The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is very definitely different. Set in a version of Elizabethan England that has dystopian hints of the Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told by May Owens, who is the Sin Eater.

Sin Eaters hear the sins of others and then eat foods associated with each different sin, they carry those sins with them to the grave and relieve the sinner of the fear of dying and being cast into some form of hell with Eve rather than going to their Maker. It is a cruel world where the burden of being the city’s Sin Eater and a social outcast is imposed on women by the mail judges as a way of exercising power and revenge.

May discovers a plot to kill the Queen, a mystery about her own parentage and eventually realises her own agency and independence.

After a slightly slow start The Sin Eater is a compelling read well worth persevering with. I think this is Campisi’s first novel, I hope she writes more.

4/5

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks by Jonathan Pinnock is a quirky comedy mystery. It combines some psychopathic monks with a fascination for fractal mathematics with a hapless pair of heroes who seem to be immune to any of the ridiculous situations that they fond themselves encountering. They are all searching for a missing PhD thesis by a friend of the heroes, but really who cares?

I can’t think of a redeeming feature to this novel, apparently it is part of a series which I will avoid.

1/5

Crimson Lake

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox is set in a small town outside of Cairns in Northern Australia.

Ted Conkaffey is an ex police officer accused of abducting and assaulting a teenage girl, the prosecution was abandoned but he is never cleared of the crime that he denies. He moves to Crimson Lake in an attempt to restart his life. Amanda Pharrell runs a private investigations agency in Crimson Lake after her release from a 10 year sentence for the brutal murder of her friend. this unlikely pair of private detectives are trying to solve the mystery of a missing author while at the same time their personal back stories are unwinding.

This is a tense mystery thriller, right to the end you are uncertain of the guilt of the detectives or the fate of the author. Crimson Lake bowls along at a good pace, I liked the characters and the treatment of the alleged child abductor by the local vigilantes is thought provoking.

Well worth a read, there is a second novel planned with these characters which I will look out for.

4/5

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.

4.5/5

The Riddle of the Sands

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers is a mystery set at the start of the 20th Century, apparently it has become something of a cult novel amongst those fascinated by early spy novels. I haven’t been tempted to join the cult following despite the combination of a mystery with a novel set aboard a small yacht (I enjoy sailing as well as reading, reading whilst sailing on a fair day may be close to heaven).

I really can’t be bothered to try and describe the plot, upper class twits  in a yacht puzzled by some mysterious Germans who may or may not be plotting something. I suppose it describes the growing paranoia in the build up to the Great War. I found this slow paced, overly descriptive and not massively absorbing. I kept going with an expectation that I would ‘get it’ but just ended up breathing a sigh of relief at the end.

1.5/5 Don’t bother

The Body on the Doorstep

The Body on the Doorstep by AJ Mackenzie is an excellent historical mystery. Set in the Romney Marshes at the end of the 18th century the plot combines a murder, the local community of smugglers, the corrupt and dysfunctional customs services with the threat of a French invasion. Smugglers, spies and toss in a drunken vicar as a detective.

This is an enjoyable read, lots of interesting historical detail, engaging characters and plenty of twists to the plot. There is definitely potential for a series based on these characters and setting, I would like to read more.

4/5