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

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 - 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
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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

On February 2, 2015, in Baking, Books, Cakes, cooking, recipe, Recipes, by Milo

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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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!!

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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
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The Boy Who BakesNow who doesn’t enjoy a good apple crumble, especially with the wind howling outside and the rain lashing down against the window frame, the cold nipping at the toes – wait that sounds far too much like Christmas, we’re in January now, Christmas is but a distant memory! I digress! Continuing my series of recipes and cookery reviews I decided to take a look at a book that was first published in 2011 – The Boy Who Bakes – by Edd Kimber, winner of the very first series of The Great British Bake Off on BBC Two and now on BBC One.

There are so many delicious recipes in the book- Red Velvet Cakes, Rose and Raspberry Macarons, Nutella and Banana bites to name but three – but I fancied something that had a hint of Christmas (the cinnamon) and the warmth of winter, there could only be one dish for me – apple crumble with a little vanilla custard, roper custard not the powdered stuff!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Incredibly easy to make and even more satisfying to eat, the instructions are easy to follow accompanied by a helpful image depicting how the dish should look like when finished. There’s nothing more annoying than sifting – apologies for the pun – through a cookery book, coming across a recipe you’d love to try and no picture. For most people this is the first thing they look at, it’s what engages the brain, fortunately this book includes a picture with every dish. That said it’s not required in this instance as most of us know what an apple crumble should vaguely resemble if all goes to plan!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

There were a couple of things that I noticed with the recipe, and this could be oven based but baking at 180C Fan I had to cook for close on 30 minutes not the 20-25. Every oven will be different so just keep an eye on it while it’s cooking. The recipe also calls for cinnamon and sugar to be evenly distributed on the apple chunks, I combined the sugar and cinnamon in a regular drinking glass, mixed the contents with a spoon and once satisfied sprinkled over the apples, shaking and mixing the bowl as I went.  I actually used a large baking bowl for the mix to make it more manageable but combining the cinnamon and sugar beforehand certainly made it easier to spread evenly.

Full of personality, gorgeous pictures and moreish recipes, the book is a great addition to the bookshelf.

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble  -This is how it should look!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble – This is how it should look!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Instructions

Put the flour in a medium bowl with the sugar, oats and salt and mix to combine. Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips or a pastry blender until evenly distributed. Gather the crumble mixture into one solid mass and wrap in Clingfilm. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C (180c Fan oven) or gas mark 6. Peel, core and chop the apples into chunks. Toss together with the sugar and cinnamon, coating evenly, and divide equally among four individual ovenproof dishes.

Remove the crumble from the fridge and break it up into irregular chunks with your fingers. Divide it among the four dishes. Bake the crumbles for 20-25 minutes or until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Ingredients

 

For The Crumble

200 grams plain flour

150 grams caster sugar

90 grams porridge oats

Pinch of salt

175 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

 

For The Filling

1kg bramley apples

50 grams caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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I was sitting around the house just before Christmas trying to come up with a plan of action for all the baking that had to be done both for the house and for presents. I decided to make something a little festive for some friends, something I hadn’t attempted before – what I call my seasonal Christmas & winter flapjacks!

Incredibly simple to make, something the kids can do with parental supervision, they are incredibly tasty and as soon as you smell the flapjacks it’s impossible not to think of Christmas! Be careful not to over bake the flapjacks or they’ll turn out rock hard – unless you like them that way – but these will last a good number of days and you may find that they taste even better two days down the road! Great with a cuppa or a hot chocolate!

Seasonal Christmas & Winter Flapjacks

Seasonal Christmas & Winter Flapjacks

Spices – I did experiment here, they are incredibly powerful so you may want to cut down on the volume, perhaps cutting down to ¼ tsp each – depends how Christmassy you want them!

Chocolate – experiment by drizzling white and dark chocolate and if you want to coat the flapjacks entirely with chocolate then you’ll need at least 300-400 grams of chocolate to do that. Happy baking!

 

Ingredients

6oz Butter

8oz Soft Light Brown Sugar

3tbsp Golden Syrup

8oz Rolled Oats (Porridge)

1 ½ oz Desiccated Coconut

100grams Dark Chocolate

½ tsp Cloves

½ tsp Mixed Spice

 

Preheat the oven to 180C -160C Fan – 350F – Gas Mark 4

Lightly oil or cover a baking sheet, one with a loose bottom works well but not important.

Place butter, syrup and sugar in a pan over low heat until the butter melts.

Remove from heat and add the oats and coconut, mix well until the ingredients have combined.

Spoon evenly into the prepared tin and press down well.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes, watch so that it doesn’t overcook and it has a nice golden brown colour.

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Happy New Year one and all, hope 2015 brings you peace, happiness and prosperity and if it doesn’t, I hope it brings you an enormous amount of cakes and good books to read! Over the last year or so I’ve been experimenting with cooking, that’s baking and regular cooking, trying out new recipes and attempting not to poison anyone in the process – well, not unless it was intentional! 

This is how it turned out!

This is how it turned out!

I’ve started collecting recipe books and kitchen utensils and thoroughly enjoying the process, even if my pocket is screaming out to me to stop with the purchases! I came across the following recipe by Mary Berry just before Christmas and as I’m not a great lover of Christmas pudding I decided to make this for the family to enjoy Christmas Day – no pressure then!

Pleased with how it turned out, quite festive!

Pleased with how it turned out, quite festive!

Following the recipe religiously everything went smoothly and the cake turned out much better than expected. One issue I did have with the instructions however was with the boiling water and cocoa powder at the beginning. Try as I might I just couldn’t get a smooth paste but despite this the overall effect was the same. I just like things to be just so and do my best. I added the 3 tbsp of boiling water to the cocoa powder all at once and maybe that’s where I went wrong – maybe it would be better to add 1 tbsp at a time and mix?

This is how the Queen of cakes did it!

This is how the Queen of cakes did it!

The only deviation from the recipe for me was the brandy stage. I didn’t have any to hand as I’m not a big drinker so it was a “plain” chocolate cake! I’ve made the cake twice now, both huge successes, the second for a friend for her birthday and again it was a plain chocolate cake.

The cake has become a firm favourite in the Rambles household and next time I bake it I will experiment with Valencian oranges adding a touch of Spain to the chocolate cake. One thing I will mention when making the mousse, be careful not to rush it and fold the whipped cream into the melted chocolate ensuring all the chocolate has been introduced. I rushed the first cake!

Over the coming months I’m going to delve into the cooking books – old and new – and see how easy the recipes are to follow – especially for a novice chef! Any questions please ask!

 

Ingredients

For the chocolate cake

  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 100g/3½oz caster sugar
  • 100g/3½oz self-raising flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 100g/3½oz margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 tbsp brandy

For the mousse

  • 300g/11oz plain chocolate (no more than 40-50 per cent cocoa solids), broken into squares
  • 450ml/16fl oz whipping cream

To serve

  • 225g/8oz fresh raspberries and blueberries
  • double cream
  • icing sugar, for dusting

 

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease the tin with margarine and line the base and sides with baking paper. You need to line the tin right to the top even though the sponge will not fill it.
  2. For the chocolate cake, measure the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Pour over the boiling water and mix to a paste with a spatula. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and the eggs and margarine and beat until smooth using a hand-held mixer.
  3. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface with a palette knife. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake feels springy to the touch.
  4. While the cake is still hot, brush the brandy over the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
  5. Meanwhile, for the mousse, place the chocolate in a bowl and melt over a pan of gently simmering water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Stir continuously, taking care not to let the chocolate get too hot. Set aside to cool a little.
  6. Whip the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Carefully fold in the melted chocolate until smooth and not streaky.
  7. When the cake has cooled, and while it is still in the tin, spoon the chocolate mousse on top and level with a palette knife. Cover the cake tin with cling film and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours, and preferably overnight, until the mousse is firm.
  8. To serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and transfer it to a flat plate. Dust the top with cocoa powder, then pile the raspberries and blueberries into the centre. Finish with a light dusting of icing sugar. Cut into wedges and serve with pouring cream.
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The Escape - John Puller Series 3

The Escape – John Puller Series 3

Military CID investigator John Puller has returned from his latest case to learn that his brother, Robert, once a major in the United States Air Force and an expert in nuclear weaponry and cyber-security, has escaped from the Army’s most secure prison. Preliminary investigations show that Robert – convicted of treason – may have had help in his breakout. Now he’s on the run, and he’s the military’s number one target.

John Puller has a dilemma. Which comes first: loyalty to his country, or to his brother? Blood is thicker than water, but Robert has state secrets which certain people will kill for. John does not know for sure the true nature of Robert’s crimes, nor if he’s even guilty. It quickly becomes clear, however, that his brother’s responsibilities were powerful and far-reaching.

With the help of US intelligence officer Veronica Knox, both brothers move closer to the truth from their opposing directions. As the case begins to force John Puller into a place he thought he’d never be – on the other side of the law – even his skills as an investigator, and his strength as a warrior, might not be enough to save him. Or his brother.

I’ve always enjoyed reading David Baldacci’s novels holding both the author and the books in high regard but with The Escape, I think the author has cranked up the gears and delivered a highly polished and energetic thriller. It’s probably my favourite of his books and even though it serves as my introduction to John Puller not once did I feel a distance with him after missing his previous adventures. What it did do was peak my interest and I now want to read the two earlier Puller novels.

Sure there’s a backstory and history involved and although it would have probably made this book a more enjoyable one had I known more about Puller’s history it never detracted from what is a brilliant thriller.

With spellbinding characters – I didn’t want to put the book down once – and a narrative that is so typically Baldacci the book flows effortlessly from start to finish. Puller is a wonderful character and Baldacci really gives his protagonist the air time to suck the reader into his world. I felt for him, his brother and his father, something I hadn’t anticipated when I picked up the book. His nemesis is highly intelligent and is a very worthy opponent, the author doing a splendid job of making me dislike the character immensely!

With enough twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent of critic – seriously you never know what’s coming around the corner – and an emotionally charged ending, I admit to having a lump or two in my throat, this books satisfies on so many levels. Give it a go, you won’t be sorry and if this is the first time you’ve picked up a David Baldacci novel then one thing I can assure you, you’re in for a treat.

Wonderful writing, superb characters and  a plot that keeps on giving, The Escape is one book not to be missed in this or any other year! I can’t recommend this highly enough.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Macmillan (20 Nov 2014)
  • Language:Unknown
  • ISBN-10:1447225317
  • ISBN-13:978-1447225317
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 3.9 x 23.4 cm
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The Burning Room

The Burning Room

In the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die almost a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet ten years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually non-existent.

Now Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with solving what turns out to be a highly charged, politically sensitive case. Starting with the bullet that’s been lodged for years in the victim’s spine, they must pull new leads from years-old information, which soon reveals that this shooting may have been anything but random.

There’s very little to say about Michael Connelly or his protagonist Harry Bosch. Both are at the top of their game, however, in The Burning Room we are faced with a protagonist who is nearing the end of his career.

Teamed with a new partner in “Lucky” Lucy Soto, Harry has to tread carefully and avoid confrontation or risk his end of career pension. It’s a delicate balancing act but this doesn’t appear to stop our hero and slowly but surely Harry takes Soto under his wing and teaches her how to best approach cases, old and new.

One cold case blends into another and before they know it the two detectives are investigating two high profile cases, one of which has a personal and deeply emotional tie to Lucy Soto and one which will have political ramifications if solved.

The narrative is strong, compact and highly engaging and the characters are colourful and well thought out and with a multi layered plot the book is incredibly easy to read allowing for a rapid development throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and certainly hope that this isn’t the end of the Bosch series, he certainly deserves another outing!

With a final chapter that allows the reader to experience a range of emotions The Burning Room is a must read and deserves all the plaudits the book will inevitably receive.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Orion (6 Nov 2014)
  • ISBN-10:1409145514
  • ISBN-13:978-1409145516
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 3.6 x 24 cm
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Pop Goes the Weasel: Di Helen Grace 2

Pop Goes the Weasel: Di Helen Grace 2

A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Inspector Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…

A stimulating read, Pop Goes the Weasel allows the reader to immerse themselves in a high octane and thrilling game of cat and mouse as they experience DI Helen Grace’s efforts to catch a serial killer on the loose. Only time will tell if she can capture the perpetrator and keep her job as her boss, Detective Superintendent Ceri Harwood, exerts increasing pressure to solve the case and as the two ladies clash, all rules fly out the window.

I didn’t experience the immense publicity surrounding Arlidge’s first book, Eeny Meeny, and as such I felt slightly out of kilter with the back story but the author did a decent job of filling the gaps at the beginning of the book so as not to alienate new readers. I would have liked a little more information on Helen’s background and what she had experienced in her first adventure but it didn’t stop me from either making sense of the past or enjoy the present.

The narrative is told at break net speeds and the story is over before you know it, this is without doubt a very quick read. A complex plot full of the usual twists and turns you’d expect from a book in the crime genre, it did throw up a few red herrings that surprised me, I really enjoyed being taken for a ride! Brutal and horrific at times, the crimes will leave little to the imagination.

Characterisation is also good and I felt an affinity with DI Helen Grace from the outset, one that never wavered. A troubled woman who clearly has secrets and a dark past, Grace is not always in control of her emotions and is at times reckless but it’s this recklessness that make her so unpredictable and exciting. Her work colleagues add depth to the story but it’s her nemesis, Chief Crime reporter Emilia Garanita, that truly allowed me to experience a range of emotions I never anticipated. I can’t wait to see where this relationship takes us in the future!

Tense, explosive and thrilling Pop Goes to Weasel is a fantastic read.

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (11 Sep 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405914955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405914956
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Malice

Malice

Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he’s planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, in a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka’s best friend. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same high school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Osamu Nonoguchi left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka. But Kaga thinks something is a little bit off with Nonoguchi’s statement and investigates further, ultimately executing a search warrant on Nonoguchi’s apartment. There he finds evidence that shows that the two writers’ relationship was very different than the two claimed. Nonoguchi confesses to the murder, but that’s only the beginning of the story. In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the writer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. Which one of the two writers was ultimately guilty of malice?

Malice by Japanese author Keigo Higashino represents not only the first book that I’ve read by the author but also just happens to be one of my favourite books of the year. It’s an evocative read that puts the reader at ease from the opening pages until its dénouement where everything is tied up in a neat, unexpected and satisfying package.

Wonderfully translated from Japanese by Alexander O Smith and Elye Alexander the book is an effortless read. It’s as if the author sat down to write and in an hour had finished one of the most captivating reads I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. It’s such a comfortable read that I found it hard to imagine that this wasn’t originally written in English!

As you delve into the story you begin to take things at face value and then, slowly but surely, Keigo Higashino moves the goalposts and takes you, the reader, on a different path and you begin to question everything you thought was true in the beginning. The pace is spot on and as comfort begins to set in, the author starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the crimes both in present and in the past.

The story is narrated by Osamu Nonoguchi, friend of the deceased and fellow author and a detective and former teacher Kyochiro Kyaga, two very different approaches but both allowing the story to unfold and develop in their own unique way. I enjoyed both viewpoints but found Kaga’s reasoning and deductive skills superior to that of Nonoguchi’s storytelling. There was just something about Kaga that I found compelling but the way he discovered the hidden secrets and his dogged determination in solving the mystery was nothing short of superb.

If you are looking for crime fiction that is slightly unusual with wonderful storytelling, engaging characters and a simple crime that is anything but, then Malice is without question a must read. A game of cat and mouse from beginning to end, the book satisfies on multiple levels.

  • Format:Kindle Edition
  • File Size:645 KB
  • Print Length:288 pages
  • Publisher:Little, Brown Book Group (9 Oct 2014)
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