From the Shadows by Neil White

Although Neil White is a bestselling author, I hadn’t come across him until I saw From the Shadows on Netgalley. What drew me to the title was the description — “a gripping thriller”. In fact, it’s part murder mystery, part crime fiction, part thriller, part courtroom drama. All of which amounts to a good read once the story gets going.

So, what’s it about?

When criminal defence lawyer Dan Grant is asked to take over a case from another firm, he suspects there’s something unusual about the case.

Robert Carter is accused of murder. The court case is just two weeks away and Dan is supposed to just turn up, defend the client, and get paid. But that’s not Dan’s style. He wants to do his best for Carter, and that means investigating the case. Carter’s best chance of getting off is if Dan can show that someone else had the opportunity to commit the crime.

Time is very short so Dan needs help to build a case. He hires a former client, investigator Jayne Brett, to do some of the legwork.

Dangerous game

Once they begin to look into the case, they find that Carter is not the murderer. But everyone, including Carter, is reluctant to tell what they know and, before long, Dan and Jayne find that uncovering the truth is a dangerous game. Once they’ve started, however, they can’t let go until the job is done.

After a strong opening, From the Shadows takes a while to pick up pace. A couple of chapters in, it seems to settle down and from there on it’s a fairly engrossing read.

Dan and Jayne are a well-matched team and far and away the best characters in the novel. I’d happily follow them through further novels if White turns this into a series. That said, Neil White could have made From the Shadows a stronger story with a bit more insight into the background and motivations of the other main characters.

I’d like to have known more about Shelley, the solicitor who worked on Carter’s case before Dan took it over. What did she find out and who did she upset in the process? How come her firm’s conflict of interest only became an issue so late in the case? There was also scope to provide more detail on some of the other key players in this story — particularly the baddies. Nevertheless, From the Shadows is a decent read. If you like crime fiction, murder mysteries or courtroom dramas, keep an eye out for it.

From the Shadows by Neil White is published by Bonnier Zaffre. I read a Netgalley ARC.

Perfect Prey by Helen Fields | An absorbing police procedural

Three-quarters of the way through Perfect Prey by Helen Fields, at 10.30 on a summer’s evening, I dragged a lamp out to the conservatory so I could read on until I reached the end. That’s a sure sign of an unputdownable book. There’s lots to like about Perfect Prey. It’s an absorbing story with interesting, complex characters, narrated at a fast pace with lots of action and nice short chapters.

So, what’s Perfect Prey about?

This is is a policy procedural — the second in a series by Helen Fields featuring Detective Inspector Luc Callanach. The story begins with an apparently out-of-the-blue stabbing at an open air concert in Edinburgh.  Soon, it turns out the killing is just the first in a series of attention-grabbing murders. But are they linked? Who’s behind them and why?

Investigating the crimes are DI Callanach, a French/Scottish police officer with hints of an intriguing back story and DI Ava Turner.

At first, there are few clues to follow but when words connected to the crimes begin to appear in graffiti around Edinburgh it becomes clear that the murderer or murderers are announcing the occupation of their intended victims in advance.

When Luc needs help to track the online activities of the murder suspects, he turns not to police experts, but to a private operator, Ben Paulson and an online journalist. This creates tension with Ava’s boyfriend — a Scotland Yard investigator who specialises in investigating in cybercrime. You get the sense there’s more to this tension than just the cases they’re working on. Could it have something to do with Ava? Or it is just because the boyfriend is nasty piece of work?

These are really interesting characters with complicated personal lives and hints of a shared history.  As soon as I finished Perfect Prey, I went out and bought Perfect Remains, the first novel in the series. I look forward to reading it next and hope to read more Helen Fields in future. If you like crime thrillers, keep an eye out for her!

[Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof of Perfect Prey thanks to publisher Harper Collins.]

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner is the second in a crime fiction series featuring Detective Manon Bradshaw. It is set in Cambridgeshire, where Manon who is 42, single and pregnant, lives with her 12-year old adopted son, Fly Dent. They are relatively new to the area and Fly is attending a new school. They moved because Manon was in search of better work life balance. Living with them are Manon’s sister Ellie and Ellie’s son, Solly.

Manon’s role is to investigate cold crimes. It’s not an exciting job but it suits her while she’s pregnant.  However, when a new murder investigation points towards Manon’s family members, she can’t help but get involved.

The story begins when a wealth manager, Jon-Oliver Ross bleeds to death in the arms of a woman who claims not to know him. The woman says she came across Ross by accident while walking her dog in the woods. Trouble is, Ross died from stab wounds, there’s no dog, and it’s not clear what either of them was doing in the woods in the first place.

When the police open an investigation, Manon discovers that Ross is  Solly’s father. Worse still, Fly is a suspect but there’s little Manon can do to help him because she’s not allowed work on the case. So, she calls on a lawyer friend, Mark, and together they set about proving Fly’s innocence. In the process, they find out a lot more about Ross’s connections and lifestyle. Some of this is dangerous and uncomfortably close to home for Manon.

Complicated plot

Susie Steiner delivers a nicely complicated plot in Persons Unknown but there are a lot of characters and it takes a while to get to know them. This is partly because the narration switches between different points of view. I would have liked more back story on Ellie and her relationship with Jon-Oliver and on Manon. That said, if you read Missing, Presumed you might not need it as much. Despite this criticism, the plot is interesting and holds attention well with nice, short chapters that make for a fast and easy read.

The Wall Street Journal included Susie Steiner’s earlier novel Missing, Presumed in their ten best mysteries of the year. Having read Persons Unknown, I will keep an eye out for future titles in this series.

Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof copy provided by Harper Collins.