedures had long fallen out of use, but popular superstition remained a factor in any body of evidence.

Reports that a ghost had appeared to someone could be taken as proof that the dead person was haunting his murderer, just as Banquo’s ghost returns to accuse Macbeth. As psychological side-effects of guilt, such hallucinations may be plausible evidence, but another technique, the bleeding corpse trial, had rather less basis in reality. Here a suspect would be made to grip the hand of the body under inquest and, if this caused the corpse’s wounds to bleed anew, it was taken as the touch of the murderer.

Careful examination of the body, and the position it was found in, had always been essential to the coroner’s procedure. Sometimes this has a modern ring to it, as in the way wounds were precisely mapped and measured. The famous 1593 inquest into the violent death of the playwright Christopher Marlowe was very specific in finding “a mortal wound over the right eye of the depth of two inches and of the width of one inch”. However the coroner’s examination also took note of less tangible things, such as the expression on the victim’s face. Some believed this was a significant pointer towards the manner of death: a placid face would rule out a violent murder whereas a look of stark terror made it an open and shut case for homicide.

One forensic experiment, devised in the late 17th century, had a quasi-scientific basis. This was used to answer a question that had always been of special interest to coroners: whether the death of a new-born baby occurred before or after its birth. A piece of the infant’s lung was dropped into water. If it sank, that was taken as an indication that the lung had never been inflated; if it floated, it was taken that the baby had breathed before it died. This test remained in use for most of the 18th century.

Increasingly ideas in “natural philosophy”, based on observation and experiment of a kind beloved of Dr Fidelis, competed for credibility with a vast core of pre-existing beliefs and superstitions that had accumulated  over thousands of years. Coroners like Cragg were therefore working at the very cusp of change between traditional and scientific forensics. It is what makes them such interesting figures.

(Robin Blake’s The Scrivener, the third Cragg and Fidelis mystery, is published by Constable in the UK. In the United States it appears under the imprint of Minotaur Books with the variant title The Hidden Man.) Follow Robin Blake on Twitter and for more information on his books visit  robinblake.co.uk

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Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton – Book Review

Death of a Liar - Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery (Hardback)

Death of a Liar – Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery (Hardback)

Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is alarmed to receive a report from a woman in the small Highlands village of Cronish. She has been brutally attacked and a dangerous criminal is on the loose. but upon further investigation it would appear she was lying about the crime.

When the same woman calls Hamish back a few days later about an intruder in her house, he takes her claim with a pinch of salt – only this time it would appear she was telling the truth as her body is found in her home. and Hamish must sort through all her lies to solve the mystery of her murder.

An entertaining romp in the Scottish Highlands, Hamish Macbeth is back for his 30th adventure in Death of a Liar and he doesn’t appear to have aged at all, the writing and ideas are as fresh today as they were when they began with Death of a Gossip in 1985. Funny, charismatic and a real cad, Macbeth is one of those literary characters you simply devour and can’t wait to read his next adventure.

As reviously mentioned (above) a woman calls Hamish to report a crime, she’s been raped, but when Hamish investigates he discovers that the woman has a rather lengthy track record of lying. A short time later, a few cross words exchanged, Hamish receives another call that an intruder is in the house and is threatening to kill her. Macbeth being Macbeth puts the phone down and goes back to sleep, certain the woman is lying again. Little does Macbeth know that the woman for once is telling the truth.

Macbeth investigates her murder but is convinced that her death is linked to the disappearance of two new villagers in Lochdubh. What follows is an effortless and imaginative narrative, drawing the reader in to the host of characters, all with their own personality but it’s Macbeth most readers are interested and it’s easy to see why.

Hamish is his usual self, one minute he likes Dick’s company at the police station, the next he’s plotting how to get rid of him. Add to that his fickle attraction and interest to new and past romantic conquests and I’m amazed that poor old Hamish has time to do any police work! Beaton brings the area to life with a wonderful and descriptive prose, a prose that appears to rely on the ever changing weather for inspiration!

Another wonderful Hamish Macbeth adventure, simply put …..we want more!

  • Hardcover:224 pages
  • Publisher:Constable (5 Feb. 2015)
  • Language:Unknown
  • ISBN-10:1780331096
  • ISBN-13:978-1780331096

Posted in book reviews, Books, Crime, Fiction, Scotland Tagged , , , ,

Chocolate Pecan Cookies by Dominique Ansel

Dominique Ansel: Secret Recipes from the World Famous New York Bakery (Hardback)

Dominique Ansel: Secret Recipes

It doesn’t happen all that often but when it does, it takes your breath away!

The latest cook and bakery book to arrive is Dominique Ansel’s The Secret Recipes, creator of the world famous Cronut – published in the UK in March by Murdoch Books. For those who haven’t heard of this delightful delicacy it’s a rather ingenious cross between a croissant and a doughnut and although I’ve never had the chance to eat one, they do look incredibly tempting. An ideal combination meal of breakfast and brunch, lines form every morning at Dominique’s New York bakery to buy them.  Dominique includes a home version in his book in the advanced section, not the ones on offer in New York – I am yet to attempt it!

Let’s not mess about here; this is without doubt a beautiful book and one that will take pride of place on my bookshelf for years to come. The Secret Recipes is one of those books that oozes quality and I knew it was going to be a good book before I’d had the opportunity to open the cover and turn to the first page, it just feels right, it looks right! A go to book full of irresistible recipes and must bakes, the book takes into consideration three levels of home baker – beginner, intermediate and advanced so there’s something here for everyone and something for the beginner and intermediate to aspire to.

The one thing this book does – and I’ll certainly testify to this – is make you want to bake immediately. You’ll devour the recipes, make a few notes on a shopping pad and rush out to buy ingredients for your first attempt! That’s exactly what happened to me on Saturday! I am that man! Once I’d finished my gym session I headed to my local superstore and bought the ingredients required to make chocolate pecan cookies.

One of the interesting things about this book are the notes accompanying each recipe. Dominique encourages you to try new things and if something isn’t working with a recipe; don’t be afraid to try something different, the instructions guide you through each process from beginning to end in simple steps. The recipes are easy to follow and set out in such a way that as long as you read the recipe before you begin, gather everything you need then you won’t go far wrong!

This is what the chocolate pecan cookies turned out like, not too shabby!! …….

Chocolate Pecan Cookies from Dominique Ansel’s: The Secret Recipes

Chocolate Pecan Cookies from Dominique Ansel’s: The Secret Recipes

Cookies are fairly simple to bake but get it wrong and they are disastrous! Following the recipe for the chocolate pecan cookies I slightly adapted the recipe for the ingredients I had on hand. 60% or higher chocolate was substituted for 51% and chocolate drops substituted for pieces of chocolate (added towards the end of the mix). It didn’t matter and the overall flavour and result magnificent but I will be trying this again soon with a higher concentrate of cocoa. That said, I took them in to work this morning and the cookies were eaten within 10 minutes – not sure what that says about my colleagues but I haven’t killed anyone just yet!

One note about using chocolate pieces is that when you bite into the pecan cookie and hit a piece of chocolate, there’s no better sensation! Everyone who’s tried these cookies commented about the chocolate pieces so I think I’ll continue using misshapes! The book has definitely encouraged me to practice more and to try and improve, most of all it’s a good read and an enjoyable one.

CHOCOLATE PECAN COOKIES

I love making this recipe . . . because of its forgiving nature and utterly addictive results.

Skill Level Beginner

Time 15 minutes one day before; 20 minutes the day of

Yield 20 cookies (about 1¾ ounces/50 grams each)

Ingredients

Dark chocolate chips                             2 cups                                                              455 grams
(60% cocoa content or greater)

Unsalted butter (84% butterfat)       3 tablespoons + ½ teaspoon                   45 grams

Granulated sugar                                   1 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons  250 grams

Cornflour (cornstarch)                         ¼ cup                                                              42 grams

Baking powder                                        ¾ teaspoon                                                   3.75 grams

Kosher salt                                                ½ teaspoon                                                   1 gram

Whole eggs (large), lightly beaten   3 each                                                              3 each (150 grams)

Pecans, coarsely chopped                    ¼ cup                                                              55 grams

One Day Before – Make Dough

Melt 1½ cups (340 grams) of the chocolate chips (set aside remaining chocolate) in a double boiler: Fill a medium saucepan with about 3 inches (7.5 cm) water and bring it to a simmer. Place the chips in a medium heatproof bowl and place the bowl snugly over the water. Stir slowly with a heatproof spatula to ensure that the chocolate chips are completely melted and smooth before turning off the heat.*

Melt the butter in the microwave (about 30 seconds on high). Mix into the melted chocolate with the spatula. Keep warm over the hot water.

Combine the sugar, cornflour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and whisk until fully blended and the mixture resembles pancake batter. Use the spatula to make sure you incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled on the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Slowly whisk in the melted chocolate–butter mixture. (If it has cooled and begun to solidify, gently reheat it before incorporating.)

Gently fold in the remaining ½ cup (115 grams) chocolate chips and the pecans with the spatula.±

Transfer the dough to a shallow baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the batter, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight to rest.

The Day Of Bake

Place a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) for conventional or 350ºF (175ºC) for convection. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Using your hands, break the dough into pieces the size of your palm (about 3½ tablespoons/50 grams). Roll the dough into balls and place them on the baking tray at least 2 inches (5 cm) apart from one another. Press gently on the top of each ball with the palm of your hand to make a thick disk. This dough doesn’t spread much, so the disks should be relatively close to the size of cookie you’d like.

Bake on the centre rack for 4 minutes. Rotate the tray 180 degrees and bake for about 4 minutes more. When the cookies are just beginning to crack on top but the dough is set on the edge and has a soft spot about the size of a 10-cent coin in the centre, remove from the oven.

Let the cookies cool on the tray for 5 to 7 minutes, to further set.

Remove the cookies from the tray and set aside. Reline the cooled tray with clean baking paper and continue with the remaining dough.

Serving Instructions All cookies are best eaten while warm. A glass of ice-cold milk helps.

Storage Instructions The dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator for 3 days
or frozen for up to 1 week. (Thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.) The baked cookies
can be kept in a closed airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Dominique Ansel’s: The Secret Recipes is published by Murdoch Books

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Davina’s 5 weeks to sugar free

Davina's 5 Weeks to Sugar-Free: Yummy, Easy Recipes to Help You Kick Sugar and Feel AmazingFor as long as I can remember I’ve always had a penchant for eating and discovering new biscuits, who hasn’t! But over the last three years I’ve curbed this desire due to a renewed health kick, fitness drive and weight loss and when I had the chance to take a look at Davina’s 5 weeks to sugar free cook book this week I jumped at the chance.

We all know sugar is bad for you, we also know how wonderful it makes the simplest things taste great but in a time when obesity is rife, especially in children, there’s no time like the present to change your diet and eat a little healthier. Davina, best known for her television work and fitness dvd’s, gives us an insight into five weeks of her cutting out non processed and unrefined ingredients as much as possible. It’s a nice idea but not always a simple one, especially when lives move so quickly these days.

For this article I’m taking a look at two recipes, Maple Syrup Digestives (page 177) and Lime & Ginger Cheesecake (page 189) the former making the base for the cheesecake. I can’t tell you how wonderful the aroma was in the kitchen when the digestives were baking, the maple syrup lingered for what seemed hours and had I been selling the house, it would have gone immediately!

Both recipes are easy to follow and the results matched the images in the book – closer than I had imagined – and that’s always a good sign, especially for a new cook! Timings for the digestives were spot on, I used the fan option and the biscuits took between 15 and 17 minutes to bake satisfactorily, well within the guideline of 15-20 minutes.

The great thing about the cheesecake is that there’s no baking required, a couple of minutes to melt the butter, combine the ginger, maple syrup and broken down digestives and the base is done. When thickening the double cream the book suggests to “thicken the double cream slightly” but I decided to thicken a little more due to the cream cheese and lime juice, it worked very well and the consistency and flavour is to die for!

One thing I did notice when I took time out to read the book in work, it garnered a lot of interest. It seems a lot of people are on the look out for new ideas and new sugar free recipes, I think Davina’s hit the nail on the head with this one. A great looking book, easy to follow recipes and an insight into Davina’s new sugar free challenge – are you game? I know I am. Highly recommended. Many of you have been asking on facebook and twitter for the recipes after I published a few images so here we are – recipes and instructions – enjoy!

Maple Syrup Digestive Biscuits (page 177)

MAKES ABOUT 24

200g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting the work surface

200g oats

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

200g unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into cubes

150g maple syrup

Easy to make, great tasting and they proved incredibly popular!

Easy to make, great tasting and they proved incredibly popular!

 

1 Put the flour, oats, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a food processor and blitz them – you want a mixture that’s just slightly coarser than flour. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then tip it all into a bowl.

2 Add the maple syrup and gently work it into the mixture until you have a dough. Don’t worry if it’s very soft, as it will firm up in the fridge. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour.

3 Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment. Generously flour your work surface.

4 Halve the dough, then rewrap one piece and put it back in the fridge. Roll out the remaining half and, using a cutter about the size of a digestive biscuit, cut out circles. Re-roll the offcuts, making sure you use plenty of flour to prevent sticking. You should end up with 12 biscuits.

5 Remove the rest of the dough from the fridge and repeat to make another 12 biscuits. Place the biscuits on the baking trays.

6 Bake the biscuits for 15-20 minutes until they’re golden brown and crisp. Keep a very close eye on them, as a minute too long could mean they overcook. Remove the biscuits from the oven and immediately transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Lime & Ginger Maple Syrup Cheesecake (page 189)

SERVES 8

200g home-made digestive biscuits (see digestive biscuit recipe above)

75g butter

1 tsp ground ginger

FILLING

300g cream cheese

250ml double cream

grated zest and juice of 2 limes

100g maple syrup

Wonderful taste, tartness of the lime works wonders to balance this dish. Great for dinner parties or treats.

Wonderful taste, tartness of the lime works wonders to balance this dish. Great for dinner parties or treats, you really can’t go wrong.

1 Blitz the digestive biscuits in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin until they are the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.

2 Melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the ground ginger and crushed biscuits, then stir until the mixture is well combined. Press the mixture into a 23cm flan dish and put it in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

3 Break up the cream cheese with a fork to loosen it a little. Put the double cream in a large bowl and whisk until slightly thickened but not really stiff. Add the cream cheese, zest and juice of the limes and the maple syrup and mix well. Pour this over the biscuit base and spread it out as evenly as possible.

4 Chill the cheesecake for a few hours or overnight until firm. This is also good frozen – just put it in the freezer and remove it about half an hour before serving.

 

There’s so much to make in this book, I could spend weeks working my way through the recipes and I probably will, it caters for everyone, I can’t wait to try the home made baked beans, burgers and desserts. Davina’s 5 weeks to sugar free is published by Orion Books – January 15th

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Fudge, truffles and The Little Book of Chocolat

The Little Book of Chocolat

The Little Book of Chocolat

Over the last year and a half – of teaching myself to bake – I have discovered one thing – people will never ever turn down chocolate! In scenes reminiscent to a hoard of migrating wildebeest purposely making their way across the Masai Mara in Africa, my work colleagues leave very little evidence that any of my chocolate experiments existed at all. In fact had a crime been committed then any CSI team would struggle to find a morsel and I’d be sent to the looney bin for making something up! This of course has no bearing on my skills as a chef, a baker or a chocolatier, it simply means they’re hungry and desperate for an endorphin hit! I happily oblige as often as I can! They have proven to be a captive audience, an audience I will continue to use as guinea pigs, death by chocolate has a rather delicious ring about it!

All this leads me nicely to the latest book to land on my desk, Joanne Harris – Author of Chocolat – and Fran Warde’s The Little Book of Chocolat. If you’re looking for an afternoon treat or perhaps something a little more substantial, ideas for a dinner party or a special homemade gift for your nearest and dearest then this small but perfectly formed book would be a great addition to your collection.

I decided to attempt two recipes initially, more will surely follow as I devour this cute book, Chocolate Fudge Squares (page 27) and P’tite Mère’s Chocolate Chestnut Truffles (page 30). The fudge peaces couldn’t be easier to make and they came out looking great and believe me, they won’t last long even though the recipe makes 50 pieces. I made two batches, the first following the recipe and the second I added a little flavour using Valencian Orange flavouring and the result was a cross between a chocolate orange (that breaks into segments and everyone has at Christmas) and dark chocolate fudge. As the recipe says there’s no cooking involved save for a little melting in the pan and before you know it the fudge is cooling in the fridge. Definitely child friendly, with the help of a supervising adult, in fact both recipes covered here fall into that category.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

Dark Chocolate Fudge

The second recipe reminds me of my dad, he loved hot chestnuts. I remember shopping with him on many occasions as a teenager, my dad buying a packet of warm chestnuts – amazing in winter – and we could never get enough of them! I digress! This recipe takes a little longer than the aforementioned fudge but the results are definitely worth it as you can see from the picture. My only disappointment with the outcome – the truffles were a little softer than I had hoped for. I used 51% dark chocolate and followed the recipe religiously so I’m not sure what happened. The guys in work didn’t seem to mind and all that was left in the tin after 15 minutes was a dusting of cocoa powder! Despite their soft appearance they didn’t have time to collapse!

An attempt at Chestnut Truffle

An attempt at Chestnut Truffles

I will definitely be making both again, especially the truffles but I do want to get them firmer next time and when I do they’ll make great birthday presents.

The book itself is full of exciting recipes and comes complete with end product pictures to help guide you to what they should look like – always a help! I’ll be attempting the famous Sacher Torte and the Pistachio and Chocolate Shortbread next, both very different but both equally chocolatey – should keep the hunger at bay in work! Now on to the two recipes featured in this article.

Chestnut Truffles

Takes 2 hours – Makes 50

200g (7oz) dark chocolate, broken into small, even-sized pieces
100g (3½oz) chestnut purée
200g (7oz) double cream
75g (2¾oz) unrefined light brown sugar
25g (1oz) cocoa powder

Chestnut truffles by Joanne & Fran!

Chestnut truffles by Joanne & Fran!

Line a baking tray approximately 20cm x 16cm (8in x 6¼in) with parchment. Melt the chocolate, chestnut purée, cream and sugar in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and mix until evenly blended. Place in the fridge until firmly set (at least 1 hour).

When set, use a teaspoon to scoop out evenly sized balls and roll them between your palms one at a time. Put the cocoa in a shallow bowl and toss each truffle in the powder. Repeat until all are coated. Store in an airtight container  in the fridge for up to 1 week (assuming that you can resist them for that long).

Dark Chocolate Fudge Squares

Takes 1 1/2 hours – Makes 50

400g dark or milk chocolate, broken into small, even-sized pieces
25g butter
397g condensed milk
100g icing sugar
30g cocoa powder, sifted

Dark Chocolate Fudge by Joanne & Fran

Dark Chocolate Fudge by Joanne & Fran

Line a 20cm square, shallow tin with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie. In a non stick saucepan, melt the butter and gently warm the condensed milk, then add the melted chocolate and mix until smooth. Beat the icing sugar until blended and smooth.

[It’s at this point you can add chopped nuts or any flavouring you want to add – I suggest 55g of mixed nuts or 1tsp of flavouring. Orange and Peppermint work very well with the dark chocolate]

Put the mixture into the prepared tin, spread evenly into the corners, smooth over the top and place in the fridge to set for at least an hour. Remove and cut into small squares and dust with cocoa.

Happy Baking

Both recipes taken from The Little Book of Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde. The book is priced at £12.99 at published by Transworld Books. Both Joanne and Fran are on twitter so go ahead and follow them both! Magnifique!!

Posted in Baking, Books, Chocolate, cooking, Fudge, Truffles Tagged , , , , ,

Killing for Keeps by Mari Hannah – Book Review

Killing for Keeps

Killing for Keeps

Two brothers from the same criminal family die within hours of each other, five miles apart, one on the edge of a Newcastle industrial estate, the other in a busy A & E department of a local hospital, unseen by the triage team. Both victims have suffered horrific injuries. Who wanted them dead? Will they kill again? Investigating these brutal and bloody killings leads DCI Kate Daniels to break some rules, putting her career as well as her life on the line.

As the body count rises in the worst torture case Northumbria Police has ever seen, the focus of the enquiry switches, first to Glasgow and then to Europe ending in a confrontation with a dangerous offender hell-bent on revenge. 

I’d intended reading Mari Hannah’s latest book – Killing for Keeps – in November last year and despite all the very best intentions from yours truly it has remained gathering dust on the bookshelf. I was reminded subliminally to pick it up in December when the Geordie penguin – John Lewis spoof – video was doing the rounds “I’m blind Dec, I’m blind” but it wasn’t until I had a few moments peace this week that I succeeded in not only wiping off said dust but actually reading it! It’s hard to believe that this is the fifth instalment in the DCI Kate Daniels series, where has the time gone?

I read – and loved – Mari’s debut thriller The Murder Wall but haven’t had the opportunity to read any since her explosive introduction to the literary world of gritty crime writing and police procedurals. Having read this latest adventure I wish I had, it appears I’ve missed a lot of water under the bridge!

The beginning to this story is incredibly dark and bloody, it took my breath away in parts and I guarantee you’ll be counting your digits after the opening salvos. This is what Mari does best, she sucks the reader in and allows your imagination to run riot. Graphic in parts, brutal in others, the narrative affords an expeditious read, one that is both swift and intelligent. There’s never a dull moment and one chapter seamlessly morphs into the next.

Both characterisation and plot are well thought out as are the policing aspects of the story as you would expect, written with confidence and strength this transfers to the reader effortlessly and you are left with a bloody good and entertaining read.

Talking of characterisation, for me Kate isn’t in a particularly confident place, she questions herself, is uncertain on numerous occasions and is definitely fallible but it’s this fallibility and hesitation that makes her so realistic and likeable. Another assured book by crime’s Queen of the North.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Macmillan (4 Dec. 2014)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:144724611X
  • ISBN-13:978-1447246114

Posted in book reviews, Books, Crime, Fiction Tagged , , ,