Today’s book review of a crime novel is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
You can read my review of Paul’s first Warren Jones novel here.
No Smoke Without Fire by Paul Gitsham
Synopsis: DCI Warren Jones has a bad feeling when the body of a young woman turns up in Beaconsfield Woods. She’s been raped and strangled but the murderer has been careful to leave no DNA evidence. There are, of course, suspects – boyfriend, father – to check out but, worryingly, it looks more and more like a stranger murder. Warren’s worst fears are confirmed when another young woman is killed in the same way. The MO fits that of Richard Cameron who served twelve years for rape. But Cameron never killed his victims and he has a cast-iron alibi.
Then personal tragedy intervenes and Warren is off the case. But the pressure is mounting and another woman goes missing. Warren is back but will the break he desperately needs come before there’s another victim?
Author bio: Paul Gitsham started his career as a biologist, working in such exotic locales as Manchester and Toronto. After stints as the world’s most over-qualified receptionist and a spell making sure that international terrorists and other ne’er do wells hadn’t opened a Junior Savings Account at a major UK bank (a job even less exciting than being a receptionist) he retrained as a Science Teacher. He now spends his time passing on his bad habits and sloppy lab-skills to the next generation of enquiring minds. Paul has always wanted to be a writer and his final report on leaving primary school predicted he’d be the next Roald Dahl! For the sake of balance it should be pointed out that it also said “he’ll never get anywhere in life if his handwriting doesn’t improve”. Twenty five years later and his handwriting is worse than ever but millions of children around the world love him.* You can learn more about Paul’s writing at www.paulgitsham.com or www.facebook.com/dcijones. *This is a lie, he says, just ask any of the pupils he has taught.
Review (of the eBook using Mrs Kindle’s text-to-speech function)
After a useful synopsis, we meet the victim early on and the discovery of a body is soon after. Warren has his suspects, related to the victim, and as they’re brought in for questioning, they’re soon disregarded. Warren and his colleague, Tony Sutton, move on to another possible culprit, the description of whom is very well written, as is that of the village he lives in (with its two warring pubs, it reminds me of a small town I used to live in).
The description heightens further as the killer strikes again and I said “ahhh” at the woman’s final moments, which shows how realistic the scene was.
As Warren builds a picture of the women and who would want to kill them, the writing felt realistic although I wondered why another colleague, Gary, had to try up to 300 gym lockers with one of the women’s key when, surely, it would have had a number on it. A similar instance occurred later and again this leapt out at me.
As the novel progresses, there are more victims and suspects – some with religious connections, and weaving through the investigations, we meet Warren’s wife and extended family, and have a glimpse of the softer man behind the tough detective.
There are plenty of ‘ahh’ and ‘ooh’ moments especially when it looks like all the evidence points to one person, and there are many other instances I enjoyed such as the ironic honesty jar.
We’re drip-fed technical information and while a writer should do more research than a story requires (and never be tempted to put it all in), there’s just enough here for this reader’s queries to be explained.
With my editor’s hat on (this is a review for writers as well as readers), there were a number of clichés (e.g. heart skipped a beat, driven a break-neck speed, Warren’s heart sank, Carroway looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights, she was out for the count, etc), often-used metaphors or similes (e.g. bone white, like a blanket), adverbs (inc. walking purposefully – where something like ‘striding’ would be better), too many ‘Well’s at the start of dialogue sentences, and unnecessary additions (e.g. ‘totally disregarded’, ‘completely nonplussed’, ‘entirely invisible… entirely different’ (both on the first page of chapter 39), absolutely obsessed, whispered quietly etc.).
There is some minor tweaking that a professional editor would normally pick up on e.g. ‘nodded his agreement / his acceptance / their assent’, ‘sighed in frustration’ – we know why he sighed from the context, ditto ‘blinked in surprise’, ‘shaking his head from side to side (is there another way to shake your head?), ‘twenty-three thousand pounds was a lot of money. He could lie low on that sort of money…’, ‘getting up early in the morning…’, ‘as for the workplace fling, he had been at work… Getting changed at work… to the work’s party… on a workmate’s couch, crawled into work…’ (all within two sentences), ‘she is quite stressed about not being able to speak to you. Strictly speaking…’, ‘struck down… downbeat mood’, ‘a quiet sob… come quietly…’, ‘even used the computer. He might even… surfing history even with…’, and so on.
I noticed many ‘truth be told’s (when I did a search I learned there were ten throughout the novel), some missed repetition e.g. ‘a serious mistake that had seriously compromised…’, ‘a long moment* before Carl Patterson let out a long breath…’ (*a phrase I’ve never been keen on, but again just personal), ‘the different officers rushing off to pursue their different leads’. Of course repetition can be used for emphasis but not in these cases.
There are also a lot of uses of ‘remember’ when Warren interviews a witness, and instances of present tense narration rather than past tense (e.g. ‘tonight’ rather than ‘that night’ and ‘ago’ rather than ‘before’), and dialogue tags that stand out (e.g. offered Warren, mused Jordan), especially where only two people are speaking so it’s easy to work out who’s saying what.
These are all minor issues (and some of you reading this might think I’m being petty bringing them up) but they errors I often come across and become all the more obvious when read aloud (this time courtesy of my Kindle) which is what all writers should do with their own writing before submitting anywhere, or at least get an application (not necessarily a Kindle) that will do it for them.
The above may sound as if it was a frustrating read but far from it. As I said, I’m a tough critic and I enjoyed this novel very much, especially the last few chapters. It works well as a standalone with few references to the previous book, but enough for new readers to be able to follow the plot and characters. It’s very tightly written (more so than book 1) and I wanted to know what happened next during every chapter. Paul is skilled at detailed description, albeit too much for me at times – I’m more of a dialogue fan but sometimes you do have to murder your darlings – and had it been a paperback rather than eBook, it would have been a page-turner.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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