Review: Christmas is Murder

Title: Christmas is Murder
Author: Val McDermid

An electronic-only release from the Queen of Crime, this little volume consists of two short stories written long before she became a bestselling crime novelist. As the title warns – Christmas is Murder. Especially where families are involved.

As a long-time McDermid fan and a writer myself, I was fascinated to see her earlier writing. There are flashes of her now-slick style and pace, but it’s clear to see she was still finding her way to becoming today’s champion teller of the gory-story.

The two stories are both enjoyably gruesome and have enough surprises to satisfy the reader, with convincing characters and well-realised settings.
A must-read for McDermid completists and heartening to those who appreciate seeing the evolution of her writing style.

Personal read: 4 stars
Reading group read: 5 stars

Book Review: Diary of a Mad Man

Title: The Philosophy of a Mad Man
Author: Steven Colborne
ISBN: 978-1-78132-023-5 (Paperback)

A book that does exactly what it says on the cover.

Psychiatric patient Steven Colborne has spent much of his adult life looking for something that could mend his broken life. He’s tried a variety of possible fixes, including non-mainstream religious interventions and illegal drugs. By most people’s reckoning, his self-description would be accurate – Steven is what most of us would call a mad man.

But at least he can write. The subject matter gets uncomfortable, but remains readable. His honesty can be painful to read, but there’s no doubt he means every word.

I found Part I, chapters jumping about through the years of his searching, to be far better than Part II, when he details his resultant philosophy. I ended the book feeling that it left too much hanging – I wanted a rounding-off and it didn’t have one.

An interesting insight, but not a book for everyone. 

Personal read: 4 stars 
Reading group read: 2 stars

Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

A coloured edging to the pages of a book is often just a gimmick, but sometimes it’s an early indication that you’re holding something out of the ordinary. And this debut novel deserves its black trim.

A thriller with fantasy elements, historical echoes and a classic love story – this is genuinely a novel that straddles genres. And does it well. The elegant writing is so smooth that the reader doesn’t even notice the pages slipping past. Believable characters I cared about, a truly original setting and a plot that kept surprising me were all factors that added to an unforgettable experience.

One word of caution – this is not a book for the squeamish reader, as the Gargoyle of the title is a burn victim and there’s a lot of description of his injuries.

I don’t often lavish so many superlatives on a review, but this is simply the best book I’ve read in years. Buy it, take it on holiday – but be careful it doesn’t make you late for your return trip.

Personal read:  5 stars
Reading group read:  5 stars