Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Linda's Reading Lounge: Crimson Shore

Welcome to Linda's Reading Lounge, pull up a cushion and make yourself comfortable and listen, but before we go any further, I just want to tell you that the author is giving away an ebook to one lucky winner - please see details after the review

When I first examined the cover of Crimson Shore by Gill Hamer, the visual imagery suggested butchered bodies washed upon a distant beach. The novel which enfolds is less bloody but every bit as haunting.

Ms. Hamer’s first novel in her Gold Detectives series involves the unhappy topic of exploitation of children by those in a position of trust. However, she treats the topic without sensationalizing it, no mean accomplishment. Tragically, the plot is based upon a disturbingly well-grounded premise. The author has taken a topic which arguably has been overworked in the past several decades and honed it to a plausible, gritty mystery told on two tiers, dealing with not one set of homicides, but two, separated by time, motive and modus operandi.

The scene of the earlier mystery is principally set out in flashbacks and by means of a series of unanswered letters written by a child in a foundling home to a mother the child believes to be recovering from an illness. In the beginning they are newsy and guardedly  hopeful, but plaintive:

Today we went to the little church. The vicar has a wonky eye and Sammy (the author’s brother) made faces all through the carols so I got in trouble for giggling. But some of the music made me sad and made me think of you singing me to sleep. I miss you Mummy. …. You will come won’t you? …

Later the letters grow more desperate:

I’m keeping my promise to write every few weeks, but I am reelly worried that you never write back. I keep asking Mrs. Gwynne to dubble and dubble dubble check the post. I really can’t believe you’ve haven’t got my letters. Why don’t you write back?

While the letters seem a one dimensional means to advance the plot of a complex mystery, in this case, they not only alleviate the need for pages of back story, but serve as a repository for myriad clues, leaving a reader finishing the last pages and saying, ‘I should have known.’

The second tier of the mystery enfolds in the present, when fresh bodies begin to turn up in unusual places.  At the center of the mystery is a once-elegant beachfront estate on Anglesey Island off the northwest coast of Wales, a sparsely populated area separated from the Welsh mainland by a narrow strait, an isolated setting where people traditionally mind their business. Random bodies are a rare experience. During a portion of its history the mansion was the site of a foundling home known as Sandy Beach, but for years it has been unoccupied.

As one would expect of an insular community, the idea of a serial killer at work is unpopular with the residents of Anglesey. However the head of the assigned homicide team, Detective Sergeant Dara Brennan, is convinced there is a link between the murder victims, which goes beyond the usual dynamic of a serial killer.
The means of disposal of the corpses, the weapons used, and the degree of violence are all very different. Cryptic messages sometimes left with the bodies are little more than pieces, each seeming to come from a different puzzle. These are not signature killings, and the protagonist Dara is convinced they are not random. His interpretation of the crimes puts him at odds with his colleagues and superiors as the body count mounts.

Constructing a mystery along parallel paths is a difficult literary device to employ without one story line overwhelming the other, but Ms. Hammer meets the challenge by allowing the two threads to intertwine just enough keep the reader curious as to how the puzzle fits together. The contemporary investigation is told principally from Dara’s point of view while he wrestles with demons of his own. His life is crumbling around him. A successful resolution of the murders promises more than a boost to a floundering career, but a step forward in his quest to restore his self esteem. Yet his interpretation of the evidence is at odds with his colleagues and the public interest. Even his partner and new lover  D. I. Kelly Jones is losing patience with him. As his personal life goes into a tailspin, the investigation seems to be the only stable factor in his daily existence, and that, too, is threatened by his inability to seize control of his alcoholism and libido. He is not the stereotypical hero.

Crimson Shore is a well-crafted mystery with a large and diverse cast of characters who in spite of their number retain individual idiosyncrasies which keep the reader from mixing them up. The power struggle within the investigative team is well done. The plot is straightforward once the separate story threads unravel. Some of the facts have been stretched a tad too taught but fortunately not enough to ruin the story. In spite of a few convoluted twists of plot, Crimson Shore is less far-fetched than many cases I prosecuted. The author has constructed an authentic rendering of a complex homicide investigation, one hampered by interoffice rivalries, the protagonist’s sexual exploits and the personal problems of its other principals. None of these are beyond the norm for law enforcement professionals working under stress. I was especially impressed with the overall accuracy of the forensic aspects of the case.

I recommend Crimson Shore to those who enjoy British police procedurals reminiscent of Ian Rankin and anyone who likes a well-written mystery with a subject appropriate amount of violence but little gore.  Sensitive readers will be relieved to know this is not a novel dealing with child sexual assault, and neither the violence nor the sex is gratuitous or overly graphic. Nevertheless, it is a dark and disturbing story. The isolated setting of the crimes adds to the credibility of the plot and the Welsh flavor of the narrative is a plus.

While I do not read with a red pencil stuck behind my ear, I stay alert for errors and found none. Changes in point of view were formatted so as to be easily perceived. My only criticism involves the presentation of a rather unlikely antagonist. However, before the first body is discovered, the killer in Ms. Hamer’s novel has had ten years to plan the killing spree and a clear vision of how the story is going to end. The conclusion leaves the reader pondering whether D.S. Dara Brennan or the serial killer solves the crimes but leaves the reader sensing justice has been served.

I will be looking for further works from author Gillian E. Hamer.

About the Author

Born in the industrial Midlands, Gillian's heart has always yearned for the wilds of North Wales and the pull of the ocean.

A company director for twenty years, she has written obsessively for over a decade, predominantly in the crime genre. She has completed six full length novels and numerous short stories.

After completing a creative writing course, she decided to take her writing to the next level and sought representation. She is a columnist for Words with Jam literary magazine, a regular theatre goer and avid reader across genres.

She splits her time between Birmingham and a remote cottage on Anglesey where she finds her inspiration and takes long walks on deserted beaches with her Jack Russell, Maysie.
She can also be found at these sites

The author is graciously offering a giveaway of Crimson Shore for one lucky winner. Just leave a comment and that winner could be you!
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Linda Root is the author of the three books in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series; next in the series launches April 2015. Root also writes historical fantasy fiction: The Green Woman with a sequel set to be released in summer 2015. 


  1. Good review that highlights the tension of the story ... a very clever premise for a mystery, will put on my list as I'm just discovering this particular genre

  2. Great review, and most definitely going on my TBR list.

  3. Linda your review makes me want too win this!

  4. British police procedurals are my favourite mystery stories, especially those by Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and Elizabeth George.I will definitely look for more from this author. Please count me in.