Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Murder #Mystery Brand New Friend by @k8vane

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

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Successful journalist Paolo is feeling a little dissatisfied with life. Forced back to the UK from a happy life in Cairo, his wife is distant, his work frustrating. Then Mark, an activist from Paolo’s student past is revealed to be an undercover police officer who had eschewed life in the force to become a real activist. He contacts Paolo, and things get more interesting when a body is found in the community garden where Mark works. The story leads Paolo back to his university days and the reader is taken along with him as the author weaves together past and present.

I was a teenager in the eighties, and a student in the very early nineties and so I absolutely loved the references in this novel to the music I loved and the politics I was interested in – honestly, I could have been one of these intense students, going on anti-vivisection demos and listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, lecturing everyone about the gelatine in their wine gums – yes, that was me. And I can vouch for the authenticity of the writing here – it’s spot on and brings those years to life so well.

So not surprisingly the sections set in the eighties were the highlight for me, but that’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t really good. There’s a very clever and a very pertinent story here, one that encompasses the issues of the past and current political and environmental issues, and that includes fracking, the Arab Spring, and the scandal around the undercover police officers who infiltrated pressure groups.

The mystery around the murder seems secondary to a large extent – to me, this novel felt that it was about its characters, the dynamics between them, their hopes and aspirations, and how those dreams and ambitions were either realised or thwarted. The murder and the mystery surrounding it feel like something to tie these stories together and I do think that if you’re a fan of crime fiction then you might be a little disappointed. But if you like a good story, with well-crafted and intelligent writing, and real authentic characters, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Book description

Wherever Paolo went, Claire had got there first. The gigs, the parties, the enigmatic artist he was sure he was in love with. He would never have joined the group if it hadn’t been for Claire. And maybe, if he hadn’t, no one would have died.

Journalist Paolo Bennett learns that Mark, an animal rights activist he knew as a student in the 80s, has been exposed as a former undercover cop. A news blog claims Mark was the fabled spy who never went back, who liked his new life better than his own.

Paolo wants the truth. He wants the story. Despite everything, he wants to believe his friend. But Mark isn’t making it easy for him, disappearing just as everyone wants answers.

Was their group linked to a death on campus, one the police were strangely reluctant to investigate? Why is Mark’s police handler lying dead in his garden?

And why does Paolo suspect, even now, that Claire knows more than he does?

About the author

I’m an author of (mostly) crime and suspense, living in Devon.

My crime novel, Brand New Friend, will be published on 5 June 2018.

I have written for BBC drama Doctors and have had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

I mainly read crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and am a recent convert to audiobooks.

Kate Vane

Goodreads | AmazonUK | AmazonUS | Twitter

 

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #thriller Brand New Friend by @k8vane

Today’s team review is from Barb, she blogs here http://barbtaub.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Barb has been reading Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

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My Review: 4  stars out of 5

When I was a child, a relative gave me a surprise ball. It was a sphere made of strips of crepe paper, which unravelled to reveal little surprise gifts along the way. I couldn’t wait to unroll all of it, sure the center must contain the best gift of all. But although it took a while and made a mess, at the end there was just…crepe paper. All the surprises and presents had been in the unwrapping, not in the final result.

The book begins with well-known BBC journalist Paolo getting a call from Mark, a friend from his mildly revolutionary student days at Leeds. At first Paolo has no interest in someone he hasn’t seen in over thirty years. Then Mark points him to an emerging story revealing he had actually been an undercover police officer. Sensing an opportunity to get back into field work, journalist Paolo agrees to meet with Mark. “Paolo was thinking radio documentary. Did he want to go with a hard-news angle or more of a personal story? Perhaps a podcast. Should he start recording now?”When I started reading Brand New Friend, I thought from the blurb and the first chapter that it would be a classic whodunnit, with the talented amateur solving the crime that baffled the police. Instead, like the layers of that surprise ball, each piece that was removed only revealed a small reward…and lots more layers to unwind. And the rewards were all in the unwrapping, instead of solving the mystery at the center.

From there the book divides into two stories, one set in the student days in the mid-eighties, and one in contemporary time. At first I was annoyed and confused by the way the narrative time-hopped with no warning, and I considered it a flaw in the writing. Then I noticed something odd. Nobody was particularly interested in actually solving the crimes—certainly not the murder that had been ruled an accident thirty years ago, and not even the murder that’s discovered when Paolo arrives in Leeds. The past and present stories were deliberately intermingled, with each participant focused on their own reality. For some it was the past—the sloppy student house and its mildly amateur student revolutionaries who are going to change the world (when their revolutionary zeal doesn’t get in the way of drugs, sex, and the occasional University lecture). For others it’s the present and the people they’ve become thirty years on. Brand New Friend is a police thriller where the least important part is actually solving the crime.

In many ways, Paolo and Mark are similar. Both assume new identities when they first arrive at Leeds. The teenage Paul seizes the chance to leave his unexciting family and prosaic background behind, reinventing himself as Italian expat and animal rights activist Paolo. Mark is sent by the Special Demonstration Squad (an undercover unit of Greater London’s Metropolitan Police Service) to infiltrate their bumbling group.

Anyone old enough to remember the University scene at the time will recognize the descriptions of the student house teeming with infatuations, drugs, filth, unrequited lust, and sex. Everything is important, the center of their self-involved universes. There’s a sure reality about those scenes that makes each a perfect little jewel in its own time. I particularly loved the moment when Paolo realizes he can be whatever he wants. He’s jealous of a fellow student reading the (liberal) Guardian newspaper.

‘Paolo thought, enviously, why can’t I do that? And then he realised he could. You could go to the newsagent and they wouldn’t ask for ID, or make you list the founder members of the Fabian Society, or visit your parent’s house to ensure they had a stripped-pine kitchen (ideally with an Aga) with a framed poster on the wall of a recent exhibition at the Tate or failing that a guide to rare mushrooms, they would just sell it to you for money.’

I’m not as convinced about the contemporary story. As journalist Paolo struggles with his current identity as a suburban father with a desk job, missing the excitement of international postings, his marriage and life seem toned down and depressing. The revelation of Mark’s secret identity rocks the foundations of Paolo’s carefully constructed world. “All Paolo’s memories were now unreliable. And it somehow heightened the indignity that while he had seen nothing in Mark, Mark had been closely observing him back then, had spotted his secret, like a proper spy.” If the story stopped there, and simply followed the development of those student characters thirty years on, it would have been absolutely riveting. But instead it reached for less convincing ‘ripped from today’s headlines’ connections—from Russian oligarchs to shady international conglomerates based in Dubai to unscrupulous mercenaries.

But the writing itself is beautifully crafted. Characters are introduced, described, and developed as both Paolo and Mark become the characters they’ve invented. Mark is, in truth, the lifelong revolutionary, working for social change. Claire, despite a surface appearance of poise and happiness thirty years on, is still absorbed by Mark. And Isabel, the beautiful, damaged artist Paolo had lusted after from afar, “…Isabel had stood still. Frozen.” Last-minute flatmate Graham, overlooked by everyone at the time and still invisible thirty years later, is the catalyst to all the revelations. Dudley, only interested in his own life back then, has become more of what he always was—richer, fatter, more powerful, and ultimately unconcerned about those around him.  Paolo is the slightly exotic, always interesting journalist he invented for himself. But where Mark is frozen into his adopted role, Paolo never looks back. In fact, to all of their shock, he finds himself putting journalistic ideals ahead of self-preservation. Ultimately, it’s through that act that Paolo saves himself and the identity he’s spent thirty years building.

In Brand New Friend, the writing is terrific, especially the spot-on descriptions of student life. The characters who invent themselves—both those who escape their past and who become frozen in it—are brilliant, especially as we get to see what happens to them over thirty years. The contemporary plot elements could have been pared back with, I think, very little loss. But either way, this is an excellent book and one I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in a thoroughly character-driven story with a side helping of thriller.

**I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

Book description

Friend. Liar. Killer?

BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.

Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends. What did he miss?

Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.

Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?

About the author

I’m an author of (mostly) crime and suspense, living in Devon.

My crime novel, Brand New Friend, will be published on 5 June 2018.

I have written for BBC drama Doctors and have had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

I mainly read crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and am a recent convert to audiobooks.

Kate Vane

Goodreads | AmazonUK | AmazonUS | Twitter

 

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT @CathyRy reviews #crimefiction Brand New Friend by @k8vane

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs here http://betweenthelinesbookblog.com

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

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BBC journalist/reporter Paolo Bennet was recording a report when his phone rang. The caller was Mark, an old friend from his student days, with an urgent appeal for him to come to Leeds. Scenting a story and curious, Paolo agrees. On the train journey north Paolo scours the internet for anything he can find out about Mark. He wants to find out the truth—about Mark, his handler and about who caused a fire and unexplained death on campus back in the 80s. Paolo knew Mark Benson as an animal rights activist but he has now been exposed as undercover policeman Mark Swift. Paolo is conflicted after learning the truth about Mark and is unsure about his one time friend’s motives. Nevertheless, he travels to Leeds and meets Mark, only to learn Mark’s former police handler, Sid, has been murdered.

‘Paolo had so many questions he didn’t know where to start. On the train he had started to make notes, like he was preparing for an interview, structuring questions to establish a narrative arc — the political context, how Mark got involved, why he didn’t go back.

What it felt like to betray his friends.’

The narrative alternates between Paolo’s time at university and the present and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting and that threw me a bit. I’d assumed it would be primarily a murder mystery, but that aspect was very much in the background. The story’s main focus is the characters, their pasts and present and how everything connects. That made it quite a slow starter for me and I found some of the passages were a little too dialogue heavy. Once I’d changed mindset from a murder mystery to a character driven story I was able to get into it more.

Paolo has obvious doubts about someone who had influenced him so much as a young man but the promise of a story spurs him on to chase leads and look up his old university friends. Could Mark have killed Sid? If so, why? Paolo knows now Mark is a liar but does he really believe Mark could be a killer. And what, if anything, has any of this to do with what happened on campus.

It was interesting to witness the perceptively described and played out dynamics between the diverse group of students. How the characters and their attitudes and principles, seemingly all but Mark’s, had changed in the years between university and present day. And as it happens, Mark wasn’t the only one who was sparing with the truth. Paolo started life as the more ordinary Paul Bennett. Some serious issues were tackled in the story, including animal testing and fracking, without being prejudicial either way. I would have enjoyed a little more exploration into the murder case but that’s just my personal preference. What makes this stand out are the extremely good character studies.

Book description

Friend. Liar. Killer?

BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.

Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends. What did he miss?

Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.

Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?

About the author

I’m an author of (mostly) crime and suspense, living in Devon.

My crime novel, Brand New Friend, will be published on 5 June 2018.

I have written for BBC drama Doctors and have had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

I mainly read crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and am a recent convert to audiobooks.

Kate Vane

Goodreads | AmazonUK | AmazonUS | Twitter

 

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #crimefiction Brand New Friend by Kate Vane @k8vane

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading BRAND NEW FRIEND by Kate Vane

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4 out of 5 stars

The basic plot: Paolo is a BBC journalist, who gets a call from Mark, an old friend from university days, when they were fellow animal rights activists. Then a newspaper report exposes Mark as an undercover police officer, and his former ‘handler’ is murdered.  Paolo is wrenched away from his affluent life, with the house in Suffolk, successful wife and two children, back to his days at Leeds University, and the friends he knew at the time.  Who exposed Mark?  Who was really responsible for an on-campus fire back in the 1980s, in which a security officer died?  Paolo soon discovers that there is more going on than originally met his journalistic eye…

This book was a slow starter for me, but by about 20% I started to get more into it, and by half way through I was enjoying it a lot, and looking forward to getting back to it.  The story dots back and forth in equal measure between the murder case and Paolo’s life back in what I assume to be around 1984; gradually, the two stories merge.  I found the murder/conspiracy plot and present day half of the book only moderately interesting, but loved the sections set in the old days ~ the desperate-to-be-hip-and-relevant characters and the atmosphere of the time were so real.  The wannabe cool guy Paolo, terminally bored Isabel, spiky, chip-on-her-shoulder Claire and determinedly zany ‘Ratman’ are so well drawn, as was their dismissal of football-and-a-pint boy Graham, the odd man out.  I loved how aspirational they all were, though over the years their aspirations changed ~ from the ‘making a difference’ cliché and being seen as authentic and academically inspired despite having been drunk/stoned/speeding/in bed with a stranger until 4 am the night before, to succeeding in the capitalist society they once claimed to despise.

What kept me reading was the astute observations, and the slow unfolding of the changing dynamic between the friends – I actually would have been happy with just this as a novel, with maybe just the security officer murder aspect; Ms Vane’s understanding of her characters is good enough to carry a less sensational plot.  Only two aspects grated a tiny bit ~ in the 1980s Claire is meant to be a working class girl from Durham, but she talks like a middle class girl from the south; there is no trace of the North East in any of her dialogue.  Also, they all refer to ‘uni’ instead of ‘university’ ~ aside from the fact that it’s ghastly, I am not sure people had started doing so in the early-mid 1980s.  I believe it originated from Aussie soap operas; the first time I heard it was around 1989.

To sum up, I’d give 3* to the ‘main’ story which, for me, had too many long conversations with people explaining to each other why things happened and how they found them out, but 4.5* with some 5* moments to the whole 1980s element ~ thus, I shall round up at 4*.   I didn’t love it all but I liked it (some parts very much), and it’s definitely worth a read.  Especially if you were a student in the 1980s, I should think.

Book description

Friend. Liar. Killer?

BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.

Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends. What did he miss?

Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.

Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?

About the author

I’m an author of (mostly) crime and suspense, living in Devon.

My crime novel, Brand New Friend, will be published on 5 June 2018.

I have written for BBC drama Doctors and have had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

I mainly read crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and am a recent convert to audiobooks.

Kate Vane

Goodreads | AmazonUK | AmazonUS | Twitter