January was a busy month, what with editing OLD DOGS and doing the programming for Crimefest, so I didn't get as much read as I would have liked. But here's what I did read.
THE OSSIANS - Doug Johnstone
Protagonist: Connor Alexander
Series?: I presume it's a standalone
First Lines: '"Connor, I don't know why I let you drag me to the stupidest places."'
Indie guitar band The Ossians are on the verge of signing a major record deal and their lead singer Connor decides that now would be a good time to tour Scotland, going to some of the dreariest, bleakest places - in winter. Connor - self-destructive and full of himself - spends most of the tour drunk or high on a cocktail of drugs. But this is definitely not what you would typically consider a rock and roll lifestyle with its series of tedious gigs in seedy venues. And, unlike most tours (I would hope!) the tension mounts with drug dealers, stalkers and gun-toting Russian sub-mariners. I didn't like Connor at all - he's got a chip on his shoulder the size of a bag of King Edwards - but I really loved reading about him and wanted to know what would happen to him. Connor has led a pampered, rather empty, middle-class life and the tour seems to be a search for the holy grail of his own identity, as well as that of Scotland. A thought-provoking and fascinating read. And really good fun. I will definitely be looking out for more from this author.
BURIAL - Neil Cross
First Lines: 'The doorbell rang. Nathan had a feeling - but he dismissed it, muted the TV and went to the door. There stood Bob; hunched over, grinning in the darkness and rain. Saying: "Hello, mate."'
Nathan is happily living his life when someone he would rather forget turns up to tell him that they're digging up the woods. You know then that Nathan has a secret. And a big one it is too. Jump back ten years or so and Nathan is working in an unfulfilling job on a late night talk show hosted by a has-been. He's also in an unfulfilling relationship which is on its last legs. So he decides to take his girlfriend to the annual party put on by his boss, before he dumps her. There he meets Bob - a weird guy he met once a few years before and things get out of hand in a particularly nasty way. The description of the crime is brutal and uncompromising and the book is a chilling and unsettling look at guilt, torment and restitution in a tortured mind.
RUSO AND THE DISAPPEARING DANCING GIRLS - R S Downie
Setting: Britannia, AD117
Protagonist: Gaius Petreius Ruso
Series?: 1st in series
First Lines: 'Someone had washed the mud off the body, but as Gaius Petrieus Ruso unwrapped the sheet there was still a distinct smell of river.'
Ruso is an army medic with the Roman army in Britain. His family has huge debts, he has problems with his new hospital administrator, he's somehow managed to buy an injured slave girl, his house is full of mice and puppies, and someone is going around murdering dancing girls from a local house of ill repute. This is not my usual dark and twisted fare, but I really enjoyed it. The cast of characters is interesting and well-drawn, there are some lovely touches of humour, and I loved the historical details which are seamlessly included and don't feel like a history lesson. The setting is really well done and I am really glad I was leading a book discussion on this one, or I might not have picked it up.
THE CORONER - M R Hall
Protagonist: Jenny Cooper
Series?: maybe 1st in a series
First Lines: 'The first dead body Jenny ever saw was her grandfather's.'
Jenny Cooper is a lawyer getting over a traumatic divorce and wanting a break from family law, so she takes a job as Coroner after the death of the previous incumbent. Her predecessor's most recent cases were a 14 year old boy whose death was ruled as suicide while in custody in a secure training centre, and the apparent heroin overdose of a 15 year old girl. Jenny's curiosity is piqued by certain circumstances surrounding the two deaths, and she also becomes unconvinced that her predecessor died of natural causes. Jenny has her problems (including eating Temazepam like Smarties) and for the first half of the book things felt a tad slow, with too much dwelling on her personal circumstances, but things heat up in the second half, and the thoughtful depiction of a system overburdened with bureaucracy and corruption was interesting.