John Stonehouse- An American Outlaw

Product DetailsThe scion of one of the West’s great outlaws comes home from the war in Iraq–Gilman James, the last of three childhood friends to return. His brothers-in-arms are mere shadows of their former selves–Gil, unmarked–determines to take care of them. But how far should a man go for the people he loves? Stepping across the line between right and wrong, Gil finds himself stranded in the Texan desert-as a bank heist he’s planned goes horribly wrong. Pursued into the badlands by US Marshal John Whicher, Gil crosses paths with Tennille Labrea; an outlander, with her own demons to fight. Shielding a secret too precious to share with anyone, she’s ready to cross her own line in the sand. What makes an outlaw? Marshal John Whicher, veteran of the First Gulf War thinks he knows. But can natural justice ever outrank the law? For three very different people a moment of reckoning is set in train: violent, defining; inescapable.

Always keen to highlight debut authors, John Stonehouse has proved to be a real find with his first book, An American Outlaw. This is a blistering slice of modern Americana that is hugely reminiscent in the spare, sparse style of authors like Cormac McCarthy, Ace Atkins and Denis Johnson, and hooks the reader throughout with its depiction of a fast-moving and tension filled manhunt across Texas.

The action focuses on Gilman James (a distant relation of outlaw Jesse James) and his two cohorts, having successfully completed one heist, and on the verge of a second in the far southwest of Texas. However, due to an unfortunate power outage, and the gung-ho actions of the other members of his team, their second job leads to death and injury and sees Gil and his injured friend on the receiving end of a desperate manhunt in the company of Tennille Labrea, a woman harbouring a secret and with an agenda all of her own. Stonehouse splits the action effectively between the trio’s flight from justice, and the actions of those who pursue them, headed by John Whicher from the US Marshals Office- a dogged and uncompromising ex-soldier who always aims gets his man.

With the ex-military background of James, his cohorts, and the marvellous and dogged Whicher, Stonehouse plays heavily on the themes of friendship, loyalty and the bonds and experiences illicited by the involvement in military conflict, and this is a real strength of the book. There is an interesting play on the way that the moral duty afforded to those who serve their country can be quickly unravelled in their return to society, as evinced by James and his friends’ actions. Stonehouse reveals a step at a time the connection between the main male characters through their military service across both Gulf Wars, highlighting key events across their tours of duty, and how these incidents have shaped and defined their connections to one another. The characters of Whicher and James, in particular, are incredibly well- defined, and lead to a shifting of loyalties in the reader’s conscience along the way, as neither man is wholly good or bad, making them both vital to the central plot and the holding of the reader’s interest. The pace is relentless and tense, and supported by this excellent characterisation, truly keeps those pages turning. Although I was initially less sure about the introduction of the female charater, Tennille, a young Hispanic woman joining up with the fugitives, my fears were quickly assuaged, as her story was integrated well into the main plot, thus undoing my feeling of her being a token female character to make up the numbers.

The atmosphere and location of the action is brilliantly rendered, with clipped and precise descriptions of the dusty environs of the Texas landscape and its haunting but desolate beauty. You can almost hear the twanging strains of a lone guitar, as the fugitives track across this endless wasteland of run down gas stations, diners and the miles and miles of deserted and hostile Texan terrain. It is incredibly visual, and also ramps up the tension tenfold, as the fugitives’ desperation increases in the sights of their dogged pursuer. Aided by the authentic and spare dialogue which captures the linguistic rhythms of Gilman’s southern roots and the Texan drawl of others, and the superb characterisation of the central characters, I would thoroughly recommend this. A good read.

John Stonehouse is a writer who’s spent a lot of time traveling, both in the states and overseas. Interested in history, literature, music and poetry he’s drawn to wide-open spaces; places few people go – inside or out. An American Outlaw is his first novel. He’s currently writing his second, due out later this year. Follow on Twitter @JohnStonehouse2/ https://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Stonehouse/1440763482836694 

(I bought An American Outlaw  in  Kindle format)

Down Mexico Way- Sam Hawken- La Frontera/Christopher Irvin- Federales

La Frontera, by Sam HawkenAna Torres is a Texas Ranger assigned to a dusty outpost to protect the border. When she discovers the body of a dead crosser, the stage is set for an investigation and a confrontation in the nighttime desert.
Luis González lives on the Mexican side, helping those who seek a better life in the north while looking for peace in his own way.
Marisol Herrera, a border crosser, braves hardship and dangers on her journey from the high mountains of El Salvador to the sun-blasted flats of the Mexico/Texas border. She is alone, chasing a dream, but threatened by the realities of la frontera.  The stories of these three  intersect in the badlands of Texas and there will be death and pain and prices paid along the banks of the Rio Grande….

Following in the tradition of his first two novels, The Dead Women of Juarez and Tequilla Sunset, Hawken brings another glorious and affecting Mexico influenced novel with La Frontera. Cleverly intertwining three distinct and separate stories, Hawken manages to encompass the essential ills of South American and Mexican life, showing the desperation of those keen to enter America in the search of a better life, those that feed financially on this desperation, and the forces of law and order who seek to thwart their foolhardy attempts at escape. I can say with no compunction whatsoever that this book was so perfectly constructed that all three strands stood both singly and together as intensely powerful and accomplished pieces of writing. So often in split narrative books there is a story that does not hold the same level of interest in the reader, but Hawken so neatly side-steps this due to his vibrant and empathetic characterisation.

I felt that I really saw beneath the skin of all three protagonists, who all to some degree have their morality and sense of purpose severely tested and questioned as the story develops. Ana is a representative of the law, tracking border crossers, marking the locations of the sinister rape-trees, negotiating with landholders who have little time or sympathy for the border crossers, and proving her strength as a woman in an incredibly male-dominated environment. Luis is an ex-coyote, now dedicated to providing the essential supplies for potential border crossers, but who quickly discovers that his former life is not so easy to shrug off, which brings him into contact with Marisol, making her way from El Salvador and the inherent dangers this encompasses to get to Mexico on the the brink of reaching the promised land- America. Luis and Marisol’s stories in particular are truly touching, as Hawken affords the right level of sympathy and empathy with both, whatever the rights and wrongs of their actions, previously or now. I was absolutely rooting for Marisol, who shows such a strength and dignity as the story progresses in her single-minded determination to reach her goal, and those she protects along the way, mirrored in the actions of Luis.

I must confess that having read both of Hawken’s previous books, I was not expecting any deviation from the accomplished and gripping style that permeates his writing. I was quite right in this assumption, as La Frontera, merely strengthens my admiration for his writing with its perfect rendition of not only location, but the sustained and probing characterisation that underscores a compelling plot. Excellent.

fedMexican Federal Agent Marcos Camarena dedicated his life to the job. But in a country where white knights die meaningless deaths, martyred in a hole with fifty other headless bodies in the desert, corruption is not an attribute but a scale; no longer a stigma but the status quo.

Next to Christopher Irvin’s Federales, a slim and precise novella with a control of narrative that Irvin so regularly exhibits in his short story output. Focusing on Marcos, a veteran of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt and violent federal police, or federales, Irvin paints a picture of a man adrift in the moral abyss of those who hold themselves up as the defenders of this torn and violent society. Marcos is defined by his moral integrity in an organisation functioning immorally with bribes and pay-offs and the leaking of information, but comes to a crisis point where he can stomach the illegality rife in his department no longer, and cannot sink to the depths of his colleagues’ actions. He takes a job as a personal bodyguard to Eva Santos, the former mayor of a small town on the Mexican coast, who has proved herself to be a vociferous and outspoken challenger to the powerful drug cartels, based on the real life political figure of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was assassinated in Mexico, through her condemnation of the cartels. What follows is a poignant, but ultimately tragic portrayal of Marcos’ endeavours to protect Eva and her daughter Clara, from the the insidious reach of the most corrupt sphere of Mexican society.

The writing is defined by its sparsity, and leaves more said by what is evidently unsaid, in the chosen narrative style, and is made all the more powerful and vital for it. It is a moral tale without being preachy, and a fitting tribute to those who seek to buck the status quo that the corruption and influence of the cartels wreaks on Mexican life. A short but satisfying and emotive read.

About the authors:

Sam Hawken is a novelist whose mainstream publishing career began in 2011 with the publication in the United Kingdom of THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUÁREZ, a crime novel that used the real-life tragedy of female homicides in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez as the stepping-off point for a story of corruption, despair and tragedy. It was shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger. TEQUILA SUNSET followed in 2012, returning once again to Ciudad Juárez and its sister city, El Paso, Texas. This time Hawken drew upon the legacy of the infamous gang Barrio Azteca, at one time responsible for over 80% of the murders in Juárez, formerly the murder capital of the world. Once again, the Crime Writers Association recognized Hawken’s work, nominating TEQUILA SUNSET for the Gold Dagger (best crime novel of the year). Trained as an historian, Sam Hawken leans on his scholastic background to create books with solid connections to the real world, while also telling human stories in the crime-fiction genre. Though he no longer counts Texas as his home, he has not left the American Southwest behind. His third traditionally published novel, LA FRONTERA, appeared in December 2013, with a fourth, MISSING, coming in 2014. A self-published release from 2013, JUÁREZ DANCE, mines this same fruitful territory. Follow on Twitter @samhawken / www.samhawken.com/

Christopher Irvin has traded all hope of a good night’s rest for the chance to spend his mornings writing dark and noir fiction. His short stories have appeared in several publications, including Thuglit, Noir Nation, and Shotgun Honey. His debut novella, FEDERALES, is out now from One Eye Press. He lives with his wife and son in Boston, Massachusetts. Follow on Twitter @chrislirvin / http://christopherirvin.net/

 

David Jackson- Cry Baby

DJIt’s every mother’s nightmare – the abduction of her baby. That’s how it starts for Erin Vogel when she is attacked and left unconscious in her apartment. When she awakes, it is to find that Georgia, her six-month-old daughter, has been taken. But Erin is given a chance to get Georgia back. At an unthinkable price. Like most mothers, she has always said she would do anything for her child. Now the strength of that bond is about to be put to the ultimate test. And when her actions arouse the interest of a certain Detective Callum Doyle, one thing is inevitable: a confrontation that will be as explosive as it is unforgettable…

A real highpoint of the publishing year for me, is a new addition to David Jackson’s excellent Detective Callum Doyle series. But fear not, gentle (but criminally minded) reader, if you have not sampled the wares of Mr Jackson before, because Cry Baby proves an easy entry point into the pre-existing series, and then you can relish the experience of playing catch-up with the others. Everyone’s a winner…

The book grabs your interest from the get-go with a young mother, Erin Vogel, experiencing the nightmare scenario of the abduction of her baby, Georgia. To add to her general torment, she finds herself under the surveillance, both visual and audio, of the disembodied voice of her daughter’s abductor- a voice commanding her to kill six random strangers before midnight the following day. If she reneges on the deal her baby will die. Jackson ramps up the tension of this twisted mission in spades, as we bear witness to the utter mental and physical turmoil that this produces in Erin, and the fear and indecision she experiences in selecting her victims. Just how can she choose who deserves to die in order for her baby to live? This is not a premise for a story that I have encountered before and Jackson, to his credit, handles it beautifully, speeding up and slowing down Erin’s mission accordingly to keep the tension on a knife edge throughout, and I am revealing nothing more. You are in for a treat…

As I said, this is another book featuring Detective Callum Doyle, a smart-mouthed but commited New York cop, who displays all the quick-wittedness and moral integrity, that we relish in our cop protagonists. He’s not having a great day at the office, when news of these seemingly random killings break, juggling the needs of both this case and the appearance at the station of a man with Rainman abilities professing to have killed his mother. Doyle dubs him Albert, as in Einstein, and the additional narrative that develops from their interactions is both poignant and humorous, providing a sliver of light relief from the moral trials of Erin in the opposing storyline. Jackson, once again demonstrates the mordant and clever wit that his character Doyle is synonomous with, whether he be joshing on with his colleagues, or using his acerbic wit to frustrate his superiors. Its deftly handled and a real shining point of the book.

With the benefit of having read the three previous books, Pariah, The Helper and Marked, I am pleased to say that Cry Baby more than came up to scratch. I enjoyed the very singular and particular focus that this book had on one day in Doyle’s life, with less emphasis on his outside distractions. The plot was perfectly judged, both in content and pace, cut through with humour and a satisfying degree of violence! Oh- and there might be a twist or two along the way. Enjoy!

David Jackson is the acclaimed author of the crime thriller series featuring New York detective Callum Doyle. Pariah, his debut novel, was Highly Commended in the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Awards. It is published in the UK by Pan Macmillan, and various audio and foreign rights have been sold. Follow-up novels in the series are: The Helper, Marked, and Cry Baby. The Guardian newspaper said of David’s writing: ‘Recalls Harlan Coben – though for my money Jackson is the better writer.’ More information about David and his novels can be found on his website at www.davidjacksonbooks.com where he can also be contacted. He goes under the name @Author_Dave on Twitter

Read Raven’s reviews here:

David Jackson- Pariah

David Jackson- The Helper

David Jackson- Marked

Claire Kendal- The Book of You

Clarissa is becoming more and more frightened of her colleague, Rafe. He won’t leave her alone, and he refuses to take no for an answer. He is always there. Being selected for jury service is a relief. The courtroom is a safe haven, a place where Rafe can’t be. But as a violent tale of kidnap and abuse unfolds, Clarissa begins to see parallels between her own situation and that of the young woman on the witness stand. Realizing that she bears the burden of proof, Clarissa unravels the twisted, macabre fairy tale that Rafe has spun around them – and discovers that the ending he envisions is more terrifying than she could have imagined.

Fitting perfectly into the hugely sucessful crime genre of psychological suspense, prepare to enter Clarissa’s world- a complex but increasingly insecure woman, whose nightmare experience at the hands of a stalker, is laid bare in this compelling debut novel…

I think I can safely say that the majority of women have experienced at some time in their life the unwelcome attentions of another individual, admittedly not to the horrifying degree of Clarissa, but enough to unsettle and to impact in some way on your daily life. In The Book of You, Kendal amplifies this experience to terrifying heights, as her protagonist Clarissa, after a drunken one night stand (which actually reveals that she was date-raped) is then subjected to the creepy and slowly escalating attentions of her attacker Rafe. Rafe, a respected university lecturer, is imbued with a conniving and dangerous intelligence, that reveals itself gradually throughout the book, whilst highlighting the increasing inability of Clarissa to take action against him. He cleverly pre-empts her every move, and by degrees, Clarissa comes to realise that any course of action she may take would be largely ineffectual, as he tightens his grip on the control of her life, and disempowers her. By far the strongest aspect of this book is the way that Kendal portrays the increasingly questioning and undermined state of Clarissa’s interior monologue. With every move that Rafe makes, Clarissa cannot see past the fact that she would not be believed as he skilfully paints himself as more of an emotional victim at the hands of a neurotic woman. The frustrations that Clarissa experiences and that are relayed to us, are not only realistically portrayed, but raise a sense of frustration in the reader as we see Clarissa increasingly manipulated and outmanoeuvred by Rafe. This leads to an intensely claustrophobic reading experience akin to Elizabeth Haynes’ brilliant Into The Darkest Corner, where Kendal replicates the overbearing tension of psychological suspense.

In a parallel narrative, Clarissa has to embark on several weeks of jury service, observing the unfolding tale of a young woman brutally attacked and raped, by a group of men. As Clarissa’s own personal mental torment, ebbs and flows within the book in conjunction with the court case, there is a nice overlapping of these two tales that are defined so closely by their similarities. Two women who are fighting to be believed. I must admit I wasn’t altogether taken with the growing emotional relationship between Clarissa and one of her fellow jurors, and found this a all a bit forced and unnecessary, adding little to the plot overall, as her emotional distrust of men at this point would be unlikely to make a romantic entanglement under such emotional strain. I did, however, enjoy the increasing steel that Clarissa begins to show in extricating herself from Rafe’s dangerous attentions, so the descent into silly weak woman mode with her stereotypical hunky fireman, is offset.

Overall, a good suspenseful read with enough of the well-executed tension and suffocating claustrophobia that such a situation would produce in its victim. Kendal maintains a good pace of plot for the most part, and I found this a relatively quick and satisfying read, as the pace and reveals of the plot do make you reluctant to put down or break away from your reading. A good debut, and perfect for fans of a well-written psychological tale.

Claire Kendal was born in America and educated in England, where she has spent all of her adult life. The Book of You is her first novel. It will be translated into over a dozen languages. Claire teaches English Literature and Creative Writing, and lives in the South West with her family. She is working on her next psychological thriller.

10 Questions with Claire Kendal Harpercollins Indy Thinking

(With thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC,  and the incredibly sinister, but beautiful,  black rose that arrived on Valentine’s Day…)

 

 

Pascal Garnier- The Front Seat Passenger

9781908313638-2-2014-14Fabien and Sylvie had both known their marriage was no longer working. And yet when Sylvie is involved in a fatal car accident, her husband is stunned to discover that she had a lover who died alongside her. With thoughts of revenge on his mind, Fabien decides to find out about the lover’s widow, Martine, first by stalking her, then by breaking into her home. He really needs to get Martine on her own. But she never goes anywhere without her formidable best friend, Madeleine…

 

I think that it is probably a given that I am an ardent admirer of the work of the late, lamented Pascal Garnier, with his small, yet perfectly formed, dark slices of fiction that always put the less savoury aspects of the human psyche so succinctly under the microscope. Drawing comparisons to Georges Simenon and Patricia Highsmith, Garnier was a prolific author of more that sixty works, and a true master of the surreal noir thriller. Having previously reviewed The A26, and having also read The Panda Theory, How’s The Pain? and Moon In A Dead Eye, one of my favourite imprints, Gallic Books, have now released The Front Seat Passenger.

As you can see from the synopsis, the premise is simple enough, with a man discovering the infidelity of his wife, and her death occuring in the company of her lover. However, in the spirit of Garnier’s twisted and grimly humorous style, does Fabien merely retreat into a wave of self-pity and grief from the discovery of this affair? No- he seeks retribution by pursuing Martine, the widow of his wife’s lover, and what we bear witness to is a man that is entirely disengaged with the emotions of grief, and hellbent on his own twisted motives for revenge. With his Machiavellian plotting to woo Martine, and extricate her from the overbearing influence of her best friend Madeleine, Garnier produces some singularly absurd moments, that have you laughing and cringing in equal measure. However, this being a trademark example of the grim and disconcerting narratives that Garnier produces, the tables are swiftly turned on the scheming Fabien in a truly surprising fashion.

It is this ability of Garnier to insert the ridiculous and the horrific in fairly normal aspects of life and turns of events that set him so far apart from his contemporaries. His books are slim, but contain an expansive scope of the deepest and most dislikeable characteristics of his protagonists, but not so far removed that they do not strike some sort of chord or recognition from his readers. By focusing on the essential and most destructive aspects of human emotions and employing his style of writing, the familiar is made familiar, where we can recognise our own emotions, but also unfamilliar in the way that his protagonists deal with, and react to, these emotions. Thus, the absurd situations that arise are merely an extension of how some people would react in situations like these, but taken to a whole new existential level, in an effort to resonate with the natural wit and intelligence of his readers. The ordinary is made extraordinary, and our reading pleasure is amplified because of this, punctuated as it is by moments of dark humour, and moral revulsion.

Alluding to the writing style of Garnier himself, these are slim works of genius and little more needs to be said. Fin.

Read another review of The Front Seat Passenger- Crimepieces

My review – Pascal Garnier-The A26

(With thanks to Gallic Books for the ARC)

Pierre Lemaitre- Irene

For Commandant Verhœven life is beautiful: he is happily married, expecting his first child with the lovely Irène. But his blissful existence is punctured by a murder of unprecedented savagery. Worse still, the press seem to have it in for him – his every move is headline news. When he discovers that the killer has killed before – that each murder is a homage to a classic crime novel – the fourth estate are quick to coin a nickname . . . The Novelist . . . With both men in the public eye, the case develops into a personal duel, each hell-bent on outsmarting the other. There can only be one winner – whoever has the least to lose . . .

After the phenomenal success of Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex on its release last year, it was with some relish that I embarked on Irene. I think it’s probably a fairly moot point that I am adding my still, small voice to the general acclaim that Irene has garnered since its release but here are my thoughts.

Quite simply this book is terrific, in the first instance with the superb characterisation of the central detective protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the diminutive but dogged police officer on the trail of an insidious serial killer, dubbed The Novelist. Verhoeven is a man composed of a plethora of insecurities, not only by his small stature, but also with the imminent arrival of his first child, and the no small matter of guiding his police through a knotty and increasingly difficult investigation. As we are immersed deeper into his private and public persona, there are few police protagonists that become so indelibly fixed in your imagination, and more importantly raise your empathy so effectively. As the investigation escalates and equally Verhoeven’s fears surrounding the support he is offering to his beloved wife Irene, near the end of her pregnancy, your engagement with him is as palpable as the attendant tension of the central murder plot. I loved the balance that Lemaitre achieves between the stalwart doggedness of this character, the natural sarcasm and humour that arises from his character, and the utter fear that overtakes him as all that he holds most dear is threatened by this barbaric killer.

Lemaitre is an incredibly clever writer and what I was most overawed by is his humility and reverential treatment towards other seminal works of fiction within the crime genre. It is quickly revealed that the killer- The Novelist- is recreating scenes from cult crime novels (be warned- some are exceptionally violent), and throughout the course of the book, Lemaitre also pays homage to some of the finest crime novels produced, with a reverential tone and an altruistic attitude to writers that is rarely encountered. Likewise, there is an enhanced reading experience, as this book has led me to re-reading a couple of the titles mentioned whilst also introducing new authors to me. Crime connoisseurs  will be delighted…

The twist in the book, which I will desist from revealing what it is or where it occurs, was brilliant in its execution. With the benefit of hindsight there are small hints and teasers for the more eagle-eyed amongst us, only one of which I latched on to, but just wait for the grand reveal-  in no way a twist that I have ever encountered before…

 I think that I can safely echo my fellow reviewers in thanking Pierre Lemaitre for producing two such exemplary crime novels, both with Alex and Irene. His control of the narrative, plotting and characterisation is beautiful in its execution, and with his more literary writing style, produces a reading experience that truly engages the reader and immerses you fully in the trials and tribulations of his protagonists. Quite simply- perfect.

 Follow this link for Extract-Irene-Pierre Lemaitre

See more reviews of Irene:

Crimepieces

Crime Thriller Fella

Crime Fiction Lover

Pierre Lemaitre was born in Paris in 1956. He worked for many years as a teacher of literature and now devotes his time to writing novels and screenplays. Frank Wynne is a translator from French and Spanish. His translations include works by Michel Houellebecq, Marcelo Figueras’s IFFP-shortlisted Kamchatka and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

March Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

marchAnother busy month of reading and I have still got five reviews to post that missed my end of March deadline, so will be sneaking into April with these- two with more than a touch of ooh-la-la, a couple of trips down Mexico way, and one in deepest darkest Devon. Intriguing huh? Watch this space…

 

Hopefully, April will be as fun. fun, fun, and there are some genuinely cracking new releases see here! Very excited about The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair- Joel Dicker, Thomas Mogford’s Hollow Mountain, Claire Kendal- The Book of You, John Connolly- The Wolf In Winter and a whole host of other goodies. Exciting…

Have a good month crime fans!

Books reviewed in March:

Clare Donoghue- Never Look Back

Thomas Enger- Scarred

Samuel W. Gailey- Deep Winter

Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

Paula Daly- Keep Your Friends Close

Anya Lipska- Death Can’t Take A Joke

Chris Pavone- The Accident (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

Now this is a tough one as I am genuinely torn between the Borjlinds’ debut Spring Tide- a Scandinavian delight that just reverberated with all the essential ingredients of this sub-genre, and Anya Lipska’s Death Can’t Take A Joke, the second outing for the Polish hardman with the melty middle- Janusz Kiszka- pitted against the feisty detective Natalie Kershaw in this gritty London thriller.

So,  two books of the month it is!

Spring Tide     Death Can't Take a Joke (a Kiszka & Kershaw Mystery)

I’m such a diplomat or notoriously full of indecision- take your pick, but both great reads. Trust me.