Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

mmTwo friends, Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, look for work and for escape from their lives spent growing up on Glasgow’s most desperate fringes. Soon they will become involved in one of the city’s darkest and most dangerous trades. But while one rises quickly up the ranks, the other will fall prey to the industry’s addictive lifestyle and ever-spiralling debts. Meanwhile, the three most powerful rivals in the business – Marty Jones, ruthless pimp; Potty Cruickshank, member of the old guard; and Billy Patterson, brutal newcomer – vie for prominence. And now Peterkinney, young and darkly ambitious, is beginning to make himself known. Before long, violence will spill out onto the streets, as those at the top make deadly attempts to out-manoeuvre one another for a bigger share of the spoils. Peterkinney and Glass will find themselves at the very centre of this war; and as the pressure builds, each will find their actions – and inactions – coming back to haunt them. But it is those they love who will suffer most . . .

Regular readers of my blog cannot have failed to notice my huge admiration of Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Trilogy, comprising of  The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter How A Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence . All three books centred on the travails of a young hit-man in the employ of the most powerful figures in gangland Glasgow, but experiencing a modicum of moral uncertainty at his chosen career path, and his plans to turn his back on this life. Defined by their spare, gritty and uncompromising style, all three books garnered critical acclaim or awards, and brought us a truly fresh, new voice in Scottish crime fiction. The Night The Rich Men Burned is Mackay’s first standalone project, although marked by the familiar character list, there are sporadic mentions/re-introductions of familiar figures the former trilogy. This novel put me in mind of a kind of twisted Bildungsroman, as it is heavily centred on the adverse fortunes of two young men, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass. Both are paving their way in the seedy and violent world of Glasgow’s criminal fraternity- a hotbed of violence, criminal rivalries, and a bunch of inherently dislikeable men jostling for dominance in the lucrative world of debt-collection, drugs and strip clubs. Written in Mackay’s now trademark style, in clipped, pared down prose, all underscored with a compelling emotional distance to the characters and events he presents, The Night The Rich Men Burned will astound and delight you in equal measure…

In common with his previous books this is an incredibly character driven book, as all the inhabitants , and participants in the warring criminal factions, are separated by codes of allegiance to the nefarious crime lords within each faction. As they plot and scheme to assert their power in the lucrative world of criminal activities, there is a sense of a constantly changing power game. The main players in this, Marty Jones, an exceptionally nasty piece of work; established loan shark, Potty Cruikshank and scheming newcomer Billy Patterson, are all men with a casual attitude to violence and keen to exploit those they consider weak and needy. It is into this world, that Glass and Peterkinney take their first tentative steps, and which provides the thrust of the plot overall.What I find particularly interesting about the novel is how both Peterkinney and Glass, starting from the same point, find their lives take such different directions, from ostensibly having little, or no, difference between them in terms of their socio-economic beginnings. Glass senses an opportunity for them to gain financially in the employ of a local debt-collector, bedazzled by the prospect of a life of glamour, girls, drugs and violence, and drags Peterkinney into his seemingly foolproof plan. Initially Peterkinney seems less sure of the long term benefits of this course of action, but as the book progresses there is a marked change of fortune for them both. Despite his initial reluctance to Glass’ pipe-dreams, Peterkinney uses his smarts and grows in stature, moving further away from the narrow existence he formerly inhabits, (unemployed and sharing a small flat with his Grandad), whilst Glass spirals downwards into an abyss of debt and despair. With the subtle shifts in the timeline that Mackay employs, we as readers see this deviation of their respective fortunes and, subsequently, as the inherent weaknesses or underlying coldness of their individual characters are brought to bear on the ways their lives evolve, our sympathies are roundly manipulated with each new episode.

This is the real strength of Mackay’s writing, that he presents all his protagonists with such a studied and dispassionate air, that he requires of us to form our own allegiances to, and sympathies with the characters he presents. No one is particularly likeable, indeed with most of the characters exhibiting a strong prevalence to violence and financial gain at the expense of others, you would little expect to experience any real empathy with any of them. Cleverly, however, you do find your perception of certain characters shifting and changing, and that is a real and unexpected pleasure of this book, over and above the fairly linear style of plotting that the story reveals. With little or no focus on location per se, aside from the general feeling of a gritty inner city setting, with the inherent dangers and social decay that lies beneath, it is all the more admirable that such extreme focus on characterisation carries the weight of the book throughout with little distraction.

Completely unflinching in its depiction of violence and the immoral exploitation of the lower classes by these grasping loan sharks, The Night The Rich Men Burned, never shies away from the stark realities of life within the criminal fraternity. Oddly dispassionate, with a spare and staccato prose style, Mackay once again illustrates his original and refreshingly different take on the crime genre. Not a comfortable read, and one that will cleverly play with your perceptions of, and attitudes to, the characters within its pages which, I for one, find a much more rewarding reading experience. An excellent read.

Read more reviews of The Night The Rich Men Burned here:

Crime Fiction Lover

Shotsmag

 

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

D. A. Mishani- A Possibility of Violence

damHaunted by the past and his own limitations, Israeli Detective Avraham Avraham must stop a criminal ruthless enough to target children. An explosive device is found in a suitcase near a daycare center in a quiet suburb of Tel Aviv. A few hours later, a threat is received: the suitcase was only the beginning. Inspector Avraham Avraham, back in Israel after a much-needed vacation, is assigned to the investigation. Tormented by the trauma and failure of his past case, Avraham is determined not to make the same mistakes—especially with innocent lives at stake. He may have a break when one of the suspects, a father of two, appears to have gone on the run. Is he the terrorist behind the threat? Is he trying to escape Avraham’s intense investigation? Or perhaps he’s fleeing a far more terrible crime that no one knows has been committed? No matter how much Avraham wants to atone for the past, redemption may not be possible—not when he’s entangled in a case more deceptive and abominable than any he’s ever faced.

In this evocative and gripping tale of mystery and psychological suspense A Possibility of Violence is the follow-up to The Missing File, the acclaimed first novel in D. A. Mishani’s literary crime series that was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award. Having read  and enjoyed The Missing File, I was looking forward to this, having a fond remembrance of the rather bleak and spare feel of the first book, and the peculiar appeal of Mishani’s unique style.

Unlike, the first book, I made the mistake of reading the first 100 pages or so of this one in rather small chunks, and consequently, due to the seemingly emotional neutrality of Mishani’s writing, I found it slightly difficult to return to it each time. Luckily, however, I rectified this by reading the last 200 pages in a single sitting, so becoming far more embroiled in what later reveals itself as a strangely impersonal and emotionally unsettling read. If I was to really analyse what I liked about the book, where normally emotional engagement with the characters is key, I think it is the sense of disassociation that Mishani brings to his prose and the characters contained within. Although he adopts the traditional tenet of a central detective in Avraham Avraham, I didn’t really feel that I got to know him in the way that others are so defined by the foibles and eccentricities of their characters. Indeed the book opens with Avraham on a visit to his lover Marianka in Belgium, as a precursor to her moving to Israel to be with him, but their relationship has a strange coldness about it, as Avraham is a man not adept at grand gestures. As the book progresses, communication breaks down in advance of her move, and it is not until the end of the book, that the chasm between them is fully explained. Likewise, he gives little of himself away, under the threat of a report regarding his handling of the investigation in the previous book (which is often referred to and explained if you have not read the first book), and the potential implications of this in what could be a contentious current investigation. He has a workman-like doggedness to his character, revealing little of his own emotions, but like all the finest detectives has a natural intuition to what may be being witheld from him, leading him on a different course of investigation which perturbs his superiors. I rather like the stoicism and solidity he exerts throughout the book, as one can sometimes have too much of the deeply troubled or overly extrovert detective characters.

Bearing in mind that the book encompasses the themes of child abuse, and possible marital violence, again, the calm neutrality with which Mishani imbues his central character, is equally reflected in the unfolding of the plot. What could be substantial and highly emotive themes are handled in an understated way, which in a way make the violent acts perpetrated more resonant and affecting. From the initial act of a suspected bomb being placed outside of a nursery school, a violent attack on one of the employees of the nursery, and a connection with a father of two whose wife is suddenly strangely absent, Mishani balances the plot perfectly, using the conduit of Avraham to to tie them together, with the denouement of the book stepping outside the previously more unemotional feel bringing a genuinely heart-rending conclusion. So, my admiration for Mishani remains intact, despite the uniquely unsettling and almost clinical style of his writing. A strange reading experience, but one that I can recommend away from the cliches that define so much of crime writing, and in stark contrast to the all too common schmaltz- paved paths that some police protagonists find themselves on. A good read, and more importantly, something a little different.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

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)