Category Archives: Russell, Leigh

Two Book Reviews: 'Blood Axe' and 'Murder Ring', both by Leigh Russell

Ah, after two blogs on real life and one on travel, here are two book reviews.  I hope the people who read my blog for the first time for my India post are not too disappointed.  I love reading.  Reading has always been a huge part of my life.  No, not always.  For a few years in my teens, I decided that what I was reading was overly-influencing what I was writing, so therefore I MUST NOT READ.  I was an arrogant bitch in those days.

Leigh Russell writes about two detectives:  Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson, who used to be Geraldine’s second-in-command but has now moved to York.  Leigh has also commenced a new series, featuring Lucy Hall (released in February, which I haven’t read yet).  Leigh has a sure touch, content well researched and with watertight plot lines, and detectives who you enjoy reading about.

Blood Axe (Ian Peterson)

The first person we meet is the murderer, who is a Viking, navigating up and down the River Ouse in a long boat, carrying an axe and invoking the blessing of Viking gods.  Is Leigh writing historical these days?  Or fantasy?  Or is the murderer the genuine Nordic article?  The murders are brutal and gory, including a decapitation, bu

Creative Commons. Wikipedia.org

Creative Commons. Wikipedia.org

t they, and the coins (not paper notes, the reader observes) stolen from victims, will earn the murderer a place in Valhalla – or so the murderer believes.

There are a lot of characters, as you would expect in a crime novel, many of them featuring intensively for a few chapters then departing from the pages, as the story moves on, which reflects what would happen in a crime investigation.  The prevailing characters are Ian Peterson himself, now promoted to Detective Inspector, his assistant, Detective Sergeant Ted Birling, and Ian’s wife, Bev.  Ian is torn between wanting to go after the next lead in his murder investigation and being there for his wife.  The Ian and Bev story judders to a terrible climax in the final chapters, and the only person able to offer Ian any constructive support is Geraldine Steele herself, but this sub-plot finishes on a tantalising cliff-hanger.  I guess I will have to read the next book, when it appears.

Murder Ring (Geraldine Steele)

Creative Commons. Wikimedia.org

Creative Commons. Wikimedia.org

The first person we meet in this book is the victim, and, after reading the initial pages, I wanted to murder him too.  The greed surrounding a diamond solitaire engagement, which two women believed themselves to be entitled, is breathtakingly shocking.  This is a complex and devious story, taking place in central London, featuring several groups of arrogant and thoroughly unpleasant villains without redeeming features.   The identity of the real murderers took me by surprise, and I was actually quite disappointed not to see one of the other suspects locked up.

Even characters as tough as Geraldine, who is as tough as her name, should have a vulnerability, and hers is being adopted.  Again, Geraldine struggles between the compelling demands of a murder investigation and family life, with the murder investigation winning, but (without giving too much away) Leigh has left the plot door open again.

Both books can be obtained from Leigh Russell’s website.  If you like crime fiction, read them both.

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Review of 'Fatal Act (A Geraldine Steel Mystery)' by Leigh Russell

Available from No Exit Press and Amazon.

This iFront cover of 'Fatal Act' by Leigh Russells the sixth in the Geraldine Steel series.  Geraldine has now moved to a new job as an inspector in the Homicide Assessment Team with the (London) Metropolitan Police, and now reports to Chief Inspector Reg Milton, who she hasn’t yet got the measure of.   This book is set firmly in the world of theatre and acting, the characters including: a successful, glamorous but petulant actress; a driven, wannabe actress; students at drama school; a set designer.  The ‘Fatal Acts’ all concern people associated with casting director, Piers Trevelyan – a stereotypical casting director who bonks everything female, although many of his bits of skirt seek out him and his casting couch as a means of  advancing their acting careers.    The three murders are gruesome, and enigmatic, because the murderer seems to be able disappear from the scene, and CCTV cameras, as if by magic.  Everything seems to point very directly to Piers as the perpetrator – too directly, Geraldine thinks.  ‘Don’t be blinded by this man’s attractions’, said Reg Milton.  (If someone had said that to me, I would have committed a ‘fatal act’ on him, although Reg is not the main mcp here.)

Reg Milton is an interesting, but not altogether likeable, character.  (He) had a tendency to regard questions as a challenge to his authority.’  ‘He was more comfortable issuing orders.’  ‘Yet he had a ‘reputation for running successful investigations.’  Towards the end of the book, Reg gives Geraldine a – richly deserved – roasting for putting a colleague (Sam Haley) in danger.   (Ruth Rendell’s) Reg Wexford and Mike Burden and (Alexander McCall Smith’s) Mma Ramotswe with Mma Makutsi have cosy relationships.   (H E Birley’s) Wycliffe always worked within a cohesive team.  Inspector Kate Miskin fawns over (P D James’s) Adam Dalgliesh – rather irritatingly so, imo.  Geraldine’s relationship with Reg Milton will no doubt smoulder for books to come.

Geraldine is a Janey-no-mates, with nothing to do and nobody to see when she has time off, but her friendship with (female) Sergeant Sam Haley showed her friendly side, even though, as the Inspector, she assumes the upper hand.  The reader also gets to renew acquaintance with Geraldine’s former Sergeant, Ian Peterson; I understand from Leigh’s website that she is currently working on a spin-off series about Ian.  Maybe that is why Geraldine had to move from Kent to London?  More creepy was Geraldine’s relationship with Nick Williams:  a sexist (‘Why don’t I go in?  Surely this is a job for a man.  You said yourself he could be dangerous-‘), an alleged wife-beater and known for unfunny anti-women jokes – Leigh hardly sells Nick to us, even though he is the one who saves the investigation, and Geraldine, and Sam.   This relationship will also, no doubt, develop in future books.  Geraldine is her name – Steel – but Leigh lends her vulnerability by occasionally letting her get things wrong.

Crime fiction requires a thorough technical knowledge of how the police work, their procedures and how they interact with each other.  It also requires a tighter plot structure than other genres, although the plot is always the same one, more or less.  Without this technical knowledge, it is impossible to write plausible crime fiction – although some writers have tried.  (Wince, wince.)  I myself have never dared to write crime fiction, although it is probably my favourite genre to read.  I sometimes wonder if there is a gap in the market for a crime series featuring a cyber forensics expert, but, although I teach computing, I’m deterred by the amount of police research I would have to do.

So, Dear Reader, do I recommend ‘Fatal Act’?  Yes, of course.  If you like crime writing, you’ll enjoy ‘Fatal Act’.

(Image reproduced with permission of the author of the book.)