The Last Paradise

The Last Paradise by Anthony Garrido starts out in depression New York in 1931. Jack Beilis desperately seeking work to feed himself and his father is forced (or tricked) into joining the workers seeking to make a new life for themselves and their families in Russia.

Stalin’s Russia is not the workers’ paradise that Jack and his fellow Americans were longing for – hunger, cold, exploitation and  political intrigue. At first Jack seems to be prospering at the expense of many of his compatriots but is his success just an illusion? There seems to be no way back to the US.

The Last Paradise moves at a good pace and had enough twists to keep me interested. The historical detail made me want to  read more about the period


Police at the station and they don’t look friendly

Police at the station and they don’t look friendly is the 6th in a series by Adrian McKinty. How could you resist a novel with a title like that? This was an Amazon “daily offer” which grabbed my attention (but why oh why if you want to get me hooked do you send me the 6th in the series rather than the 1st?).

Sean Duffy, the principal character, is a catholic detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary based in a staunchly protestant area during The Troubles. A drug dealer is found murdered by crossbow, soon after a similar attack. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Are one of the paramilitary groups responsible? It appears that someone wants to prevent Duffy from getting to the truth but inevitably he is determined to get his man even if they try to murder him as well (wouldn’t be much of a crime novel otherwise).

This is brilliant. It’s dark, gritty, full of twists, turns and surprises and has a nice touch of humour running through it, while providing a very convincing impression of the challenges facing the police in Northern Ireland in the 80’s. McKinty seems to be a real gem and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

4.5/5 (because almost nothing is perfect)

Blood Forest

Blood Forest is an intense and gory debut from Geraint Jones. Set in AD 9, Blood Forest follows a Roman legionnaire through the campaign to subdue the Germanic tribes of northern Europe. The hero, Felix, has forgotten (or hidden) his true name and origins providing a layer of mystery to the character.

This is heavy on action and gore but the plot is limited and the characters are underdeveloped (possibly because so many die off). The ending was disappointing with little of the plot resolved and leaving the surviving characters ‘up in the air’, everything is teed up for a follow on.

If you want an idea of what it was like to fight in the Roman army 2000 years ago then you might well enjoy this (I am not sure how historically accurate it is), I didn’t really care and just wanted it to finish as soon as possible – sort of the equivalent of watching a movie with your hands over your eyes and peeping through the cracks. I’ll pass on the next one.


Prussian Blue

I first discovered Philip Kerr on a visit to Partners & Crime bookstore in New York in 2007 (now closed unfortunately). A chat with one of the staff seeking some recommendations for new crime writers introduced me to Philip Kerr, I have been a fan of his Bernie Gunther series ever since. Gunther is a tough murder detective struggling to maintain his integrity, pursue criminals and steer through the political maze of Nazi Germany. Gunther is a great character that you return to in each novel with enthusiasm, Kerr also has a good eye for historical detail and the realities of surviving and/or flourishing under the Nazi regime.

Prussian Blue is the 12th in the series, each book stands alone and their is next to no dependency on having read it’s predecessors so you could jump in with Prussian Blue or start at the beginning with March Violets. Prussian Blue starts in 1956 with Gunther working in a hotel on the French Riviera trying to lead a quiet life, he becomes entwined in an operation ordered by Erich Mielke the head of the Stasi and things go downhill from there. The plot flits between 1956 and a case that Gunther had in 1939 just before the start of the war. It’s tense, atmospheric and at times quite humorous, well worth reading.


Written in Bones

Written in Bones by James Oswald is the seventh in the Inspector McLean series, somehow I read the first and then skipped to the seventh by mistake (I will have to go back and work my way through these as they are very good).

A body is found impaled on the top of a tree, how did it get there? Why was it placed there? As McLean teases out leads it becomes apparent that the case is in someway linked to the murky past of some of his senior officers who are keen to distance themselves from the investigation.

Oswald has been described as being in the style of Ian Rankin which is a somewhat simplistic comparison of another dark crime set in Edinburgh,  and McLean is certainly not yet as absorbing or well rounded a character as Rebus but if you like Rankin then this is well worth reading.


Die of Shame

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham is another one of those ‘closed room’ murder mysteries (a la Agatha Christie) where the focus is on a group of characters one of whom will turn out to be the murderer. One member of a therapy group of recovering addicts is murdered and the plot takes you through the back stories and interactions of all of the group and their therapist (another ex addict) leading up to and after the murder.

There are several blind alleys and some misdirection before you get to the end of the story and a nice twist or two but overall this is rather predictable and somewhat unsatisfying. By some quirk of fate this is the second Mark Billingham novel that I have read in the last few weeks, Rush of Blood was also a ‘closed room’ style novel – neither has been particularly enjoyable.

Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series have been great and stood the test of time as they get into their second decade, none of his one off’s have matched the quality of the Thorne series.



Conspiracy by SJ Parris is the fifth in her Giordano Bruno series.

Bruno is an Italian ex monk who has been excommunicated for heretical writings and for leaving holy orders, he finds himself in Elizabethan London engaged as a spy/detective by Francis Walsingham. In Conspiracy, Bruno has moved to Paris only to find himself embroiled in murder, rivalries between the supporters of King Henri, his mother Queen Catherine, the Duke of Guise, the Catholic League and the Huguenots.

This is a complex political murder mystery with several layers of deception, it feels as if it gives a good sense of the struggles of the time. If you enjoy the historical detective/spy genre (e.g. CJ Samson or SG MacLean) you should give Parris a try.


Rush of Blood

In Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham three British couples meet on holiday in Florida and are witnesses to the disappearance of a child from the resort. Rush of Blood is told thorough the back stories of the three couples and their interactions once they have returned home as the investigation unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic. Gradually you realise that one of the 6 was responsible for abducting the child.

Rush of Blood is challenging because all of the characters are unpleasant and yet at the same time you are aware that much of this is misdirection. I read this with a sense of fascination watching a train crash in slow motion and at the same time eager for it to be over. Mark Billingham is usually much better than this, if you have enjoyed his Tom Thorne series you may be disappointed by this stand alone novel


Kingdom of Twilight

Kingdom of Twilight by Steven Uhly is a massive novel that starts with the assassination of a young SS officer in Poland and traces the consequences for the various participants over the next 4 decades, ranging from Poland to Germany to Israel.

When I started this I thought that it was unbearably grim and looking down at the corner of my Kindle I saw that I had over 10 hours of reading ahead of me. I almost gave up, I’m so glad that I didn’t. Instead I dug in and read the whole thing in 2 or 3 big sessions over a weekend, it is mesmerising.

I thought I knew a fair bit about the challenges that holocaust survivors faced after the war but Kingdom of Twilight opened my eyes to how much the survivors suffered again in their efforts to find resettlement and new lives outside of Germany. Uhly is a German author and this is not a Nazi bashing novel, it is a story of how far people will go to to survive, the challenges of facing the past and the extent to which those in power will elevate pragmatism and politics over humanity. In the end it is a wonderfully uplifting book which I could not have predicted when I started.

I know my European Jewish background makes me slightly biased but I thought this was a fantastic read, thought provoking, tense and mysterious.

This is a must read and the first time in ages that I have wanted to give a novel 5/5!

Spook Street

Spook Street is the fourth in the Slough House (or Slow Horses) series by Mick Herron. Slough House is the dumping ground for Secret Service employees who have seriously failed on the job but cannot be sacked, the bunch of misfits and discontents are plagued with mind numbing tasks and tormented by their boss Jackson Lamb in an endeavour to get them to take early retirement. You never get to find out what Lamb did to get sent to Slow House but he clearly carries some punch with the top level of the Service that keeps him in his job and protects his staff.

The novel starts with an ageing retired spy who is suffering from the onset of dementia, an attempt on his life that brings into question how the Service would deal with a spy who became a potential risk, a suicide bomber in a shopping centre and the murder of one of the Slow Horses. Spook Street combines a very contemporary plot with lots of allusions to current politics and security concerns with a cover up within the Service of a misjudged and out of control operation that dates back nearly 30 years and inevitably lots of ‘office’ politics.

If you want to give the Slough House series a try I encourage you to start at the beginning with Slow Horses followed by Dead Lions and Real Tigers, then read Spook Street

Mick Herron is writing some of the best modern spy thrillers in the UK. Gripping, clever, unsettling, highly believable and drily humorous. I can’t recommend him enough.