Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT – Barb reviews A Different Place To Die by RR Gall

Today’s book review comes from team member Barb. She blogs at http://barbtaub.com/

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Barb chose to read and review A Different Place to Die by RR Gall.

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Here is Barb’s review.

How do you get a damaged detective? Of course, you start with Raymond Chandler’s advice: “A really good detective never gets married.” Then you balance every one of his (and yes, it’s usually a man) godlike intuitive abilities with a personality and/or medical flaw so overwhelming that their oracle-like abilities are wiped out by their shortcomings. Oh, and it helps if it’s really cold where they live. So you have Kurt Wallander in Sweden (wife left him/diabetic/borderline alcoholic/and—as if that’s not enough—Alzheimers), or Arkady Renko in Russia (politically cynical, chain-smoking, workaholic), or even the wizard detective Harry Dresden in Chicago (most of his girlfriends get mind-raped and he occasionally has to kill them).

Or you go straight for the holy grail of damaged… put the detective in Scotland like Rankin and the rest of the Tartain Noir writers do. Preferably in winter.

RR Gall takes this one step further in his new police procedural, A Different Place to Die. He splits the detective into two. Neither are married, both live in Scotland, and both are very damaged. One half is Inspector Tom Quiss, who has lost his nerve for hard crime and moved to head up the Glasgow Police Department’s newly formed civilian support group, which was downsized almost before it began. The other half is very young Shona Bally, one of his two civilian employees. Their assessment of each other is brutally pithy. “He thinks she is too young for the job. She thinks he is too old for the job. She wears too much make-up. He needs to comb his hair.” The appalled Quiss and delighted Shona are soon called in assist the overworked police with an apparent suicide, one with an unusual twist. An older couple have left a polite note and taken a horrific poison—after breaking into the house of complete strangers. As the unlikely duo attempt to identify the dead couple only to have each clue lead to new bodies, they find themselves in a race to prevent even more deaths.

A Different Place to Die should have so much going for it. The premise of two unlikeable and flawed characters forced to work together is good. But they were so initially unsympathetic that it was hard to maintain interest in either one for the length of time it took to establish backstories that would explain their issues. The book started slowly, with an extended description of Quiss’ obsession with lawn bowls, in which sport he fantasizes about representing Scotland in the next Commonwealth Games. There is just one problem. “But to represent Scotland, no matter the sport—what a dream, what an honour. The only thing is—Tom Quiss has never played an actual game of bowls in his life.” We are told very little about Shona, who is like Tom in that she seems to be emotionally frozen.

Quirky characterization can carry many books, and is especially helpful in mysteries. But ultimately, a mystery story lives or dies on the strength of its plot. Unfortunately, for me that is where A Different Place to Die is less successful. It’s difficult to talk about detective plots when you want to avoid spoilers. But the central mystery of why the deaths occurred in stranger’s houses is actually… not answered. Plot-wise, there just isn’t really a reason for it. Even more problematical is the list of plot holes that grows steadily. If there is one thing that detective fiction does need to do, it is to wrap those up at the end. So to have the final explanation be that there must be some far-reaching and high-level conspiracy is just not on.

Because of the quality of the writing and premise of the characters, I would stretch up to three stars for A Different Place to Die. But I’m frustrated because I think it could have been so much more. On a personal note, because I live in Glasgow I was disappointed that there wasn’t a more intimate look at the city. But I also would have liked more emotional connection with Quiss and Shona. For example, if these publicly unsympathetic characters had given us sympathetic glimpses into the reasons for their damage early on, it would have made it easier to take their persistently unpleasant bickering and fairly egregious nastiness. If the giant conspiracy is being seeded as backstory to a continuing series for this pair, then hints should have been dropped throughout the book. Or frankly—and I know this is Scotland but bear with me—if there had been a little comic relief from the unrelentingly depressing interactions between almost everyone in the entire book, it would have moved it to four or more stars immediately.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Alistair reviews A Different Place To Die by RR Gall

Today’s book review is from Alistair.

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He chose to read and review A Different Place To Die by RR Gall

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Here is his review.

A Different Place to Die

Review

Bit of a mixed bag

Very slow start, lots about lawn bowls, applying make-up, then long winded witness who spoke for 3% of the book but said very little.

Suddenly it’s all go. Bodies turn up everywhere, investigators rush here and there, theories abound and everyone seems to have an issue with everyone else. At least it is action.

Characters are well drawn but what they do is not very professional. DI Quiss will end up in jail and on the Sex Offenders Register if his way of helping Audrey is discovered.

Nice cover showing my University but I did not really enjoy this book. Sorry because the plot is very clever but a terrible way to encourage more organ donations.

Three stars.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Karen reviews A Different Place To Die by RR Gall

Today we bring you a review from Book Review Team Member Karen. She blogs at http://mytrainofthoughtson.wordpress.com

rosie3Karen chose to read A Different Place To Die by RR Gall

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The book introduces you to Inspector Tom Quiss, 52 years old, obsessed with bowling, who is forced to return to the murder team. Additionally he leads a newly founded civilian support group, consisting of Shona Bally and Elspeth Brown. This team is also drawn into the murder investigation. These very different characters are cleverly elaborated, and very believable due to their flaws and actions. It is easy to relate. It is more than a simple Scottish mystery; it is a story of coping with personal needs and conflicting points of view, cooperating, and solving a series of strange crimes. I will not tell you more about the story than shown in the Amazon plot description. This would spoil the fun of reading this book yourself.

With A Different Place to Die, RR Gall has created an intriguing mystery. A Different Place to Die is an entertaining, gripping, and not too fast read – I would love to read more about this team. I was drawn into the story right away. I felt quite close to the protagonists and everything that happened. All characters were believable with all their virtues and flaws. A Different Place to Die is a great story not only for Scottish mystery lovers; it consists great twists – making your inner sleuth rethink.

This is a book to read again.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT Fran reviews A Different Place to Die by RR Gall

Today we have a book review from Fran. She blogs at http://disappearinginplainsight.com/

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Fran chose to read  “A different Place to Die” by RR Gall.

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Here is the review.

4 star Amazon Review – A Different Place to Die by R.R. Gall

Quirky Glasgow Investigators in a Mystery that Twists and Turns

The first thing to hook me in R.R. Gall’s mystery/thriller, A Different Place to Die, was the characters. From the start, it is obvious Inspector Tom Quiss is struggling with his work. He thinks of just jacking his job in and taking up lawn bowling with dreams of playing on the Scottish National Team – even though he has never played on a team. The way he seeks escape makes him the type of character a reader can bond with.

The author’s descriptions of the man are fresh and catch the reader’s imagination. “Quiss has become slightly more handsome with age: his features finally gathering together after decades of gawky detachment. They have collected to bring a touch of distinction, a hint of appeal.” There is something so human about Tom Quiss

Next up is Shona Bally, a civilian investigator for the Glasgow police. The reader meets Shona as she goes through her daily makeup rituals. She is preparing to start a new job that will bring her into conflict with Inspector Quiss. Shona would never want to appear unfashionable and it is a stroke of writer’s genius to introduce the reader to her as she painstakingly deals with her appearance. One of Quiss’ ongoing observations of Shona has to do with her makeup. Whenever she blinks he imagines her eye lids like blinking semaphore flags sending out some mystery message.

The final character who will figure prominently in the mystery is Elspeth, Shona’s civilian investigator partner. We first see Elspeth through Shona’s eyes – a frumpy middle-aged woman dressed like she’s off to Church. Shona can’t help but think some makeup would help.

The novel is off and running and the reader is often given brief asides as to how the three main characters view one another. These asides serve to tell as much about the character in question as the one doing the assessing. Shona sees Quiss as teetering on the edge of casual and unkempt. She thinks, “Straighten up, man.” Those three words set the stage for all the interactions between Quiss and Shona. She pushes him continually to straighten up and do his job.

“He thinks she is too young for the job. She thinks he is too old for the job. She wears too much makeup. He needs to comb his hair.” And so it goes, back and forth in a delightful string of inner dialogue.

Elspeth’s take on Quiss is about the only thing she and Shona have in common. “She noted the crumples in his shirt – a match for his rumpled trousers – and wished he would see to his appearance. An image of him in his underwear came to her; an image of him standing beside her ironing board at the start of the morning, waiting for her to finish pressing his clothes. And she thought of the comb sitting in her handbag right now: wondering how he would react if she handed it to him one morning. A quick pull through would make all the difference.” Again, the author has masterfully foreshadowed just what makes Elspeth tick – she wants to be needed.

The second thing that hooked me was the actual mystery. This book is a page turner with a number of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. When the actual motive for the bizarre string of murders is revealed, I freely admit, I never saw it coming. Enough is held back, and more than a few red herrings are tossed out along the way to make readers feel as though they are involved in the actual investigation.

R. Gall has managed to write a mystery/thriller that is both character and plot driven and one aspect never overshadows the other. Through snappy dialogue between the characters much is revealed about each without the author feeling the need to elaborate on their backstories. We see them as they are for the period of time it takes the novel to unwind and are left to speculate about the details of the rest of their lives. On a couple of occasions, I felt I had to speculate too much – Elspeth and her mystery husband’s fate really left me pondering. There were a few too many threads left dangling with the crime resolution for my liking. But hey, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for an author to leave a reader wondering.

Kudos to R.R. Gall for the ability to create characters with broad brush strokes who came alive to the point that the reader craves to know more. Double kudos for placing those characters in a mystery that kept the heat turned up page after page.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com