HOLIDAY READING: C. J. CARVER, SARAH BARRIE AND JUAN GOMEZ-JURADO
After some good books to read over the forthcoming holiday period? Well here are three highly entertaining reads for the beach or pool this Australian summer.
C. J. Carver is in good form with her latest novel, A Treachery Of Friends (Bloodhound Books, 12 December 2023).
I have long been an admirer of Caroline’s books, particularly The Snow Thief and Over Your Shoulder, and was very pleased to get a copy of her latest book.
A Treachery Of Friends opens with a late night phone call drawing Sidney Scott back into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her father fourteen years ago. A man has been found dead alongside a road in Gloucestershire. Inside his clothing is a postcard from Sid’s father dated the day he disappeared. Desperate to find out the secret about her father’s disappearance, and his connection to the dead man, Sid embarks on her own investigation that leads to her father’s old friends from university. One is the head of a religious cult. The other is an ambitious politician. And both have secrets they want to stay buried, secrets that Sid will have to uncover before a killer strikes again.
A Treachery Of Friends is a fast moving and engaging thriller that goes down some unexpected paths, as Sid narrows in on what happened to her father. The political elements of the book will probably resonant more with British readers than those elsewhere, although there is an universal truth to Caroline’s predictions. Regardless, Caroline keeps the interest level high and there are some genuine shocks as the book twists its way to the final bloody outcome.
Sid is a well sketched and interesting character, who has more than her share of flaws, but is also a kind-hearted and determined young woman. Her job as a researcher and debunker of paranormal scams gives good texture to the story and adds some interesting asides. There is also considerable poignancy in Carver’s portrayal of the children caught up in the conspiracy at the core of the story.
In all, A Treachery Of Friends is a very entertaining crime thriller that casts a sharp light on how easy it is to subvert democracy and bring about worrying change.
Here are some links to my reviews of other books by C. J. Carver: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/more-criminally-good-isolation-reads-some-recent-reading-during-lockdown/; https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/holiday-reading-c-j-carvers-over-your-shoulder-and-others/; https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/april-crime-reading-new-books-by-joshilyn-jackson-c-j-carver-and-david-mark/
Vendetta (HQ, 15 November 2023) is the third book in Australian author Sarah Barrie’s series about former vigilante turned cop Lexi Winter.
Vendetta finds the Jack Daniels drinking Lexi trying to move past her previous life as a prostitute and full time vigilante, and settling into her role as a police officer. But when old friends invoke the wrath of a local motorcycle club, the same club Lexi herself used to work for, she races to help them the only way she can: undercover.
If Lexi is to save a child’s life, she is going to have to go back to the life she thought she had outrun. Back to the person she used to be. But her timing isn’t great. Former club president Arthur Cronin has finished his long prison sentence and is out for revenge for the death of his wife and child. As he launches a series of bomb attacks on the club members who set him up, and the cops who took him down, Lexi is caught in the middle.
Vendetta continues the dark tones of the first two books in the series and is a briskly paced tale that takes little time in setting up the basic thrust of the story. Some quick twists and a smattering of action keeps the book moving along at a good rate, and Lexi’s dry observations help to flesh out the story.
Themes about the dangers and trauma of predatory behaviour and abuse again fuel the storyline, and there are good descriptions of the various characters.
Fans of the earlier books in the series will again enjoy this one.
I am very late getting to Red Queen (Macmillan, 14 March 2023) by Juan Gomez-Jurado, but I am glad that I did.
Juan Gomez-Jurado is one of Spain’s most successful contemporary authors and his books sell in the millions. He has written a number of thrillers, including the controversial God’s Spy, and has now embarked on an intriguing new series.
Red Queen is the first in a series about detective extraordinaire Antonia Scott. It was originally released in Spain in 2018, but only translated into English in 2023. The English version of the second book in the series, Black Wolf will be released in March 2024. A Spanish television series based on the book is also apparently available on Prime.
Red Queen is a fast paced and totally engrossing thriller that revolves around a fascinating character in the form of Antonia Scott. Antonia is the daughter of a British diplomat and a Spanish mother, and has a legendary ability to reconstruct crimes and solve baffling murders. After a personal trauma, however, she has been holed up in her apartment, refusing to continue her work and rebuffing human contact. Meanwhile, Jon Gutierrez, disgraced police officer in Bilbao, is offered a chance to salvage his career by a secretive government organization that works in the shadows. All he has to do is to convince a recalcitrant Antonia to come out of her self-imposed retirement, and help her investigate a new, terrifying case.
The case starts out as a macabre, ritualistic murder, involving a teen-aged boy from a wealthy family whose body was found without a drop of blood left in it, but it soon expands to include the kidnapping of the daughter of one of the richest men in Spain.
I am not usually a fan of novels featuring super smart detectives, but Red Queen really drew me in and kept me happily engaged all the way to the end. Antonia is a captivating character, especially as the truth about her background and her intelligence is revealed, and Gutierrez is a good support act, who has his own problems and hang-ups. The other characters are also well done, especially the kidnapped girl, Carla.
The story is full of interest and it proceeds at a snappy pace. The Spanish setting adds a nice point of difference to other crime novels and the ending is exciting and gripping.
It is too late for lists of favourite crime novels, but if I had read Red Queen earlier, I think it would have been on my Best of 2023 list. Can’t wait for Black Wolf!