Helen Grace Series (1-5) – M.J. Arlidge

My intention was to do two reviews a week but that seems to be going down the drain a bit so we’ll have to settle for one.

I’m currently tied to my phone and email, desperately waiting for feedback on an interview I did nearly two weeks ago or for anyone else in the publishing world who I’ve contacted in the last few months to offer me some form of work. This is the frustrating thing about being unemployed – it’s all a waiting game.

Anyway, Helen Grace.

I was actually put on to these by a very lovely lady who works at Penguin Random House. I went in to chat to her about the publishing industry way back when I was still teaching but had made the decision to leave. We talked about the job and how competitive it is and the different areas and then we started talking about books. It was one of those horrible moments where someone asks you a question and ordinarily you’d have no end of responses but because you’re nervous, you panic.

She asked what the last thing I’d read and loved was and the only thing I could think of was the book I’d begun on the tube into London, Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. It’s a good (if slightly slow) take on the traditional police procedural, with a rebellious and lone-wolf type oceanographer acting as a reluctant consultant. Anyway, off the back of that, she pulled the first book in the Helen Grace series, Eeny Meeny from the shelf and handed it over.

This was a rather enlightening moment for me, first and foremost because the fact that she could just pluck a book from the shelf and give it to me, completely free of charge (it wasn’t the only one she gave me either!) was unbelievably exciting, and was pretty much the deciding factor that I had to make the move in to publishing. It was also a great moment because, when I began to read the book on my way home, I was immediately gripped.

I have read a lot of police procedurals. It is now a fairly regular occurrence for me to sit down to watch one on tv only to realise a few minutes later that I’ve already read the book it’s based on. This is, however, one of the best.

That’s not to say it’s the most literary. No. It’s not ‘clever’ in the same way that Sherlock Holmes or Poirot could be said to be ‘clever’ but it’s a thrilling read.

Much of this is due to the very short chapters. This fast-paced structure means that you’re never bored and, perhaps even more dangerously, it’s very easy to fall into the ‘just one more chapter’ cycle, because ‘just one more chapter’ won’t take too long to get through.

DI Helen Grace is a strong female character and although she is sexualised somewhat through the presentation of her personal life, as well as the fetishism of the woman on a motorbike in leathers, she is successful due to her skill as a detective rather than because of what she looks like or who she’s slept with.

The other characters are all fairly typical of what you’d expect of the genre, though generally with a twist. I can’t really say too much about any of them without giving the game away but they’re an ambitious bunch who all regard Helen with a great deal of admiration but this is somewhat tinged with resentment when they don’t get what they want from her.

The first book, Eeny Meeny, gets straight to the heart of Helen’s life and becomes very personal very quickly. The crimes committed are just about horrific enough to keep me interested and it’s pretty tense from the word ‘go’.

The others, in order Pop Goes the Weasel, The Doll’s House, Liar Liar and Little Boy Blue, are all very much in a similar vein – they don’t stop for a second. Each details the deranged workings of a very damaged individual that Helen must track down and each has some significance to her personal life too. I think I read the whole series so far in the space of about a month and have been passing them around to everyone I know since then. In fact I’m not entirely sure where my copy of Eeny Meeny is which is rather upsetting. Someone must have not given it back. Hate when that happens.

I’m writing this now because there is a new book out. It is called Hide and Seek and the only reason I haven’t yet read it is because it’s currently only out in hardback and I own all the others in paperback so I’m just going to have to wait.

By the way, it’s published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of PRH and I’ve currently got an application out for a role with them so if any one working there comes across this: hi, love what you do, please give me a chance!

If you’re a fan of the crime genre, give these a go. I guarantee you won’t regret it. They’re good fun and gripping enough that you won’t be able to put them down.

Currently reading:
Book: Boundary, by Andrée A. Michaud (Not released yet. I’m so important.)
Audio: The Dead Won’t Sleep, by Anna Smith (which I’ve definitely listened to before but can’t remember the details!)

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