Book Review: Human Rites by JJ Marsh

Its publication day today for the latest in the wonderful Beatrice Stubbs series of crime thrillers.

Human Rites 3

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!

Human Rites is published by Prewett Publishing and is available as an e-book and as a paperback.

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.

Review of Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh

Crime Fiction at its best.

Cold Pressed

Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh

This is the fourth book in a series based on the personal and working life of Scotland Yard officer, Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs. However, it’s not necessary to have read the others in order to be able to follow this one. Like its predecessors it can stand alone.

I have read and enjoyed the other three and so my expectations were high, but I was also apprehensive in case this latest one didn’t live up to the high standards of the earlier books. I needn’t have worried. It was the best yet. Author JJ Marsh has produced another excellent piece of crime fiction.

Beatrice Stubbs is a wonderful creation. She’s complex, flawed and utterly believable.

She’s not only a clever, successful and gutsy police officer, but she also has mental-health issues and faces some difficulties in her relationship with her long-term partner, Matthew.

Her occasional malapropisms only add to her endearing qualities. For example she mentions ‘not upsetting the apple tart’, and needing ‘forty wings’ when sleepy.

Beatrice’s job often takes her abroad and involves her working  jointly with  foreign police forces. In Cold Pressed,  when a British woman, a passenger aboard a cruise ship sailing around the Greek islands, dies after being thrown from a cliff whilst ashore, Beatrice is sent to investigate alongside Inspector Stephanakis of the Greek police.  The setting, of course, lends itself to beautiful visual descriptions, and Marsh certainly brings Santorini, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese to life. The reader can see the bluest of seas, feel the hottest sunshine, taste the delicious food.

But there’s menace too and there are serious crimes to be solved, and what Beatrice had hoped would be a straightforward and brisk investigation, becomes a more prolonged and difficult case when two more of the ship’s passengers are discovered to have been murdered. Beatrice and  Inspector Stephanakis  must stay with the ship and get to know the captain, crew and guests. Before both police officers find their own lives in danger when they discover a dark secret and a murder suspect out for revenge.

But Cold Pressed is much more than a simple police-procedural tale. Marsh is an excellent story-weaver. The plot twists and turns, the suspense is compelling. The intertwining of the details of the case and Beatrice’s personal demons is clever and credible and gives the plot a multi-layered feel. All the characters, major and minor, are well drawn and believable. As a reader, you’re drawn in and made to care about them as you feel the terror and panic that sweeps the ship.

Marsh’s economical, highly visual prose make this book a deceptively easy read, but at the same time a most satisfying one.

The book is available in ebook and paperback here.