Its publication day today for the latest in the wonderful Beatrice Stubbs series of crime thrillers.
And it’s another absolute cracker!
An exciting and well-paced plot, another combination of great settings, and the introduction of several great new characters all ensured that this was as gripping a read as its predecessors.
This is latest book in JJ Marsh’s series of European based crime thrillers. As before it features, Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs. It had a lot to live up to in terms of my expectations as I’ve read and very much enjoyed the three previous books. It didn’t disappoint.
There are beautifully described and fascinating settings, compelling, suspenseful and twisting plotlines and a cast of wonderful characters both familiar and new.
You don’t have to have read the earlier books in order to follow this one. Like the rest of them this one will also work as a standalone, but it is nice to be re-united with characters you’ve become fond of. Beatrice’s old friend and neighbour, Adrian, is back, as is his now-ex lover Holger. Her grumpy boss Hamilton and her not-living-together yet partner Matthew also feature once more.
However, there are also some captivating new characters too. What’s not to love about the septuagenarian art expert, Frau Professor Eichhorn who has a Howard Jones hairstyle and wears a red coat and black boots? Then there’s the hairy and adorable Daan and his crazy husky, Mink. There’s Cucinca, Adrian’s new assistant in his wine shop, described as Bow Bells meets Bucharest and who makes a disproportionately big impression considering her short amount of page time. Likewise Tomas, the socially awkward, computer data-analyst member of the German police team who is another relatively minor but memorable character. And what a wonder is the tastily handsome, but also nuanced and layered, character of German Detective Jan Stein.
The plot has two main strands.
There is the criminal investigation which, as before, requires D.I. Stubbs’s to leave her London base and travel to Europe to work in co-operation with colleagues there. This time the crimes requiring investigation are a series of art thefts in London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Hamburg. These are aggravated burglaries that seem to be efficiently organised and co-ordinated, and also seem to target a very specific form of German Expressionist art.
Added to this there’s unrelated problem of a possibly malevolent stalker threatening the wellbeing of Adrian one of Beatrice’s closest friends. He decides to accompany Beatrice when she goes to Germany. By getting away from the stress and fear of the situation, he hopes he can regain some perspective on the reality of any threat to his wellbeing. And he can also visit his ex-lover, Holger, who lives in Hamburg and with whom he is still on good terms.
These two storylines provide a good balance to the action. There’s the logic, control and rationality of the police investigation with its insights into the methods and teamwork employed. And alongside there’s the fear, suspense, suspicion and twists of the stalking situation.
And then there are the wonderfully described settings. The action takes place mainly in Hamburg and on the island of Sylt which sits just off Germany’s north-western tip.
Hamburg in the December snow, with its wide streets, its waterways and bridges, and its spires, museums and galleries is so beautifully described that I’ve now added it to my ‘cities to visit’ list. And, there’s a moment in the book, when the sighting of a sinister figure against this backdrop recalled for me the mysterious appearances of the small, red-hooded figure in Venice in the Daphne du Maurier story Don’t Look Now.
Then there’s the island of Sylt. It is vividly presented as a beautiful but remote and windswept place, the perfect location in which to isolate a character in potential danger.
Woven throughout the action there are small but significant moments, moments of introspection such as when Beatrice reflects on her bipolar condition when she’s introduced to the concept of an ‘inner pigdog’ (yes, you read that right), and when she contemplates her approaching retirement from the police force and finally settling down to live with her partner. There are also unexpectedly poignant moments––one in particular stands out as it’s so unexpected but affecting. And the issues raised by the characters, their motivations and situations, also cause the reader to reflect on friendship, compassion and love, on the facts of ageing and mortality, but also on greed, obsession and hatred.
And finally, as an already smitten fan of Beatrice Stubbs, I was delighted to see several new Beatricisms. I counted six instances of her taking a well known saying and mangling it to great comic effect – for example the description of something as being ‘no more exciting than watching pants dry’.
And I also learned two new words––imbiss which is a German word meaning snack and spheniciphobia which is the fear of nuns or penguins. Who knew? Not me.
But what I do know is that Human Rites is a first class novel and is in the running for my favourite read of 2015.
Type of read: Glass or two of Barolo or other quality red wine to hand, curtains drawn against the wet, windy night, log fire, comfy chair and dog curled up at your feet. Relax in the lamplight and enjoy!
I was given a free, pre-publication review copy as I’ve reviewed previous books by this author. There was no pressure either to write a review or, if I did, that it had to be positive.