Chris Carter’s Robert Hunter Novels #1-3

Whenever I see the name Chris Carter I immediately think of the X-Files but this Chris Carter is not the creator of the Truth is Out There, but the author of several (I haven’t gone to look at exactly how many) crime novels featuring his homicide detective and all-round whizz-kid Robert Hunter.

Hunter’s expertise is such that he gets all the really weird and gruesome murders that are almost always carried out by serial killers.

Earlier in the summer, I read the first three novels in the series, which are:

The Crucifix Killer – the body of a young woman is found in an abandoned cottage; tattoo on her neck is the signature of said Crucifix Killer but surely it can’t be him because he was caught, convicted and executed. More deaths follow. Did Hunter get the wrong man?

The Executioner – the body of a priest is found in his church on the altar steps, grotesquely mutilated and with the number 3 written on his chest in blood. More deaths follow, all numbered. What links the victims and who knows what they fear the most?

The Night Stalker – a woman has been abducted and murdered in a deeply gruesome way. More deaths follow. What links the victims and why are they being killed like this?

First things first, I really enjoyed these novels. The style, which is very straightforward and almost journalistic, is reminiscent of two other favourites writing in the genre – Richard Montanari and Chelsea Cain, both of whom I love.

The key to whether you’ll enjoy these books, assuming you are willing to accept without flinching the descriptions of murder and mutilation, is whether you like Robert Hunter or not. He has a very specific set of characteristics:

  • he is super-intelligent, a child prodigy who raced through school and college and whose unpublished thesis is, of course, required reading by those in the field
  • he is damaged – of course he is – for him it takes the form of insomnia
  • he self-medicates with single malt whisky so he gets extra points from me for that 😀
  • he is extremely good looking, and every woman he comes into contact with flirts with him
  • he is empathetic
  • he is attracted to strong women but these relationships do not end well, usually for the woman but just as often for him
  • people around him often get hurt; it is risky being his colleague
  • is there anything he doesn’t know and did he really learn it all from books?

At the moment I like him, and also the author’s style with one exception – his tendency to be overly specific about cars; I will definitely be reading the whole series.

Sunday Salon | September round-up

A quiet but solid reading month. Here are the stats:

The Reader by Marie Fontain Latour

Books read = 5

Number of pages = 2096

I have read 56 out of 60 books so I’m tantalisingly close to my goal for 2020 (and in fact as I’m writing this I’ve actually hit 57 which is 95%)

I bought quite a few books in the second half of September so I will be posting a book haul in the next couple of days.

October pre-orders (titles only and not including four that I’ve already received and will be in the book haul post referenced above!)

  • Ruby by Nina Allan
  • Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom
  • The Silence by Don DeLillo
  • Over the Woodward Wall by A Deborah Baker – this is the book within the book from Middlegame
  • The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by VE Schwab
  • The Tindalos Asset by Caitlin R Kiernan
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Chris Riddell – an actual, physical book!
  • Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

Hope you have a great reading week – see you in my next post!

Madame Victoria

In 2001 the skeleton of a woman was found in woodland at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. The hospital checked all of its patient records, DNA tests were carried out and forensic specialists built a reconstruction of her face to be used in public appeals. Despite all of this, the woman has never been identified, and her remains were put into storage, labelled Madame Victoria.

The investigation has stalled. The case has been assigned to a forensic anthropologist and crime novel celebrity*, who runs new tests on the skeleton and finds that Madame Victoria was a Caucasian woman of about fifty suffering from osteoporosis and arthritis-ridden joints but showing no signs of a violent death.

Catherine Leroux has written twelve stories, each of which imagines a different route to the eventual death of Madame Victoria in the woods. She has said in interviews that she was inspired less by the fact that the woman was found, but by the great efforts that the authorities took to identify her. She has said that she intended each chapter as a tribute, and she never forgot that this was a person who actually existed. And that she hopes Madame Victoria is eventually identified.

I enjoyed this book very much. In any selection of stories there some stronger than others, and this is no exception, though I felt that most of the tales here tended to the strong side.

I think it works as a concept because each of the stories is very different – Leroux has tried several genres including historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi. Some common elements and references pop up in several of the stories but it’s very subtly done and I only really picked it up in the later ones. I wonder if I read it again whether I would find more?

In an interview about the book in the Montreal Gazette, Leroux said that in writing about a completely anonymous woman she found herself examining how women “were, and are, erased, in so many ways.”

This was a read for Twenty Books of Summer, and I highly recommend it if you want to try something a bit different, or you are looking for works by women in translation. Or, you know, both.

*Note – I’m assuming this is a reference to Kathy Reichs

Scary Sequels. More or Less.

Earlier this year I watched a couple of scary kind-of movies. Or more accurately, kind-of scary, because without a doubt they were movies 🙂

Anyway, I enjoyed them both and thought I would watch their sequels. Alone as per usual.

First up was Unfriended: Dark Web, directed by Stephen Susco, made in 2018 and rated 15 for strong threat, violence and language.

A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him but will also do anything to get it back

A similar set up to its predecessor, I think this is actually the slightly better film, albeit that it lacks the supernatural elements. The horror is very much about the helplessness in watching your friends being targetted because of something you’ve done – in this case, it becomes clear that our teen protagonist may have come by this laptop by seeing it unattended in a coffee shop and just walking off with it. As with the original Unfriended, there are times when I found myself yelling at people not to do things, but it wouldn’t be a horror film if people were sensible, would it?

Then there is Creep 2, which is a proper sequel to a film which I really loved when I watched it a few months ago. This is just as good. Trust me.

A video artist looking for work drives to a remote in the forest to meet a man claiming to be a serial killer. But after agreeing to spend the day with him, she soon realises that she made a deadly mistake.

I don’t want to give to much away about this film except that it is equally as unsettling as the original Creep, with the same lead actor (Mark Duplass who is super), the same director (Patrick Brice) and I would recommend that you watch them in sequence because Creep 2 refers directly back to the first one.

That was a bit of a rambling paragraph but hopefully you’ll get the gist of what I’m trying to say.

So basically, fun films but not, IMHO, all that frightening. Creepy, yes, but not frightening. YMMV.

True Crime Reading List

When I hit a fiction slump I turn to true crime to unblock my reading brain. There’s been a lot of that over the past few months so I thought I’d share my recent reading list.

Murder on Easey Street by Helen Thomas

Melbourne’s most notorious cold case

In 1977 two young women sharing a home in a suburb of Melbourne were brutally killed while the baby of one of the women was sleeping in his room. The author was a junior reporter at the time and was involved in covering the case, and has gone back to look at the evidence again. There are lots of contradictions, neighbours whom the police didn’t ever interview, and so many questions. Was it a random attack? If not, which of the women was the target, or was it both of them? Why was the killer never caught? Particularly interesting in looking at how the Australian police tended to operate at the time.

Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes

Kerry is a forensic psychologist, trying to understand why people convicted of crimes behave the way they do. She appears on TV in the Uk fairly often in true crime documentaries and has real insight into the cases she discusses. The book is partly an explanation of the purpose of forensic psychology and how the work is carried out, but more importantly, it’s a memoir of what it’s like to be a woman working in this field.

Memorable quotes:

Paul was in the approximately 10 per cent of all victims who are men killed by the women in their life. Just 1 per cent of victims are women killed by other women. Research also tells us over and over that when men kill their female partners or ex-partners, it usually follows months or years of them abusing her. On the other hand, when women kill their husbands or exes, it’s usually after months or years of having been abused by the man they have killed.

UK criminologists estimate that a maximum of four serial killers are operating in this country at any given time (which is fairly good news or utterly terrifying, depending on your point of view).

Misogyny – an ingrained prejudice against and contempt for women and girls – is one of the few human conditions that hasn’t yet been declared a mental illness. Probably because, if it were, it would be a pandemic.

The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown

50 years ago a serial killer was active in London, Ontario, abducting, raping and murdering young women and boys. Focussing on the unsolved case of a young woman called Jackie English, the author considers who may have committed those crimes. Was it one person? And if so, could he still be alive and capable of being identified through familial DNA similar to the Golden State Killer?

Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller

At the end of 1999 in rural Oklahoma, two girls, Ashley & Lauria, were having a sleepover. By the next morning, Ashley’s parents had been murdered, their trailer home on fire and the girls were missing. What was behind all of this? Ashley’s brother had been shot by police and there was bad blood between the Sherriff’s office and the family as a result. There were strong rumours of police corruption. There was significant drug use in the area, particularly crystal meth, which through up some potential suspects. The case went cold until 2018 when some arrests were made. Jax Miller has written a powerful book in which her experiences investigating this crime are just as important as the crime itself.

More Friday Night Movies

The Vast of Night

We are in New Mexico towards the end of the 1950s, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Most of the town is off watching the local high school taking part in a basketball game, but over the course of the night Fay, a young woman working on the town switchboard, and local DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency and decide to investigate.

Among other things they find out that there have been suspicions goings-on over their town for some time, though nobody really noticed (or if they did they decided not to / were warned off from reporting it). Also, in response to a request for any information from listeners, a caller to the radio station at which Everett works makes it clear that the US government has been using African American soldiers to work on Top Secret Stuff because if they ever talked about, no-one would believe them. Fay & Everett end up involved in something they could not have imagined.

I knew nothing about this film before it came out, but I’m really glad I watched it. There is a real low budget Twilight Zone/Outer Limits vibe to it that is lots of fun, and although it’s undoubtedly low budget, the first time director has made a clever and enjoyable sci-f thriller.

Dazzling details: directed by Andrew Paterson, Vast of Night is 1h 29 long and rated 12 for infrequent strong language and brief moderate threat.


Motherless Brooklyn

Also set in the 1950s but this time in New York, where Edward Norton is a private eye, a proper gumshoe type, who is afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome and finds himself investigating the murder of his boss, mentor and friend. Cue political shenanigans, wheels within wheels, stabs in the back and a resolution which is more or less satisfying.

Although it has an excellent supporting cast, the film lives or dies by what you think of Norton’s performance. In other hands the portrayal of Tourette’s could be very gimmicky, but I think he manages to toe the line between showing what living with the condition can be like and causing offence.

I thought it was well done; nothing groundbreaking but good and solid.

Dazzling details: directed by its star, Motherless Brooklyn was based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem, is 2h 24 long and rated 15 for strong language, violence and drug misuse.

NB: Drug misuse is an interesting phrase. I know they mean drug use, but it gives the impression that the certification board is looking at what’s happening on screen and thinking to themselves that everyone’s doing it wrong……


The Old Guard

A different take on the superhero movie, based on a series of comics and reportedly sticking closely to the original material, which pleases me.

So, we have a team of near-immortals, led by Andy (Charlize Theron) who has just about had enough. Although not stated explicitly, it looks like she has been around since at least Ancient Greece so she is understandably tired of all of the violence, plus it looks like her team is about to be discovered and for the first time in ages a new immortal has popped up.

Cue a story of redemption (not sure if that’s the right word but it will do), finding your place when your whole world has been turned upside down, the impact of living ostensibly forever and watching all of those you love die, and reinforcing that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I really enjoyed this. The fight scenes are really excellently done, it’s a female director, Action Charlize is as always the best Charlize, and it doesn’t try to explain how or why these people are the way they are (or why their condition stops when it does), we are just asked to accept it.

They are a heroic bunch, but it takes almost being destroyed to show them the good that they have done hidden underneath all of the destruction.

Also, I knew that Dursley boy was going to turn out to be no good 😀

Really enjoyable and I hope they make more.

Dazzling details: directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is 2h 5m long and rated 15 for violence and language

20 Books Report Card | 1-3

Quick thoughts on the first three books I read in this summer’s challenge.

These go way back to June, and I’m not even sorry.

The Deep by Nick Cutter

So, a plague (similar to dementia I think) is destroying the world’s population – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? – but a potential “miracle cure” might have been found in the deep ocean. Hence the title. Our hero – OK, so I’ve forgotten his name and I’m too lazy to look it up – anyway, our hero’s brother is one of the scientists in an ocean floor base studying what has become known as ambrosia. Contact with the base has been lost, because of course it has, but the last message received was from the brother asking for Our Hero. This is strange because they don’t get on at all (again, of course they don’t) and Hero is reluctant to go but does so, and heads down to the base with Kickass Female Sidekick to find out what’s going on. Of course it does not go well.

I’m kind of making fun of the tropes here, but this is a well-written horror novel with a creepy colour out of space vibe, using the feeling of being trapped and afraid of whatever is around the next corner for its scares, although there is still a solid amount of gruesomeness for us horror fans.


Transcription by Kate Atkinson

It is 1940 and Juliet Armstrong (I paid attention to names in this one, aren’t you proud of me?) is 17 years old when she is recruited by MI5 to assist with the war effort. She is assigned to a team responsible for monitoring what British Fascist sympathisers are up to but the work is fairly boring – she is manually transcribing the conversations an undercover agent is having with said sympathisers in the flat next door. She then gets the opportunity to go undercover herself, which leads to a series of events which deeply affect her. Leap ahead to 1950 and Juliet is a radio producer at the BBC when she spots a figure from her spy days who clearly and deliberately fails to recognise her, and she starts to investigate, shedding light on her past.

I loved this book. It is so good, beautifully written with a wonderful nested structure and I spent my time alternating between marking up (far too many) passages which I had enjoyed and speculating on the real-life counterparts for some of the characters. An unexpected revelation towards the end of the book tickled me greatly, but I know some readers have found that difficult to accept. I thought it made a lot of sense, personally.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and I would highly recommend it.


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines and no more time for undead nonsense.

The Lady of the Ninth House stood before the drill shaft wearing black and sneering. Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus had pretty much cornered the market on wearing black and sneering. It comprised 100% of her personality. Gideon marvelled that someone could live in the universe only seventeen years and yet wear black and sneer with such ancient self-assurance.

That’s kind of all you need to know really.

Oh, OK then.

There are necromancers with their accompanying swords-people. There is an ancient building and a puzzle to be solved. Things do not work out as anticipated.

It’s awesome – a strong story with great characters, a lot of snark and some real horrors, and it’s the first in a trilogy to boot. Very little is better than that.

How can it be September already?

Way back on August 2nd I let you all know that I was taking the month off from blogging and would see you all in September, and what do you know that’s, um, now!

It’s been feeling quite autumnal in my little part of London over the past day or so, if by autumnal you mean grey, damp and chill. This is also going to be a big month for book publishing; a shame as I’m launching into a low spend for the rest of 2020.

The Kibble Palace in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. I used to live near there when I was a student and it always makes me think of Autumn and the start of a new year at Uni.
Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

But setting aside all of that, July & August were both good reading months; here are the stats to prove it:

  • Books read = 8 in July, 7 in August
  • Number of pages = over the two months I read 5180 pages
  • Progress against Goodreads = 85% of my target, 11 books ahead of schedule

Very pleased with that.

In terms of the Twenty Books of Summer challenge, which ran between 1 June and 1 September, I did read 20 books but only 7 were from the booklist I announced.

I’m still going to count that as a win and I dare any of you to question that!

I mentioned a low spend earlier and that’s because I have made a lot of impulse purchases over the past few months, so I’m trying to stick to what I have pre-ordered and shove everything else onto my wish list.

Speaking of pre-orders, here is what I have on the slate for September

  • The Trials of Koli by MR Carey
  • Written in Bone by Sue Black
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
  • Sweet Harmony by Claire North

I’ll write more about those in my Sunday Salon posts as the books arrive. I’ll also be doing some round-up posts so that you can find out a little about what I read, so keep your eyes open over the next few weeks.

I hope you all had a good summer and look forward to a good reading month!

Catching Up | Friday Night Movies Part 2

EXTRACTION

Tyler Rake, a fearless black market mercenary embarks on the most deadly extraction of his career when he’s enlisted to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord

The Greater Hemsworth – and let’s face it, he’s the main reason I watched this – and the kid playing the kidnapped boy carry what is otherwise a Big Dumb Movie. Character development is limited to exactly what you would expect (cynical guy rediscovers his humanity through interaction with a young person who comes to worship him) but it gets extra points for a villain with exotic dress sense and unfeasibly good hair, and then loses them again with an irritatingly ambiguous ending.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good ambiguous ending – I refer you of course to the masterpiece that is Inception – but this one felt gratuitous and undermined whatever closure had been provided to the audience.But it was fine as a means of passing the evening and is by all accounts extremely popular.

Dazzling details: directed by Sam Hargrave, Extraction is 1h 56m long and is rated 18 for strong bloody violence, injury detail and language.


21 BRIDGES

An embattled NYPD detective is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy

But but but that’s not how it went down! Unless the person who wrote this quote was watching a totally different movie (or was under the influence because, let’s face it, that is always a possibility) then this should read embattled etc. uncovers a massive and unexpected conspiracy during a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers. That’s the film I saw.

This is a really solid police procedural with strong performance all round, especially Chadwick Boseman in the lead, and a very cool cameo from the former Dr Bashir (a shout out to all DS9 fans). I spotted the bad guy at a hundred paces but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This was a neat thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed and would watch again.

Dazzling details: directed by Brian Kirk, 21 Bridges is 1h 39m long and is rated 15 for strong violence and language


CREEP

A young videographer answers an online ad for a one day job in a remote town to record the last messages of a dying man. When he notices the man’s odd behaviour, he starts to question his intentions

Creep has been on my radar for a while, but an interesting article (by Edward Tew in the Guardian in early June; apologies, I’ve lost the link) about why this is a film we should be watching during lockdown really caught my interest. So I watched it. By myself. I’m brave, me.

It’s sort of a found footage movie but given that our protagonist films videos for a living it’s plausibly much better quality than you might expect. Anyhow, the guy who has hired him is vaguely unsettling but not in an obvious way. He’s not threatening so much as he is someone who oversteps boundaries, and rather than shouting at the hero not to do the thing he’s about to do, you can understand how easily he gets drawn into this creepy situation by degrees simply by wanting to be polite.

The film is all about atmosphere and mind games and goes off in an unexpected direction (to me at least) about halfway through. I loved it – especially the ending which wasn’t strictly necessary (there is an earlier point where it could have finished and been just as complete) but it is undoubtedly satisfying.

The guys who made this brought out a second movie called, astonishingly, Creep 2 and I’m definitely going to give that a shot.

Dazzling details: directed by Patrick Brice Creep is 1h 17m long and is rated 15 for strong violence and references to sexual violence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I personally would have given it an 18 for the disturbing portrayal of practical jokes as an acceptable means of human interaction.