Review: Carnal Acts by Sam Alexander (4/5)

Thursday 19 June 2014

A stunning crime fiction novel featuring a pair of detectives in the northern English borderlands.

DI Joni Pax, a London homicide detective wounded in a disastrous raid, has been transferred to the newly formed Police Force of North East England. Her boss, DCI Hector Heck Rutherford, is recently back at work after cancer treatment. Between them they are responsible for major crime in rural Northumberland and County Durham. Joni, the daughter of a black American and a white hippy, is a loner struggling to regain her self confidence. Heck is happily married, but his illness has left him fearful.

Based in Corham, a town with Roman, medieval and industrial heritage, Paz and Rutherford investigate a murder at a brothel run by the Albanian mafia. In a series of breathtaking plot twists, the author demonstrates the corruption that underpins the beautiful northern English countryside as well as hinting at a mysterious world beyond the horizon.

Carnal Acts explores abuse of many kinds sexual, psychological, economic taking the police procedural to places it has never been before.

I was very excited about this book when it was first revealed by Arcadia on Twitter. I don't know what it is though but every time I've picked this book up over the past few weeks I didn't feel any enthusiasm to read it, I would read a couple of chapters and stop. Well I picked it up earlier today and told myself I wouldn't stop until I'd read a good chunk of it. Finally the story gripped me and I was off. The big mystery about the book is of course who the author is. 'A well known crime author' is one clue and it seems bloggers have guessed every author under the sun which leaves me wondering if I even know this author! Pretty much every crime author I've ever read has been guessed, so I'm at a loss as to who it is.

Anyway from the blurb I got a very Val McDermid feel about the book. I was excited to read. It sounded very much a darker crime fiction book than normal and I was intrigued at how the book would progress and whether I would enjoy it as much as my fellow bloggers seem to have done. One thing I noticed is there's a lot going on. There are a lot of different threads to the story and loads of characters. Did it ruin my enjoyment of the story? No because after a while I got used to the characters and didn't have any trouble remembering who was who. The chapters are also really short so the action is broken up nicely.

The book is a lot darker than other crime fiction I've read. Though the cover and the blurb make that pretty clear. The characters are well crafted, unique and believable. I wondered whether I'd struggle with Heck as one of my favourite fictional detectives has the same name but it wasn't a struggle. Joni Pax was a particularly intriguing character given her background. Also with some female detectives there's often a sense of them not being equal to the men, or being written as a damsel in distress type character. Joni was quite capable of standing on her own two feet and was more than a match for her male counterparts.

Plot wise it's extremely difficult to discuss the story. Previously in reviews I often talk too much about the plot and have been trying to do that less in my more recent reviews. The story is pretty brutal dealing with themes that some readers could find uncomfortable, a murder at an Albanian brothel isn't the simple murder it appears to be and there isn't much the Albanians won't do to protect themselves. Moving at an extremely fast pace the book had my heart beating and jaw dropping numerous times. The book touches on so many different aspects that I'm not even going to attempt to list them all. It's not often you read a book dealing with so many different themes and doing it so well. Whoever this author is I'm desperate to find out, however after all the guesses thrown at Arcadia I'm going to guess it's someone I've not read before. That said the effort put into this book and the time spent building the characters and their back stories it would be a massive shame if we didn't see more books featuring Joni and Heck in the future.

Buy from Amazon


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