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Quintin Jardine is a scottish author who specialises in gritty crime novels, having written 33 of them since 1993. I got into the style of the author by reading several of the novels in his Detective Bob Skinner novels. I had dabbled in his Oz Blackstone series, but was less keen than I was on Skinner finding it a bit corny at times, so when I noticed the new series featuring the ex-wife of Oz Blackstone, Primavera, I was firstly confused - the last novel I had seen the character in she had died in a plane crash. Secondly, I thought it was more than worthy of my attention, as she had been an interesting and manipulative character throughout the novels in the 'Oz' series I had read.
'Inhuman Remains' is book one in the new series, though not the first book I read in the series. There are 3 books in the series, with book one having been published in 2009. I was interested to see if the author of 30 previous novels would still get me engrossed in the story at hand.
The novel had me off my footing from the start. Set only a matter of a year maximum after the plane crash, we discover that she did not in fact die, but in fact went into hiding, and get to see her perspective of why. This had me hooked from the start as the last Blackstone novel I read was 'For The Death Of Me' where the plane crash had happened. I had seen this from the character of Oz's point of view, and now I could see how Primavera felt about it all, and it was not what I was expecting.
Primavera in the past has been one tough cookie. Here we see her at times a lot softer. She is now living in a small village called St Marti near the larger town of L'Escala. This is an area the author is very familiar with as he lives here himself, and the descriptions of the town and all it has to offer for the residents and tourists is really vivid, from the cafes to the church, to the local motorway network, to the beach. No detail seems missed to me, and it makes a realistic background for the novel.
Primavera is a woman in mourning. Oz died, and she came out of hiding to regain custody of their son, Tom, who is now a lad of seven, attending school in Spain. Primavera is trying to occupy herself as best she knows in this small village, when out of the blue, she gets a phonecall from her Auntie Adrienne who she has never been particularly close to.
Adrienne comes out to Spain to visit, dropping a bombshell that her son, Primavera's cousin, Frank, has gone missing, and she wants Primavera to help to track him down.
Primavera reluctantly takes on the task when she realises that her cousin has got himself involved in a seedy property development project near Seville. We get to travel with Primavera to Seville and get more colourful description of the life there.
Primavera manages to track down Frank, but only to end up also being a fugitive on the run across Spain trying to save her life, and that of her cousin and Aunt.
The story had more ingenious twists and turns for me than a windy Spanish hillside road, leaving me not sure what would be coming next. I never found myself able to predict where we were going to go next with it. At times it was violent, sometimes I was a little shocked, but I was always fully entertained and keen to find out what would happen next.
The style of the novel is quite a chatty one, which at times really had me engaged, but at other times I found a bit much. I think some of this is because Jardine tries hard to make the character of Primavera really realistic, and just sometimes takes it that step too far, and it just feels a bit 'cringey'. For example, there is a little scene where Primavera takes her Auntie to the beach. Bearing in mind her Auntie is just the other side of 70, she is described as whipping off her top to sunbathe topless, with Prim having a dialogue with her about it, which I will quote for you to see what I mean.
'Bloody hell,' I heard myself murmur. I'm rather proud of mine, but I don't expect them to look like that in thirty years.
She smiled as she caught my glance. 'Silicon dear, the finest silicon, not those awful water filled things.'
I find that it is not really how women talk to each other, not as a whole. I couldn't imagine as a thirty odd year old woman like Primavera having a conversation like this with an elderly aunt in her 70s who she barely know as she has not seen her. Being this age myself, I may discuss something like this with a close female friend, at a push, but it is like some awful caricature of how women are meant to behave and it just rings so false to me.
Luckily incidents like this are a bit few and far between, so don't really spoil the flow of the story for me, but it does stop it being an exceptional novel for me. It is a shame when so many other aspects of this author's work are great such as character and plot development, pace of the novel, and keeping the reader engrossed.
I am left thinking this is a great new series, I find it stronger than the Oz Blackstone series at the start, perhaps as Primavera is already a character I have some interest in. I can't be 100% sure, but I think she would have grabbed my attention having never come across her before, as she is a character with lots of charisma. I don't think I could ever be surprised by what this woman could become involved in, so I see a lot of scope for a long running series in her own right.
The novel has a RRP of £7.99. It is currently available on amazon for £4.99 on kindle, between £0.01 and £7.19 in paperback, or £3.44 to £19.99 in hardback. I am going to give it 4 stars, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes gritty fast paced mystery stories.
Primavera Blackstone wants to keep a low profile. After an apparent attempt on her life by her ex-husband, she is still feeling fragile, even though Mr Blackstone is now dead. Living in Spain with her seven year old son, Tom, she thinks she is safe from prying eyes, but then her Aunt Adrienne comes to visit and all hell lets lose. Adrienne asks Prim to find her son, Prim's cousin, Frank, who has been out of contact for some time and who she suspects is in some kind of trouble. Prim eventually tracks Frank down, or rather, Frank finds her, but by then Adrienne is in the hands of his enemies, the perpetrators of a massive commercial fraud. Can Prim help Frank to safety, find Adrienne and solve the mystery, all without putting her son's life in danger?
Until I looked more closely at the book, I had not realised that this was not one of the Bob Skinner series, with which I have a rather love/hate relationship - I enjoyed the stories, but hated the pompous Bob Skinner with a passion. In fact, this is the beginning of a new series featuring Primavera Blackstone, ex-wife of Oz Blackstone, on whom Quintin Jardine has based another series. Knowing how I felt about Bob Skinner, I was slightly dubious about how I would react to Primavera; thankfully, she is a much more likeable character, and, although developed by a male author, is one that I could associate with.
Primavera is a tough cookie whose life has not been easy. Believing that her ex-husband wanted her dead, she was forced to forge a new name for herself in the US, only coming out of the woodwork to claim her son once she knew her ex was dead. Yet Prim does have some more pleasant characteristics. She is loyal, friendly and, to a certain extent, is vulnerable - this we get to see in her relationship with Frank, who she allows to get under her skin. She is perhaps a little exaggerated - female 'sleuths' always seem to be portrayed as tougher than they can possibly be - but apart from that, she is a well-rounded character complete with flaws, and I really enjoyed reading about her. There was certainly none of the 'I'm better than you' attitude that I have always felt Bob Skinner had.
The story is quite a good one, but does have its flaws. For starters, the commercial fraud was difficult for me to understand - anyone with a background in finance may not have had a problem, but it went over my head and should have been more simply described. I found myself skipping over the bits that involved the fraud, thereby at least momentarily losing the thread of what was happening. That aside, I enjoyed the pacing of the story; every time I thought I had worked out what was going on, it would take another turn. And there is a twist at the end - it wasn't a complete surprise, but it was pleasantly satisfying nevertheless.
I've read a lot of crime fiction and so I like, if possible, something different to make a book stand out a little. An exotic location always helps; in this case, it is Spain, which isn't all that exotic, but still better than a wet and windy British city. Prim lives on the coast in a small village which sounds amazing, but she also visits other places, including Sevilla and Barcelona, and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the architecture. A little more information on the food would have been welcome, but as that would partially detract from the story, I am perhaps being picky.
The style of writing is generally quite plain, but did have one annoying tendency that I noticed in the early part of the book. Prim would be narrating her story, but would suddenly add in a chatty phrase in brackets. As an example, she describes Tom going off to bed with his dog and a Harry Potter books, then in brackets says - ''I plan to allow him only one a year; I reckon that later books are a bit too dark for pre-teen kids'' before returning to her narration. I found this unnecessary and irritating, although I understand the author is trying to imitate Prim's informal way of speaking.
This book isn't without its faults; nevertheless, it is a good and entertaining read and would be perfect for the beach. For the start of a new series, it certainly shows promise and I will be looking out for the next one in the series. I am also tempted to go back to the Oz Blackstone series to find out what sort of man Prim was married to. Recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Headline Paperbacks, it has 416 pages. ISBN: 9780755348992