August Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)August provided a real rollercoaster of crime reading, with highs and lows in equal measure. Some I loved, some not so much, but perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the month was finally getting to a couple of books that have been languishing on the bookshelves for far too long. Will try to keep the momentum of this as, over the months, a few reads have fallen by the wayside with the temptations of shiny, new books popping regularly through the letterbox. And as always there are other books read in August to catch up with reviews-wise…

Thanks again to K.T.Medina, for her piece on the inspiration for her superb debut White Crocodile, and to Kevin Sampson for giving us an insight into the world of DCI Billy McCartney, in his new book, The House On The Hill.

So, here for your entertainment is a summary of the month. Hope you discover something good to read!

Books reviewed in August:

Kevin Stevens- Reach The Shining River

K. T. Medina- White Crocodile  

Kevin Sampson- The House On The Hill  

Kanae Minato- Confessions

Andrea Maria Schenkel- The Dark Meadow

Jake Woodhouse- After The Silence

Rachel Howzell Hall- Land of Shadows

J. A. Kerley- The Death Box

Marco Malvaldi- The Art of Killing Well (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Erin Kelly- Broadchurch (www.crimefictionlover.com)

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

Yet another tough decision this month in terms of my top read- I really shouldn’t set myself up for this deliberation and cogitating every month should I?! So, a decision has been made…

reachx2700Despite my continuing affection for the escapades of Kevin Sampson’s troubled detective, Billy McCartney, and my admiration for two debuts this month, K T Medina’s emotive and haunting White Crocodile and Rachel Howzell Hall’s refreshing new thriller,  Land of Shadows, I have plumped for Kevin Stevens with the mesmerising Reach The Shining River. Crafted as beautifully as any contemporary American fiction novel, Stevens underscores his thought-provoking and engaging novel with a pure jazz and blues soundtrack, conjuring up the atmosphere of a troubled period of American history and its attendant issues. Great characters, a well-defined plot and a hugely satisfying read.

 

 

 

 

J. A. Kerley- The Death Box

jkCarson Ryder thought he’d seen everything. A specialist in twisted crimes, Detective Carson Ryder thought he’d seen the lowest depths of human depravity. But he’s barely started his new job in Miami when called to a horrific scene: a concrete pillar built of human remains, their agony forever frozen in stone. Finding the secret of the pillar drags him into the sordid world of human trafficking, where one terrified girl holds the key to unraveling a web of pain, prostitution and murder. There’s just one problem: Ryder’s not the only one chasing the girl. And the others will kill to keep the secret safe.

I’m currently relishing catching up with this series, after somehow overlooking the last two releases- The Memory Killer (published in June) is next on the list. In a change of direction, Detective Carson Ryder has upped sticks and moved from the sultry climes of his native Mobile in Alabama to Miami, as part of the team of consulting specialists at the Florida Centre for Law Enforcement. His reputation as a man in tune with the mental processes of the most dark and depraved criminal minds, has paved the way for his inclusion in this new team, leaving behind some of the stalwart characters of the series to date. As Ryder navigates his way in his new home (a temporary palatial beach side residence appropriated from an incarcerated crime lord), a new job, and a fairly unwelcoming team of detectives overseen by a scheming and slippery boss, Roy McDermott, the scene is set for a whole new chapter in Ryder’s life. However, I was delighted to discover that Ryder’s escaped psychotic brother Jeremy makes a welcome appearance, to aid the continuity of the sharp change in direction of the series…

What I love about Kerley’s writing is the instant shock factor that unerringly drives his books. The opening to this one is particularly harrowing, with a container full of illegal immigrants arriving in Miami, with the majority of them dead, or close to death. As the plot progresses, Kerley provides an insight into the horrific nature of human trafficking and the awful fate that awaits them (in particular the women) as the overseers of this lucrative business, treat them no better than chattels to be exploited and used. The discovery of the concrete pillar of human remains is particularly poignant and unsettling, and immediately appeals to the crusading and humane nature of Ryder, to identify this people and bring their killers to justice. As Ryder pursues the traffickers, and a young girl who has escaped their clutches, what follows is a violent and breathless thriller, that will shock and delight in equal measure. The plot is well executed, as Kerley has an innate skill at controlling the pace and measure of his storylines, and I found this difficult to put down, despite the sometimes more graphic and disturbing elements of the narrative, but what I think Kerley has achieved most successfully is the intergration of Ryder into a new team and locale.

The character of Ryder is pretty much played to form as a bit of a loner with a strong moral core, and not afraid to kick some butts when the occasion arises. I like the moral integrity he displays, and although I’m entirely familiar with him as a character, I enjoy the sense of familiarity that each book brings. In most crime thrillers, a main character is only as successful as those that surround him, and although this book lacks the larger life sidekick of Harry Nautilus (from the Alabama based books) Kerley has quickly established a strong base to work from, and Ryder’s new youthful partner Ziggy Gershwin may come to fill Harry’s big shoes!  Ryder’s new boss Roy McDermott is a somewhat Machievellian character despite his outwardly cheerful disposition and the team of detectives, that are initially so suspicious of Ryder, certainly have room for development individually. I also liked the prickly and focused Chief Forensic Examiner, Vivian Morningstar, who delivers her barbed asides like an evil Cupid. As I said previously, Ryder’s errant brother Jeremy also makes an appearance to keep us grounded in the previous series, so all in all this a welcome conglomeration of old and new. A good read once again from Kerley and can’t wait to get started on The Memory Killer…

Jack Kerley spent years as an advertising agency writer and producer before his wife demanded he quit work and write a novel, which he thought a fine idea. The result was The Hundredth Man, the first in the Carson Ryder series. An avid angler, canoeist and hiker, Kerley has travelled extensively throughout the South, especially coastal regions such as Mobile, Alabama, the setting for many of his novels, and the Florida Keys. He has a cabin in the Kentucky mountains, which appeared as a setting in Buried Alive. He lives in Newport, Kentucky, where he enjoys sitting on the levee and watching the barges rumble up and down the Ohio River. Visit his website www.jackkerley.com

(I bought this copy of The Death Box)

 

 

Rachel Howzell Hall- Land of Shadows

rhhAlong the ever-changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, a seventeen-year-old girl is found hanged at a construction site. Homicide detective Elouise Lou Norton’s new partner Colin Taggert, fresh from the comparatively bucolic Colorado Springs police department, assumes it s a teenage suicide. Lou isn t buying the easy explanation. For one thing, the condo site is owned by Napoleon Crase, a self-made millionaire… and the man who may have murdered Lou’s missing sister thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. Lou is convinced that when she solves Monique’s case she will finally bring her lost sister home. But as she gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to a violent killer. After all this time, can he be brought to justice… before Lou becomes his next victim?

Finding myself esconsed in the lonely space between finishing the DVD of the late, lamented and quite brilliant LA cop show Southland, and awaiting the next Connelly/Wambaugh etc for my Los Angeles fix, I espied this- a new police thriller set in Los Angeles. Result, I thought, and, in a nifty change of reading for me, the main character is a female police officer, the feisty, but ‘still waters running deep’ kind of gal, Homicide Detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton. With the dual temptations of the location, and the promise of a notable debut, I dove straight in…

In a refreshing change of style for the well-trodden path of Los Angeles based crime, the main character Detective Elouise Norton has grown up on the wrong side of the tracks in Los Angeles, clawing her way out of the social depravity of the projects, and fuelled by the mysterious disappearance of her sister, some years previously, to become a police officer, and work her way up through the ranks to become an intuitive and focused homicide detective. With the discovery of a murdered young girl on a construction site, Norton quickly focuses on the involvement with the victim of a certain Napoleon Crase, and his dual implication with the unsolved disappearance of Norton’s own sister, Tori, during her childhood. So the central thrust of the plot is whether Crase as guilty as he appears, or does Norton simply want some closure on her own sadness, and sense of unfinished business? To be honest, the plot with its slightly clunky central premise, and connection between the detective’s past and present investigations, was satisfying enough, and there was a good build-up of tension, despite the relatively slow opening. The investigations were engaging enough, with a particularly creepy criminal perpetrator at their centre, and there was plenty of scope for Hall to vividly bring to life the surrounding environs of Los Angeles, and gives us a real insight into the city. However, of far more interest to me, was Hall’s adept characterisation and the wonderful interplay and development of Norton’s character in the realms her personal and professional life, and this was the real strength of the book.

With Norton’s untrustworthy husband, away at a conference, and cheating like a demon on her, Hall strikes a nice balance between the different personas of her central protagonist. As her personal life unravels, and the emotional weight of the familial loss of her sister, impacts so greatly on her investigation, her focus and efficiency as a police detective provides a good counterpoint to the stresses of her life away from the job. Throughout the book, Norton remains a point of interest for the reader, and the ups and downs of the investigation gives ample opportunity for us as readers to really get beneath her skin, and make us entirely comfortable with this engaging character. As some light relief to the sadness she imbues through her experiences in the book, there is time for some delightful banter with her recently assigned new partner, Colin Taggert, from the less demanding police department of Colorado Springs. With this relationship, Hall is given the freedom to poke gentle fun at this relatively unworldly wise detective, now in the alien environment of one of the most dangerous cities in the US, as Norton seeks to shape him into a decent partner. The back and forth repartee between them, compounded by the endearing idiocy of Taggert, is a joy, fuelled by equal amounts of growing affection underscored by frustration- a partnership that bodes well for potential further books in the series.

So very pleased to report that, all in all, Land of Shadows was a more than competent debut which provided enough interest in this first book for me to return for more. Looking forward to the next one. A good read, and would definitely recommend.

Rachel was born in Los Angeles, California fifteen days after Paul McCartney announced the split of the Beatles. As a child, she kept a pen in her hand, writing everywhere in notebooks, on loose-leaf paper, in her big brothers prep-school yearbook and on the back of church bulletins. But never on walls, buildings or freeway overpasses. That is graffiti. For four years, she lived in the forest at UC Santa Cruz. There, she received a degree in English and American Literature, and helped to charter the Pi Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Incorporated. She lives with her husband and daughter in L.A. Website: www.rachelhowzell.com Follow on Twitter @RachelHowzell

(I bought this copy of Land of Shadows)

 

 

Jake Woodhouse- After The Silence

afterA body is found hanging on a hook above the canals of Amsterdam’s old town, a mobile phone forced into the victim’s mouth. In a remote coastal village, a doll lies in the ashes of a burnt-down house. But the couple who died in the fire had no children of their own. Did a little girl escape the blaze? And, if so, who is she and where is she now? Inspector Jaap Rykel knows that he’s hunting a clever and brutal murderer. Still grieving from the violent death of his last partner, Rykel must work alongside a junior out-of-town detective with her own demons to face, if he has any hope of stopping the killer from striking again. Their investigation reveals two dark truths: everybody in this city harbours secrets – and hearing those secrets comes at a terrible price …

This is the first book in Woodhouse’s Amsterdam Quartet series featuring Inspector Jaap Rykel. Described as a perfect read for fans of The Killing, The Bridge, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fatherland and equally for fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride et al, I was more than a little keen to read this. Although I normally review in isolation, I will say that having read this as part of a crime book group, I find myself echoing the thoughts of my venerable fellow members, so what did we conclude?

As much as it pains me to write a more negative review of a debut thriller, the general feeling from myself and others was one of disappointment, despite the glowing plaudits this book has received elsewhere. As the scene setter for a proposed series, enforced by the heady comparisons previously mentioned, this was one of those instances when I was expecting something breathless and amazing, but was more than a little disappointed to find that in terms of plot, characterisation and location, it was all rather familiar and pedestrian. Opening with the murder of Rykel’s police partner Andreas in an ongoing investigation into child sex abuse, compounded by both the discovery of a hanging body in Amsterdam’s Old Town, and a missing child after a fire out in the sticks, the scene was set for an interesting overlapping of these separate investigations. With the help of Sergeant Tanya van der Mark, who is investigating the fire and missing child, Rykel and his reluctant and scheming partner (with obligatory drug habit)  Kees Terpstra, find themselves embroiled in the shady world of a ruthless Russian crime gang and corruption in Amsterdam…

Unfortunately, throughout the book, Woodhouse did seem to be adhering to the ABC of crime fiction writing in terms of characterisation. Rykel was a bit of a turgid character, where the insertion of his journey to self discovery using Eastern mysticism, most notably I-Ching,  and  the mildly exciting fact of living on a houseboat, did not exactly make him a compelling character. Even with the reveal of his previous relationship with his dead partner’s other half,  the all too predictable outcome of their recent dalliance and with the equally predictable ‘will they- won’t they’ with the fresh faced Tanya (who incidentally had also had a relationship with Kees and a childhood tainted by sexual abuse), the plot did rather descend into a mildly juicy episode of a soap opera. I found all this really distracting, and aside from snorter Kees, spying on Rykel in an effort to curry favour with his bosses, found all this to somehow be the main focus of the book, rather than applying more diligence in terms of the plot development. I did feel the plot was a little patchy, and again familiar, with some aspects of the story and crucial details, getting buried under this intense need to make the characters more interesting. Hence, with the rather workmanlike aspect of the plot, the final reveal of the main bad guy, came as no great surprise to the eagle eyed readers in the group. Shame.

I was also intrigued to see how the location of Amsterdam would be brought to bear on the whole affair, and despite a few references to how this was the Amsterdam that tourists never see, we didn’t see much of it either. The promises of the revealing of the sordid underbelly of one of the most popular European cities, never really came to fruition. Those of us so familiar with Amsterdam, were again, a wee bit disappointed, as aside from a couple of references to the less salubrious aspects of the locale, didn’t really bring anything to the overall setting of the book, and gave it a rather generic feel. Again, shame.

When I haven’t really enjoyed a book very much, particularly the first in a series, the crucial question I ask myself is always would I read the next one? Despite my criticisms and reservations, I would read the next one, as I think that there is a glimmer of potential if Woodhouse can avoid some of the lazy clichés employed in this one. I appreciate that characters do have to be ‘filled-out’ to introduce them to the reader, particularly in the first of a series, but hope that with the lesser need for this in a follow-up, and a greater concentration on plot and location, the Raven’s feathers will be less ruffled…

More reviews of After The Silence:

Crime Fiction Lover

Eurocrime

Crime Thriller Hound

Jake Woodhouse studied at the Royal College of Music in London and played professionally, doing concerts in the UK and all over Europe. Amsterdam came next, studying for two years at the Conservatorium, making and playing instruments. Then boredom settled in. He decided on a change, decamping to New Zealand to study winemaking which led to Italy where he worked for several years as a winemaker before returning to the UK where he started a wine business. After being hospitalised he embarked on a writing career. He’d been brought up without a TV and always read like crazy so he decided to take on the involving challenge of writing crime fiction. Website: www.jakewoodhouse.com Follow on Twitter @wildgundog

An interview with Jake Woodhouse:

Crime Fiction Lover

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

 

 

Andrea Maria Schenkel- The Dark Meadow

darkAt the end of the war, Afra Zauner returns to her parents’ cottage on the edge of Mauther Forest. Unmarried, and pregnant. As she struggles to raise her child, her father’s shame, her mother’s fury and the loud whispers of the neighbours begin to weigh upon her. She doesn’t believe in her sin. But everyone else does. And someone brings judgement down upon her. Many years later, Hermann Müller is throwing a drunk out of his tavern. A traveller, who won’t stop ranting about a murder left unsolved, about police who never investigated. Out of curiosity, the file is reopened. And in the cold light of hindsight, a chilling realisation creeps upon the community. No-one ever atoned for Afra’s death. But her story is waiting to be told.

In homage to the style of this compelling but compact novel, mainly set in the rural surrounds of the German countryside in the post war period, I will keep this review relatively brief, to avoid plot spoilers. Everything you need to know in terms of plot can be gained from the synopsis, and truth be told, the plot seemed an almost secondary aspect of the book in terms of the weighty issues that Schenkel seeks to address in this slim volume. Indeed, I found the final resolution of the murder plot, a little unsatisfactory and slightly rushed, with the perpetrator of the crime having played an exceedingly minor role in the previous narrative, but no matter as there was still a treat in store…

I will rush quickly to the defence of the book for the sheer haunting beauty of its prose, which completely consumes you in its spare but absolutely precise style (enhanced even more by the wonderful translation by Anthea Bell). Andrea Maria Schenkel provides a cool touch to the overall emotion of the piece, but the emotions that are initially so relentlessly suppressed, burn brighter because of it. The tone of the piece is relatively unemotional, and at times the reader is hard pushed to empathise with Afra, but the way her murder and its aftermath are presented, the essential human themes of loss and mourning and the search for redemption come to the fore.  With the reminiscences of those involved on the periphery of the original murder, Schenkel dispenses with the notion of a traditional and linear detective novel, with no detective to drive the story onwards. It is an interesting conceit, and one that I think works, as the book’s intention is to place us as readers at a closer proximity to the murder victim and the killer. Likewise, the issues that are brought to bear in the depiction of this small family unit, undone by murder, are carefully balanced as Schenkel incorporates some powerful themes, in what is ostensibly a relatively simple tale. There is a meditation on elderly mental degeneration, emotively described through the growing confusion of Afra’s father- who becomes the chief suspect in his daughter’s murder. Afra herself, is a single mother, and her son, the product of a dalliance with a foreigner, giving rise to the additional stigma of illegitimacy. Taken individually, any of these issues would give weight to whatever work of fiction they are incorporated in, but to meld these together within such a bijou novella, compounded by such full and round realisations of the central characters, is a sign of markedly clever and skilful writing. A slim read, yes, but containing more than some books can conjure up in 300 pages or more.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

confessionsWhen Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter died in the middle school where she teaches, everyone thought it was a tragic accident. It’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think. Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two people in the class. And before she leaves, she has a lesson to teach. But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story. In this thriller of love, despair and murder, everyone has a confession to make, and no one will escape unharmed.

I will make my own confession straightaway and admit to not being that hugely read in the field of Japanese crime fiction. Little surprise then that this book has escaped my attention, despite there being a 2010 Oscar nominated film version, directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. The story hinges on the collusion in the murder of a female schoolteacher Yuko’s, young daughter by two of her male pupils and in her last lecture to her class there is to be an exposure of truth and a plan for revenge, that will unhinge and surprise both them and us as reader. The following story is then narrated by the various protagonists intimately involved with the crime. This shifting perspective of the same crime from the point of view of the bereaved mother and the guilty boys, in true confessional mode, provide an interesting counterbalance to one another in terms of the reasons for their actions both past and planned, and the keenness with which our sympathies as readers change as each ‘confession’ is brought to light. As the story unfolds, and with giving nothing away, the nature of these confessions will unsettle you, and make you think. You will probably read this in one sitting, as there is something completely mesmerising about its aura of darkness, that unfolds as each confession takes centre stage.

What emerges in this slim but utterly compelling read is a heartbreaking story of familial instability, provoked by the initial murder for mother Yuko, but then by extension how the differing aspects of motherhood are so utterly central to the actions of the two culpable boys. There is a wonderful quote from crime writer Alex Marwood, on the theme of Japanese adolescence in this novel, saying that the book bears comparison to Albert Camus writing Heathers, and she is spot on. There is the rhythmical prose, which carries you along throughout, where the minutiae of these people’s lives are described in the most insightful and beautiful way, despite the contrasting heartbreaking or cruel realities that surround their actions or involvement in the crime. Also, as an insight into the mind-set of these young confused boys, shaped by either the supportive or neglectful relationships within their own family units, the book provides a great deal of comment on how we are shaped by the relationships we have with those closest to us. It also provides a thoughtful meditation on the social mores and experiences of the boys involved within the larger sphere of Japanese life. The themes and issues that Minato addresses in such a compressed piece of writing like Confessions are truly thought-provoking and emotive, and like the best studies of the human psyche, I guarantee that this book will revisit your mind, long after you have finished reading. A short but entirely satisfying study of the psychology of murder and retribution, beautifully written, and haunting in its simplicity, and a cue for me to delve deeper into the world of Japanese crime fiction…

(With thanks to Mulholland Books for the ARC)

Kanae Minato- Confessions

Are You A Peter May Superfan? The Hunt Begins Today…

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Peter May is a fantastic UK crime writer who has had Sunday Times bestselling success with every one of his books. Advertising on the London Underground and National Rail has gone live for his latest book, Entry Island, which includes a round-up of some of the amazing reviews his writing has attracted.

 Quercus Books are recruiting 100 UK superfans to share Peter’s books and extend their enthusiasm to new readers.

Every one of the 100 superfans will receive an exclusive Peter May pack that includes,

 – An early copy of Peter’s new book, Runaway, out January 2015

- A copy of Peter May’s Hebrides

-5 copies of their favourite Peter May title to share with others 

-Regular and exclusive updates and excerpts

 All superfans will be asked to document their sharing experience on social media. Plus, one lucky superfan will win a holiday to the Outer Hebrides, the place that has inspired Peter’s books!

So what are you waiting for- head over to Quercus Books- Peter May superfans and find out how to stake your claim!

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CHECK OUT THESE REVIEWS OF ENTRY ISLAND-  NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK

Raven Crime Reads

Crimepieces 

Crime Fiction Lover

Peter May talks Entry Island: Crime Thriller Fella

Blog Tour-Kevin Sampson- Guest Post- The House On The Hill Review

 

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Marking the publication of The House On The Hill- the second in Kevin Sampson’s new crime series to feature DCI Billy McCartney- Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the release. Having previously reviewed the first in the series, The Killing Pool , and having just read this new one (reviewed below), I’m sure that you will not only enjoy Kevin’s piece posted here about his multi-faceted character, the mercurial Billy McCartney, but will be more than keen to seek this series out for yourselves too! So with no further ado it’s over to Kevin..

On DCI Billy McCartney

“My concept for the McCartney series was that Billy should be as complex and as much of an enigma as any of the cases he works on. I had (and have) in mind an initial 5 novels, with each instalment revealing a little more about Mac. Only once we’ve digested and understood all 5 ‘episodes’ will the full picture emerge. Until that point, it’s a process of putting all the tiny clues together as we try to get a sense of who Billy McCartney really is.

Having said that, I had a very clear notion of McCartney, his history and what drives him on, right from the start. Mac’s persona is absolutely central to each case, and the way he goes about solving it. He is defined by his own experience, and by his own distinctive morality. Mac perceives himself more as an old-time Lawman than a sophisticated modern detective. He regularly refers to himself putting on ‘the cape’ or ‘the mask’, and these nuances shine a light on Mac’s idiosyncratic approach to the job. He’s the Lone Ranger, dressed in white, chasing the lawless baddies out of town; making it safe for ordinary decent folk. Above all, he wants to make the streets safe for women.

McCartney’s very specific worldview is both informed and challenged by his perception of women. Again, there is something of the old-fashioned hero in him, racing to aid the damsel in distress. In The Killing Pool Mac risks everything in his determination to find and rescue the young runaway, Misha. And in his latest case, The House On The Hill, his obsession with a murdered colleague, DS Millie Baker, drives him beyond the rational remit of the job. He’s in Morocco to infiltrate a major hashish production gang high in the Rif mountains, but it’s the recurring flashbacks about the circumstances of Millie’s death that haunt Mac and spur him on.

Yet McCartney himself is anything but a traditional square-jawed knight in shining armour. He never, ever gets the girl. There is a loneliness that eats away at Mac – a resignation that “for McCartney, it always ends this way.” This, in turn, informs his solitary approach to his work. All too often, Mac’s fairy tales morph into nightmares, and it’s his seeming inability to find love that recurs in his moments of reflection. His consolation is that, through his diligent and often brilliant detective work, he makes the city a safer place to live. As a child he witnessed his own father being shot by armed robbers. If he can prevent other kids going through similar trauma, it has been a Good Day for McCartney.

DCI Billy McCartney presented himself to me well-defined but not quite fully formed. Just as with real people in real life, he is a work in progress, growing and changing as he reacts to different challenges. I have a pretty good idea who he really is. By the end of the fifth book we’ll know for sure. For now though, enjoy more clues about Mac in The House On The Hill.”

 

kevKevin Sampson began his writing career reviewing bands for NME. Based in Liverpool, he wrote about gangs and subcultures for The Face, I-D, and Arena. A lifelong fascination with the criminal underworld, led to Sampson’s Liverpool-set crime novels, Outlaws and Clubland, and his debut film Surveillance. Outlaws was also made as a feature film titled The Crew. Sampson is the author of eight novels and one work of non-fiction. The Killing Pool was the first in the series of the Billy McCartney novels, with a TV adaptation just announced here  Follow him on Twitter @ksampsonwriter.

 

Raven’s Review

9780224097178-largeDCI Billy McCartney has gone to ground, disillusioned with his job. When a runaway turns up on his doorstep, her story plunges Mac back to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases. McCartney and his partner DS Millie Baker are in Ibiza, on a joint venture with the Spanish serious crime agency. Their objective: to infiltrate the Liverpool-based drug gang responsible for a wave of ecstasy-related deaths. But their stakeout takes both Mac and Millie to the heart of a dark empire whose tentacles stretch from Ireland to Morocco, and whose activities include industrial-scale drug production – and terrorism. They’re close to their big bust when Millie is abducted by the gang, and killed. McCartney never quite recovers from it. The waif who knocks on Mac’s door twenty-four years later has escaped from those same captors; a dynasty of international dope dealers based high in the Moroccan Rif. What she tells McCartney blasts his apathy away, and sends him on a mission that goes far beyond law and order. This is his chance for redemption.

The House On The Hill is the second in the DCI Billy McCartney series following the excellent opener The Killing Pool (which I waxed lyrical about last year) and can easily be read as a standalone. This new book sees Mac gone to ground, disillusioned with his job, but fate has a surprise a store for him when a young runaway turns up on his doorstep. The tale she has to tell plunges Mac back in time to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases, both professionally and personally. The trail she sets him on, takes him and the reader back to the investigation rooted in the 90’s club scene in Ibiza, to his present day pursuit of a drug dynasty in the hills of Marrakech, where extreme danger awaits…

I would say from the outset that what Sampson achieves with ease, both in this and his novels to date, is the ability to so quickly make us so comfortable with the characters he lays before us. Even if you have not read the first book which established the depths and quirks of DCI Billy McCartney’s character, I guarantee that you will take to him, and his rough charm from the earliest beginnings of the book. In this character, Sampson has conjured up a man of sublime contradictions. He has an easy manner, flecked with humour and a cynical eye, but equally is a man haunted by events in his own childhood, and in his professional career as a police officer. Although he is to all intents and purposes a bit of a rough diamond, the wrongs he has born witness to, particularly in the historical case in Ibiza which proceeds the contemporary investigation, has affected him greatly on an emotional level. Both cases call on him to be somewhat of a knight in shining armour, but on a more basic level, are driven by his pure ambition to right the wrongs of the past, and assuage his own sense of guilt. He has a strong moral core, despite his tough guy attitude, and even when up to his armpits in danger retains this outward strength, but is man enough to confess to his inward fear. He is gallant when the female of the species is involved, but our hearts go out to him, as in the true spirit of the moral defender, he is destined to carry a sense of loneliness and isolation about him.

Equally, Sampson roundly characterises the surrounding protagonists in the book, good guys and bad guys alike, in a realistic and vital way. There are some truly horrible antagonists involved in Mac’s investigations, like drug dealer JJ Hamilton, whose nefarious dealings with the equally hideous drug lord Hassan El Glaoui, a particularly cruel and violent individual, lies at the root of Mac’s troubles. These two men are greedy, ambitious and unrelenting in their manipulation and abuse of others (in particular women) to keep a stranglehold on the drug trail they control. Also, amongst Mac’s police counterparts at home and abroad, over the course of the two cases, there is a nice mix between the good, the bad and the ugly, and of course Al Glauoi’s and Hamilton’s henchmen are carved out in true pantomime baddie style. Boo. Hiss. On a slightly lighter note, I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of the young and in a lot of ways naïve, Yasmina, the runaway who comes to Mac with her personal tale of woe. To avoid plot spoilers, I won’t divulge how she is connected to him, but her resilience (when pursued by the bad guys), balanced with her heart-warming incidental journey to a grand love affair with the spiky, and thoroughly entertaining kick ass Jessica, is a joy.

The dual timelines are powerfully and realistically presented, from the atmosphere of the heyday of Ibiza, underscored with some real trip back in time references to the essential music of this period, and the very unique and sensual casting of Morocco, leading to the breathless denouement. Sampson’s attention to location is one of the real strengths of the book, so much so that the contrasting landscapes he portrays, seem to take on the role of a character in themselves. I found the descriptions of El Glaoui’s hillside hideaway, particularly cinematic, and the events that transpire in its locale, added to the foreboding atmosphere it imparted in the book. The plot is perfectly controlled, with neither half on the dual narrative, weakened by the other, fuelled by tension and danger in equal measure. In common with The Killing Pool, Sampson does not hold back on the more sordid details of the piece, to unsettle us throughout, but like the first book, I rather enjoyed the more grubby and violent aspects of the plot, which further involved me emotionally in this theatre of danger Mac finds himself embroiled in. All in all a terrific follow up to the first book, and if this is only book two of a planned five book series, I cannot wait to see what Mac gets up to next. Bring it on…

 

BLOG TOUR IN FULL:

August 7th  DEAD GOOD BOOKS

August 8th RAVEN CRIME READS

August 9th SHAZ’S BOOK BLOG 

August 10th CRIMETIME

August 11th READER DAD

August 12th THE CRIME WARP

(With thanks to Jonathan Cape for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

K. T. Medina- The Inspiration for White Crocodile/ Review

White Crocodile jacketWhite Crocodile is a thriller set in the land minefields of northern Cambodia. When emotionally damaged mine-clearer, Tess Hardy, travels to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her ex-husband’s death, she doesn’t know much about the country or its beliefs. On arrival, she finds that teenage mothers are going missing from villages around the minefields, while others are being found mutilated and murdered, their babies abandoned. And there are whispers about the white crocodile, a mythical beast who brings death to all who meet it. What Tess uncovers in her search for the truth is far more terrifying and globally wide ranging than she could ever have anticipated – a web of lies stretching from Cambodia to another murder in England and a violent secret twenty years old.

KT MEDINA

Here, author K.T. Medina explains the inspiration for her crime debut, White Crocodile

” The white crocodile represents death in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia – heralding five years of mass genocide, depicted in the famous film The Killing Fields – the white crocodile was seen rising out of the Mekong river. When a family member dies, Cambodians will hang a flag depicting a white crocodile outside their home to signify that death has stolen a loved one. The story of the white crocodile is an ancient one. Five hundred years ago, the only daughter of King Chan Reachea, King of Cambodia, was eaten by a huge white crocodile whilst swimming. The King ordered his men to find the crocodile and kill it. After many weeks of searching, the beast was found in a river far in the North-East of Cambodia, a hundred miles from where the Princess was eaten. 
The King killed the crocodile and took the body of his daughter from its stomach. Then he ordered that a Buddhist stupa – a temple – be built to bury his daughter. Twenty innocent young women were executed and buried around the stupa so their souls would haunt the stupa and protect it from destruction for all time. Ever since, Khmers have believed that the white crocodile signifies death.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhite Crocodile is my debut novel and is very personal to me. I had the idea for the novel while I was responsible for land-based weapons at Jane’s Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information. As part of that role, I spent time in Cambodia, working alongside professional mine clearers. I was privileged to be able to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to meet Khmers – both adults and children – who had lost limbs to land mines. I also visited many of the locations that appear in White Crocodile, such as the Red Cross Hospital for the victims of land mines. There are huge numbers of amputees in Cambodia, including very young children who, in many cases, thought that the anti-personnel mine they found was a toy. Cambodia is a stunning country, but it is also a tragic one and an unbeatable setting for a dark and disturbing thriller.

White Crocodile is also a story about families: love and hatred, kindness and cruelty, the destructive nature of some families and the long-term damage these families can cause. As part of my degree in psychology, I studied the effect of poor family dynamics on children. The fear and helplessness a child trapped in a severely dysfunctional family feels must be all consuming, and for me was a very powerful emotion to explore in a novel, as was its flip side, intense love and an overwhelming desire to protect. When I had my own children, I realised how incredibly vulnerable they are and what a huge responsibility it is to be a parent, and I tapped into those feelings while writing White Crocodile.

I have a degree in psychology and am very drawn to people who have a different psychology from my own, whether that is in terms of mass cultural beliefs, such as in Cambodia with the white crocodile, or individuals who, perhaps because of their upbringing or life experiences, display an abnormal psychology. The heroine of White Crocodile is Tess Hardy, a ex-British Army combat engineer and mine clearer who, against her better judgment, is drawn to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her violent husband, Luke’s, death. However, whilst Tess is strong, clever and independent, she is also a complex character who has her own very personal demons to deal with.

I am an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I choose to write in that genre, and I particularly like novels that bring more to me than just a great story. Novels that stay with me long after the last page are those such as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner – novels that explore real life trauma through the medium of story and unforgettable characters, and that was my aim with White Crocodile.”

Whilst doing a first degree in Psychology, K. T. Medina joined the Territorial Army, where she spent five years, ending up as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers. She has worked in publishing, as Managing Editor, Land Based Weapon Systems, at Jane’s Information Group, as a strategy consultant and as a lecturer at The London School of Economics. She now writes full time. Follow her on Twitter @KatieMedina11

Raven’s Review:

White Crocodile jacket

Sometimes, when you read a surfeit of the same genre, books can be quickly put aside, as all to often they begin to repeat the same old tired motifs, and conceits, of crime writing. Sometimes, however, something fresh, new, original and exciting awaits you, and I’m delighted to say that White Crocodile is one such book. Using the backdrop of Battambang in Cambodia, Medina has not only succeeded in constructing a story that adheres to all the tenets of a gripping crime thriller, but also skilfully manipulates this chosen location to integrate the attendant issues of this country still recovering from the ravages of war…

Penned by debut author, K.T. Medina, this book completely defied my expectations in terms of content and the execution of the story. With an incredibly accomplished prose style, that carried the story along beautifully, I felt so closely involved and intimately acquainted with the characters throughout this powerful and moving tale. Tess Hardy is a troubled woman, not only differentiated by her gender in the masculine environment she works in as a mine clearance expert, but also having come out the other side of an abusive relationship- a relationship that is powerfully rendered within the book. As Tess reconciles herself to the breakdown of this relationship, a strange phone call from Luke (her husband), mine clearing in Cambodia, followed swiftly by his death, takes Tess to this strange and dangerous environment. As the link between Luke’s death and a series of young women’s murders in Battambang becomes more evident, Tess finds herself embroiled in not only the day-to-day dangers of her job, in a community steeped in folkloric suspicion, but dark secrets with their roots back in England. Despite the clear and concise drawing of the other characters in the book, it is Tess that is the central lynchpin of the whole story, and she exudes a fascinating combination of emotional strength and weakness throughout. Her utter professionalism as a mine clearer is never in question, holding her own among her male counterparts, but there is a delicious fragility to her at times, that positively impacts on the reader, as she delves deeper into the mystery of the murders, and how the perpetrator of these could be dwelling closer to home than she thinks. As we follow her progress from victim, to defender of these women singled out for death, and finds herself in danger, the reader is utterly immersed in her story, and the mental and emotional strength she attains along the way.

Although, my personal knowledge of Cambodia, has only been accrued through film representations and other fictional books, I felt that the setting, influenced by the author’s own personal experience of the region, was perfect in its rendition. The suffocating heat, the strange belief systems, the heartbreaking visualisations of mine victims, and the prejudices experienced by women within this community, came powerfully to the fore. I was genuinely moved by the plight of the local people, carving out some kind of existence, beleagured by poverty due to the unstable nature of their surrounding environment- an environment whose description Medina carefully balances between both the good and the bad aspects, that impact on the lives of its inhabitants.

I was genuinely impressed by the scope of this crime read, and in common with the best crime writing, I felt that White Crocodile went beyond such a simple label. Packed with colourful description, weighty issues, and an inherent sensitivity to the particular social and economic problems of this region of Cambodia, Medina has achieved something quite special, and more importantly, refreshingly different. A remarkable debut.

Read another review of White Crocodile at Crimepieces

(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Stevens- Reach The Shining River-Extract and Review

reachx2700Kansas City, 1935. Emmett Whelan, an idealistic county prosecutor who has left behind his Irish roots and married into the country club set, takes on the city’s corrupt political machine when he investigates the brutal murder of a black musician. As Emmett probes the case, he discovers the city’s underbelly of racism and criminality. His personal life deteriorates. The closer he gets to the heart of the corruption, the more he sees that it is deeper and closer than he has ever suspected. And when the truth unfolds – about the killings, the machine, Emmett’s wife – a surprising and devastating climax reverberates at every level of the city. Described as an urban crime drama about money, race and class, Reach The Shining River, has the atmosphere of  ’30s America, and a soundtrack that is pure jazz and blues…

Read on for an extract of Reach The Shining River and Raven’s review follows…

 

 

1.

It was Wardell found the body.

He was walking along a cutbank north of town, snapping heads off cattails with his cane pole and checking the river for sunfish. The corpse lay face down in the mud between the railroad tracks and the river path. A man, hard to say what age. His jacket was pulled over his head and his shirt was ripped. The skin on his back was a mess of ugly.

A colored man, like him.

He ran along the railroad tracks towards the city. Couldn’t get the tore-up body out of his mind. Ahead, the packing houses and railway yards wiggled in the hot air. He crossed the bridge and ran past the factories, breathing like a plow horse. Tarred road burning his bare feet. He followed Grand all the way to the Negro district. By the time he reached Jesse’s house he was hog-sweaty and shaking like a jitterbug.

They sent for Mr. Watkins.

“Go on, Wardell. Tell the man. Go on, now.”

He wore a pin-stripe suit with a gold tie clip and a fancy watch chain hanging from a belt loop. Bald-headed and dark around the eyes, but kindly.

Wardell told him.

Mr. Watkins listened and nodded and said to Jesse’s dad, “You did right to send for me, Les.” He asked Wardell if he would like some lemonade.

“Yes sir.”

Jesse’s mother fetched him the drink. Her dress rustled like old straw. Wardell’s fishing pole leaned against the piano, leaf shreds wedged in the guide holes. Jesse stood near the back door.

Under his breath, Mr. Watkins said, “Not good, Lester.”

Wardell peered at them over the lip of the glass. Not enough sugar in the lemonade, but cool and smooth down his dry throat.

“Where’s his folks?”

“Alice knows.”

“Mondays Arlene does maid service down Plaza way.”

“Arlene Gray? The singer?”

“That’s right.”

“His daddy?”

“On the road, I believe. Some time now.”

Mr. Watkins nodded.

“He can stay here,” Alice said. She smiled, touched her straightened hair. “Wardell, you have supper with us this evening. Till your mama free.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Mr. Watkins checked his gold watch and looked at Jesse’s dad.

“Alice,” Lester said. “Take the boys out back.”

The men talked for a spell and drove off in Mr. Watkins’s Oldsmobile. They came back an hour later, followed by a black sedan with a ten-foot antenna. A white man in a seersucker suit climbed out, fanning himself with a straw hat. He looked around the parlor like he was in a museum. He asked Wardell some questions. Lester and Mr. Watkins watched from the doorway. Wardell had never before seen a white man inside a colored folks home.

The man led Wardell to his car. Mr. Watkins followed.

“You want me to come along, officer?” Mr. Watkins said.

“That won’t be necessary.”

Mr. Watkins’s face was saggy and scared looking. “The boy’s had a fright,” he said.

The man put his hat on. “I’ll bet he has.”

He led the man to the body. Afterwards, the man spoke into the car radio for a while. He didn’t say a word to Wardell until they pulled up in front of Jesse’s house.

He grabbed Wardell’s arm. Tight. His teeth were dirty and his breath was bad. But his eyes were the worst. Wolf eyes. “You listen to me, boy. You forget where you took me today, you got that?”

Wardell nodded.

“Those people inside ask where we went, you tell ’em you can’t remember. I don’t care how many times they ask you.”

“Yessir.”

His grip was so hard Wardell wanted to cry.

“I will find out if you say anything. I will find out, you hear me? And I’ll come looking for you.”

Wardell nodded. His throat was too tight to make words.

He and Jesse played in the back yard while Alice fixed supper. Jesse was a blabbermouth, but he wasn’t saying squat. They threw the baseball back and forth, pitches first then grounders and fly balls. Next door, old Mrs. Aldridge was singing in her kitchen.

Steal away, steal away

Steal away to Jesus

Steal away, steal away home.

Alice called them in and they ate. Everyone acted like nothing happened. Wardell kept glancing over his shoulder. Like someone was at the kitchen door. All the windows were open and the sound of the crickets was way too loud. The air smelled like trash.

He ate all his biscuits and gravy, said his thank yous and yes ma’ams, waited for his mama on the porch with the cane pole between his knees, all quiet and polite like he was supposed to. But he was running scared. Something was out there.

That night he dreamt of a hoodooman chasing him with a Randall knife. When he woke his throat was on fire and his mother was stroking his forehead.

“There now, Wardell. You safe with your mama. You safe with your mama, child.”

2.

“Emmett, will you help me with this?”

Fay sat at her vanity, head bent so that her hair draped over her shoulders. The delicate lines of her neck caught the bedroom light. Between her fingers she held the ends of her pearl necklace. He secured the clasp and, on impulse, kissed the white skin. Slightly, but obviously, she flinched.

He stepped back.

“Thank you, darling,” she said. With fierce strokes she brushed her hair. Its copper tones glowed against her clear skin and silk dress. In the mirror her green eyes were stony and glinting.

Since the miscarriage there had been this distance. Nearly a year now. As if it was his fault.

He buttoned his suit coat. “You’ll need to get a move on, we don’t want to be late.”

“Don’t worry about that. Isabel will be a half an hour late. At least half an hour.”

The wedding was at Trinity Episcopal; the reception, for two hundred and fifty guests, at the Muehlebach Hotel. Highlight of the Kansas City summer calendar. Fay’s Uncle Robert was not shy about showing off his wealth, and Isabel was her father’s daughter. Maine lobster on the August menu, Dom Perignon to wash it down. Her dress by Philippe Marchand in Chicago and a cream-colored 1935 Rolls Royce to ferry her from the Perkins mansion to the church.

“Your dad,” Emmett said, “wouldn’t appreciate us ducking in just ahead of the bride.”

Fay stood, checked her earrings. “Father gets difficult I’ll deal with him.”

“I didn’t say difficult.”

“God forbid.”

Today, anything he said or did would annoy her. She was miffed that she hadn’t been asked to be her cousin’s bridesmaid. It’s because of you, her manner said, though she would deny it. Assistant county prosecutor, sure, but still on a shitheel salary that forced her to go to Daddy for handouts. And way down the social scale. Whereas Isabel’s catch, Dickie Brewster, was heir to one of Kansas City’s biggest fortunes and, at twenty-seven, already on the board of the National Union Bank.

“Bring the car around,” Fay said. “I have to give instructions to Hattie.”

Driving down Prospect Street, the sun’s rays fierce and fragmented on the windshield, he thought back to their own wedding two years ago. His mother wearing a frumpy frock when Fay’s mother had offered to have a gown made for her at Goodman’s. His father in his cups before the first course, his arm around Pat O’Malley as they forgot the lyrics to “Shamrock Shore.”

“If Peter Lawson is invited,” Fay said as he drove, “I will die.”

“Who is Peter Lawson?”

“Darling, I must have told you a hundred times. He proposed to Isabel at Nancy Chatham’s debut.”

“There’s a Lawson on the Star. Sportswriter.”

Languidly she took in the passing streets. “Really, Emmett, you don’t have a clue, do you? The Lawsons own Missouri Asphalt, though they’d be fools to let Peter anywhere near it. Not the brightest of the clan, I’m afraid. Isabel did right to cut him.”

And no-one could cut like the Perkins girls.

Fay fidgeted throughout the ceremony, picking lint from her dress and adjusting her hat with the tips of her fingers. The high-windowed church was stifling. The ceremony was long and formal. Like a Catholic mass, Emmett thought, though his mother would not have agreed.

Outside the church they paid their respects. The Brewster parents stiff and correct, smelling like old money. Big Bob Perkins with his hands behind his back, morning suit impeccable, huge head perfectly bald. Underwriter of all he surveyed. Beside him Fay’s Aunt Claire, thin as a ferret, round eyes taking in the smallest social detail. And the newly married, a couple of mummies in their glad rags, phoney smiles pasted on their faces like paper moons.

Fay and Isabel hugged and wept, all differences forgotten. Emmett pumped Dickie’s hand.

“Thought the minister would never get to the ‘I do’s’,” Dickie said, running a finger under his collar. “Hot as hell in there.”

Emmett could tell by the way he avoided his gaze that Dickie could not remember his name.

It took a while for a crowd that size to move from church to hotel, and what with the high sun and river air, Emmett’s courtroom suit was dark at the armpits by the time he plucked a soft drink from a waiter’s tray in the tea foyer of the Muehlebach. He took a long pull from the soda and wiped his face with his handkerchief. Fay was across the room, hat in hand, perched on the edge of a wicker chair opposite the society columnist Henrietta Kincaid and busting a gut trying to impress.

A dance band played Guy Lombardo tunes. Faces well-fed and familiar floated past. The guest list was long but not diverse. It was south-side and deep-lawned. Made up of Mission Hills and other Ward 16 residents who voted a straight Republican ticket, shopped at the Plaza, and lunched at the Terrace Grill. The kind of people his mother would call “quality” and his dad “country-clubbers”. The kind of people who wouldn’t let him forget where he came from.

“Hey, Emmo.”

No country-club stiff ever called him that. He turned and saw Mickey McDermott behind the bar, hair unruly, eyes morose.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Emmett said.

“That’s funny. I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“What does it look like? I’m a guest.”

“Then I’m your man. Name your poison.”

Emmett raised his glass. “OK for the moment, Mick.”

“Go on. Bird never flew on one wing.”

“Soda water, so.”

Soda water?”

“Off the drink two years now. You not know that?”

Mickey topped up his glass and poured a shot for himself. They clinked. Like being back in the old neighborhood.

“How’s Mrs. Mac?” Emmett asked.

Mickey grimaced. “Touch of the arthritis. Had to give up work.”

“And the Da? Still pouring cement for the boss?”

“When he’s not losing his shirt at the track.”

“Here’s to their health.”

Again they touched glasses, drank, went silent. Behind the bar the long mirrors reflected the foyer’s floral-chintz lounge chairs and silk-shaded lamps. Mickey ran a cloth along the gleaming counter, a solid slab of mahogany lying between them like the run of life itself.

“How long you been moonlighting, Mick?”

His face darkened. “You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”
“Laid off.”

“You’re joking.”
“I am not.”

Emmett put his glass on the bar. “Since when?”

“Eddie Plunkett’s the manager here. Gave me a start two months ago. No WPA make-work for me, Emmo.”

Emmett and Mickey had grown up a mile from each other, graduated high school together, and played ball for the same American Legion team. Mickey had been the best shortstop in Jackson County and spent two seasons with the Kansas City Blues. After busting up his knee he quit the club and applied for the force. Turned down twice because of the injury, he finally took his old man’s advice and climbed the stairs to the second floor of the Jackson Democratic Club on Main Street. Boss Pendergast asked him where his dad worked then nodded at Jim Aylward. Like that, Mickey was in. So why was he out now?

“I don’t get it, Mick. What’s the deal?”

He shrugged, swirled dregs in his shot glass. “It’s tough out there. Not like when I was coming up. They’re going for a higher class of recruit. College boys.”

A glance at Emmett’s serge.

“But you’re a veteran. They don’t – ”

“Hey. The breaks.”

From the get-go Mickey had been a good cop. When Emmett was still in law school, he was on a detective track, shrewd and ambitious, always popping up in the right place at the right time. Beneath the cowlick and surly manner was a mind keen and analytical. Emmett would often have a drink with Mickey at Billy Christie’s, pick his brains on who was on the take, who was muscling who, how far a watch commander or cranky captain could be pushed outside the lines. A Pendergast boy but straight as a rail and straight with an old friend.

But he was holding back now.

“You gonna tell me?”

“What’s to tell?”

“If I know, maybe I can help.”

Mick rapped his knuckles on the bar and shook his head. “What’s the point? You of all people should know. Used to be you kept your mouth shut and they’d leave you alone. The Union Station massacre changed everything. The Feds are breathing down everybody’s neck, Milligan is out for blood, the ministers are pushing for reform.”

“All good things.”

“Sure, Emmett, good. But what do you think happens on the inside? With the bagmen and juicers and fixers? The grease that keeps the wheels turning?”

Emmett raised a palm. “Whoa, Mickey. Lower your voice.”

“You think they’re the exception? I was the fucking exception. The way it’s turned, those boys feel the heat they come down on the good guys. You join the club or they cut your balls off. And I wasn’t joining.”

He turned his back in disgust, rearranged the pewter measures beside the whiskey bottles. His shoulders were high and his head was forward, reminding Emmett of the view from left field as a pitch was thrown and Mickey readied himself for a ground ball.

“Mick, listen to me.”

He waved dismissively. Near the entrance to the ballroom, Fay talked to a man in a drape cut suit with big shoulder pads. Something he said made her laugh, and she let her hand rest on his arm.

“Come to my office on Monday,” Emmett said. “Any time during the afternoon. Come on in and we’ll talk.”

“Talk, talk.”

“Mick. Promise me you’ll come in.”

“We’ll see.”

He wouldn’t turn around.

Emmett rejoined Fay and they filed into the ballroom. The band played “We’re in the Money.” Oriental carpet beneath their feet, potted palms in the corners. The vast room a dazzle of white linen and fuchsia.

“Who was that you were laughing with?” Emmett said.

“That awful bore Peter Lawson.”

“You didn’t look bored to me.”

“Why on earth were you talking to staff for so long?”

Staff. It was amazing the shape ordinary words could take as they fell from Fay’s lips.

“That was Mickey McDermott.”

“Who?”

“An old friend. Fallen on hard times.”

She made a face as if she’d eaten something rotten.

During dinner his father-in-law came to their table and put a hand on Emmett’s shoulder.

“Mr. Perkins.”

“Don’t get up, Emmett. You youngsters enjoying yourselves?”

Youngsters, Daddy?”

“Oh yes. Very young from this old man’s vantage.”

Lloyd Perkins didn’t look like an old man. Sixty years old, he was lean and leathered, still the wiry Rough Rider he had been nearly forty years ago, when he won a Purple Heart helping Teddy Roosevelt take San Juan Hill. Unlike his brother, he owned a full head of iron gray hair. His face was thin and crowded: eyes set close together, front teeth overlapping. A hunter’s face. His law practice was one of the most successful in Kansas City, thirty years in business and the firm of choice for corporations nationwide needing counsel in western Missouri. Early in the century he had bartered his war-hero rep and friendship with Teddy R to land several large anti-trust cases. Successful young and hadn’t looked back.

“How’s my girl?” Lloyd asked. “Not used to being out of the spotlight, are you?”

“I can handle it, Daddy.”

He barked a laugh, gazed at the head table. “Isabel looks fine today,” he said. “Though not in your league, sweetheart.”

“Daddy!”

He looked down at Emmett.

“No argument from me, Mr. Perkins.”

Lloyd nodded curtly, cleared his throat. Scanning the room, he said to Emmett, “You busy tomorrow?”

“Sunday?”

Lloyd waited.

“No, not busy,” Emmett said, glancing at Fay. “I’m free.”

“Meet me at Mission Hills. Two o’clock. Some men I’d like you to meet.”

He touched his daughter’s shoulder and moved off. Short strides, parade-ground swing of the arms.

Fay raised her eyebrows. “Mission Hills Country Club,” she said. “That’s an invitation you don’t get every day.”

A gust of warm air stirred the curtains, a whiff of moisture and a change of pressure. White-coated men hustled to the windows and extended long, brass-hooked poles to close the fanlights. Bad weather on the way.

“He didn’t invite me to play.”

“One step at a time, Emmett.”

 

Raven’s review:

reachx2700

Yet again I found with Reach The Shining River, a little gem of a novel that could have so easily missed my radar, how once again a direct approach through social media can come up trumps, so many thanks to Svetlana at Betimes Books for piquing my interest. Scanning the synopsis of the book, it seemed on the surface to tick so many boxes for me in terms of what I enjoy reading. With its 1930’s Kansas setting, a community divided along the lines of race, wealth and class in the shadow of the Great Depression, and the promise of a jazz and blues soundtrack, this couldn’t go wrong…

Opening with a small boy’s discovery on the riverbank of a murdered black jazz musician, Stevens instantly envelops the reader into the atmosphere of the period. Set in an area of black persecution, lynchings,  and the nefarious activities of the KKK, we are instantly led to question why and how the seemingly harmless and respected Eddie Sloan met his end, in a clinical execution. Stevens captures perfectly the reverberation of fear and confusion that flows through the black community, when his murder comes to light. Shortly after the discovery of the victim, we are introduced to Emmett Whelan, a white assistant prosecutor for Jackson County, linked through marriage to the higher echelons of the community, and who is commissioned by his powerful father-in-law to get to the root of this crime, and expose the corruption that runs rife in the corridors of power. What follows is not only Whelan’s sympathetic and thorough investigation, but an intricately detailed exploration of the people, culture and destructive influences of a racially divided community.

The real stand out feature of the book for me, was Stevens’ sublime characterisation across his breadth of protagonists. Emmett Whelan is very clearly defined in terms of his sympathies and resentments towards the various branches of the social community in which he dwells. Married to the utterly dislikeable, social-climbing and flirtatious Fay (cue booing and hissing from the audience), Whelan finds his loyalties and trust pulled this way and that by the connection to his wife’s powerful family. Indeed, the social circle that Emmett is forced to participate in typifies the less appealing aspects of the rich, white and powerful the world over, and I enjoyed the charm of his ‘fish out of water’ character. However, Whelan is quickly revealed as a man of great moralistic integrity and dogged determination, who through his natural charm and sympathy, inveigles himself into the black community with ease to solve the murder. He is an exceptionally likeable character, and I loved the interplay between him and ex-cop and bruiser Mickey, who Whelan calls on to aid his investigation into the corrupt police force. There is a natural camaraderie that exists between them, that lights up their conversations, so that the serious of their investigation is lightened by the loyalty and good-natured banter between them. Equally, I was very taken with the character of Arlene, a black jazz singer, linked to the murder by the fact that her son discovers the body, and because of her professional and personal involvement with the murder victim, Eddie Sloan. Stevens totally captures the feelings of bereavement that envelop Arlene losing Eddie, and the way these impact so soulfully on her musical performances and as a woman mourning the loss of a cherished lover. She also has to contend with the danger that attends her and her son Wardell, due to his initial involvement with the crime scene and her natural protective instincts to keep her son safe. Her character is entrancing throughout, and fuelled by her natural gift for capturing the soul of the jazz and blues she performs, she is a compelling character throughout. These three characters in particular for me shone through, but the quality of Stevens’ characterisation was in no way limited to these main protagonists. A great cast of characters throughout.

With Stevens’ realistic recreation of the period, the location and the capturing of the tensions, fear, corruption and day-to-day lives of the characters contained within, Reach The Shining River, was not only a solid murder mystery, but equally a colourful and thought-provoking study of a moment in time. With the rhythm and cadence of the prose, echoing the blues soundtrack that underscored the whole book, Stevens easily achieved that balance between crime fiction and literary fiction due to his exceptional characterisation and engaging prose. All in all,  a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Kevin Stevens is the author of two previous novels, Song For Katya and The Rizzoli Contract, as well as two books for children. His true crime account of New England’s largest bank robbery, The Cops Are Robbers was made into a film. Kevin lives in Dublin and Boston and writes about jazz and American politics for The Irish Times and other publications. For more visit the author’s website: www.kevinstevens