Steffen Jacobsen- Trophy

steffAlready a bestseller in Europe, Trophy is the second of Jacobsen’s books to be released in the UK, following the excellent When The Dead Awaken With one of the most atmospheric and terrifying opening chapters I have ever read, Jacobsen delights in ramping up the tension, and exposing the grimmest aspects of the human character, amongst the most privileged class of society…

This is a tale of immorality, greed and violence that Scandinavian crime fans will savour, drawing as it does, in a similar style to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, on the less than savoury activities of a wealthy family, and its recently deceased patriarchal figure of Flemming Casperson. Casperson had built his business empire on technology crucial to military weapon systems, but is quickly revealed as financially rich but morally bankrupt with the discovery of a DVD implicating him in a macabre human manhunt for sport. His daughter, and potential heir to the family business-Sonartek- enlists the help of deep cover investigator Michael Sander, to discover her father’s role in this dark past-time, and as it happens its connection to the strange suicide of an ex-soldier, Kim Anderson, on his wedding day being investigated by feisty detective Lene Jensen. As Sander and Jensen’s paths cross in the course of their separate investigations, they find themselves embroiled in a sinister and violent conspiracy, and the exposure of some unsettling truths which threaten both their lives.

The characterisation throughout the book is absolutely superb, and Jacobsen’s central protagonists of Sander and Jensen, carry the book effortlessly throughout. Sander is a wonderful construct, with all the nous and cynicism of a traditional hardbitten private detective, operating below the radar of mainstream society and a difficult man to enlist for hire. He is singularly unimpressed by the wealth and power of the Caspersons, and of Casperson’s shady business partner, Victor Schmidt and his sons, Henrik and Jakob, but this a lucrative investigation and his moral integrity is at the fore in his decision to get to the heart of this dark and morally baseless crime. Jensen proves herself a wonderful foil to Sander throughout the book, with her sense of justice equally inflamed by the repercussions of his investigation, onto her own into the senseless suicide of Anderson and the unearthing of his connection to the Caspersons. It was heartening to read a thriller not based on any unbelievable sexual tensions between Sander and Jensen, and I loved the equal balance of power and tenacity afforded to both characters regardless of gender, and the personal moments of crisis that arise for them when their investigation reverberates into the lives of family and friends. Jacobsen also succeeds fully in his characterisation of the Caspersons and Schmidts, with their battle for supremacy and control in the Sonartek empire, fuelled by greed and a moral bankruptcy that was shocking but entirely believable.

The plotting was terrific throughout, and I loved the way that Jacobsen incorporated the military detail of the backgrounds of some of the protagonists, pivoting the location of the book between Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and Scandinavia. The relentless pace of Sander and Jensen’s striving for the truth, is interspersed with scenes that are shocking and violent, and consequently this was a book that could not be left alone for long. The denouement of the book is excellent and mirrors completely the shock value of the opening chapter, with a neat and entirely credible twist at the end as well. Another winner for me from Jacobsen, and a testament to the continuing rude health of the Scandinavian crime genre. Fully deserving of a trophy itself!

(With thanks to MidasPR/Quercus for the ARC)

 

Ryan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin

jahnAs a confirmed devotee of Ryan David Jahn, was surprised that I did actually miss the release of The Gentle Assassin- slap on the wrists, but delighted to have caught up now! As my previous reviews testify, Jahn unerringly brings a film noirish tinge to his books, with his film-makers eye front and centre, backed up by his powerful and spare prose.

The book focuses on Andrew Combs, whose mother is murdered when he is a child in the early 60‘s, with his father disappearing soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later, Andrew is gunning for revenge, and seeks to track down and murder the man he holds responsible- his father Harry Combs. With Andrew believing his own version of events, his father Harry is a man with far darker secrets accrued from his career with the CIA and his possible involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The net is closing on Harry, not only with his prodigal son, but with those who are trying to extinguish his connection to the tumultuous events of the past. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues…

I think where Jahn always excels is in his examination of the human condition. In each of his books to date, the plot is always driven by the utterly real examination of the emotions, desires, strengths and failings which fuel our actions and relationships with others. Consequently throughout the book, the narrative pivots between the intense and fluctuating relationship between Andrew and Harry, with a series of imagined asides from both men with what their hearts are telling them to do, being over-ridden by, certainly in Andrew’s case, his moral core. As much as he wants to exact revenge on Harry, their is a still small voice manipulating his bravery and moral integrity, that proves an interesting counterpoint to the very different morality driving his father. These asides also work well for the reader fleshing out the huge amount of anger and resentment that is left partially unsaid, and as a result we are skilfully manipulated into changing our opinions and assumptions of two men as the story gathers pace. Harry in particular, now a mild-mannered bookseller, endlessly attentive to his cherished yet alcoholic wife, Teresa, is an enigma as Jahn takes us back and forth between events in the 60‘s and the present day. Jahn gradually reveals the many layers to Harry’s character, which provide more than one surprise along the way, whilst challenging the reader’s assumptions as to how far Andrew is a man made in his father’s image. It’s clever, unsettling, and Jahn’s manipulation of the usual linear story-arc adds to the reader’s changing viewpoint of these two compelling characters.

Incidentally, The Gentle Assassin opens, and is interspersed with, references to A Study of Assassination, a CIA pamphlet distributed to agents, a useful handbook on the various and most effective ways to dispose of a human being, and the circumstances in which these methods should be deployed. This was more than a bit of an eye-opener on the clinical nature of the professional assassin and gives an additional tension and mirror on Harry’s dark past. Taken in conjunction with the slowly revealed tensions of the unfolding relationship of Harry with his long lost son, Jahn once again neatly constructs a thought provoking and intriguing book, that reaches above and beyond the neat label of thriller, into a fascinating study of the human psyche, and the thorny implications of family loyalty.

Raven reviews: Ryan David Jahn- Acts of Violence, Low Life, The Dispatcher

(I bought this copy of The Gentle Assassin)

Val McDermid- Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime

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The dead talk. To the right listener, they tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died – and who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help justice to be done using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene or the faintest of human traces.Forensics uncovers the secrets of forensic medicine, drawing on interviews with top-level professionals, ground-breaking research and Val McDermid’s own experience to lay bare the secrets of this fascinating science. And, along the way, she wonders at how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine time of death, how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist uncovered the victims of a genocide…

I confess to not being a huge fan of true crime accounts per se, but with the dual temptations of Val McDermid- one of the UK’s premier crime novelists- and a real behind the scenes look at the craft of forensic science, I couldn’t resist a look at this one. What unfolds is a fascinating and wonderfully readable look at a wide range of forensic practices and case histories that sheds light on the skill and intuition of crime scene investigators, underscored by the fluid and entertaining style of McDermid’s writing.

The books charts over 200 years of developments in forensic techniques, using a combination of familiar crimes like the Ripper case, but whirling backwards and forwards through time, to provide a view into more recent crimes and atrocities like the Madrid train bombings. Equally, a familiar institution like The Body Farm in America is set against the ground-breaking techniques that are occurring day in and day out by less well known forensic laboratories, so adding heightened points of interest and discovery for the reader. Broken down into specific areas of interest in each chapter, this format allows the reader to skip back and forth easily, and I found this very useful, reading this alongside fiction. The chapters cover a wide breadth of subjects; fire scene investigation, entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter, DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology and finally how these techniques are drawn on during the final legal process to gain a conviction. The language is uncomplicated, but never patronising, and I would say that this book would hold a wide appeal, not only for those employed in, or studying the field of forensic science, but also eminently suitable for writers and readers such as myself with an interest in the subject, but no advanced knowledge of this field. Bolstering McDermid’s presentation of the subject matter, there are also some insights into her own personal experiences of gathering the material for the book, and some nice personal touches to the overall narrative. If like me you are rather jaded by the celluloid representations of the CSI field, with their showy camera tricks and lip glossed forensic investigators, there is much to be gleaned from this well-researched and highly readable account of this crucial area of crime detection. Although McDermid does incorporate some cultural references to crime on screen, for the most part, the book centres on the real day to day job of forensic investigators and the difficult, and at times, laborious reality of their investigations.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this, and having read many, many fictional crime books presenting assorted medical examiners and forensic officers, it was a rewarding and refreshing insight into those who do this for real. I learnt some things that I didn’t know before, but equally enjoyed McDermid’s representation of the more familiar cases and developments through the years. An entertaining and enlightening read for professionals and laymen alike.

(With thanks to Profile Books for the ARC)

An Interview With Dwayne Alexander Smith- Forty Acres

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To mark the paperback release of Forty Acres in the UK, Raven Crime Reads is delighted to bring you an exclusive Q&A with the book’s author, Dwayne Alexander Smith. As my review below testifies, this was one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read for some time, and effortlessly rises above the simplistic tag of ‘crime novel’ to something far more intense and compelling, reminiscent of the very best of American contemporary fiction. Read on to find out more about Smith’s motivation as a writer and his plans for the future… 

When did you take the plunge, and first start to write this (Forty Acres) as a novel?

10faf7da8cbb005084bd1d086e119954About four years ago I figured out that Forty Acres wouldn’t work as a screenplay. Well, my manager and agent helped me figure it out. They didn’t think that the idea was sellable as a screenplay. I loved the concept so much that I decided to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t tried before, write a novel.

How different was the process for you to your day job, as a screenwriter?

Very different. I’ve worked as a screenwriter since 2001. I feel very comfortable writing screenplays. I was out of my element when it came to writing a novel. I approached the problem by reading lots of thrillers that were similar to what I wanted Forty Acres to feel. I also began writing lots of test chapters then giving them to my friends for feedback. Once I felt that I had captured the right pacing and voice, I began writing the novel in earnest.

The central conceit of the novel is so strong – so simple and bold – any idea or memory as to what it was that first triggered the idea for you?

Growing up in the Bronx, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out with my friends on the street, just talking and goofing around. One conversation I remembered was about how we would have fought back and kicked ass if someone tried to make us slaves. Later, when I began writing professionally I wanted to create a story that involved a modern black man who, by the means of time travel, is thrust into slavery in the past. So, Forty Acres really started as a science fiction story. Once I began trying to work out the plot the story slowly evolved into what it is today.

Do you think crime and thriller writers should aspire to tackle serious contemporary themes in their work?

Yes. I believe that the more relatable a story is the more gripping it will be for the reader. There’s nothing wrong with stories about super spies trying to stop super villains, but most people are completely removed from that world. The conflicts encountered by the protagonists in that sort of thriller have very little to do with real life. But a story grounded in real everyday issues has the potential to grab the reader on a gut level. They become a lot more involved because the issues confronted in the book are issues they deal with everyday.

It seems like you must have had a lot of fun writing the characters of Dr Kasim and Oscar, did you have any literary models (or film actors) in mind when you wrote them?

I could vividly picture the characters in my mind but I did not cast them with real actors, which is a technique that I often used in screenwriting. My favorite characters to write were Dr. Kasim and Carver. I really enjoy writing villains, especially smart villains. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me because when I read and watch thrillers, I often find myself rooting for the villain. I would love to write a story someday in which the villain wins. In real life villains win sometimes, why not in fiction.

And talking of villains, do you think we may see something more of ‘The Handyman’ someday?

Absolutely. I have a sequel to Forty Acres all figured out. So, if I ever have an opportunity to write it, the Handyman will play a key role.

What novel do you remember first really getting inside your head?

My influences are wildly varied. As a kid I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Then I went through a phase of reading horror, then the classics. I guess the novel that touched me the most is Huckleberry Finn. While reading it I experience a wide range of emotions. That book made me laugh and cry and get angry. Just thinking about certain scenes in that book makes me tear up.

And you must have a favourite movie, or two?

I have loads of favorite movies. The list includes lots of Hitchcock and Spielberg movies. At the top of the list are movies like Shane, Rocky, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, West Side Story. Again, wildly varied.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Mark Twain, Stephen King, Nikola Tesla, Hitchcock, Muhammad Ali, Oprah, and John Williams.

And finally, what advice would you give to any young, unpublished thriller writers?

I meet aspiring writers all the time and I’m surprised by how few outline their work. When I ask about outlining I often hear things like, “well, I write out the beats but it’s not very detailed.”

I don’t get this. Well, actually I do. They are eager to start writing the book so they just jump in without a solid plan. Unless you’re a storytelling genius, I think this is a BIG mistake. When I decided to write Forty Acres I sat down and planned every chapter of the book. I figured out every moment. My outline even included some dialogue. For me all the hard work is done in the outlining. I apply the same methods to writing a screenplay. Because thrillers often have twisty plots, having a detailed outline is even more important. So, if you’re planning to write a thriller my advice would be to take a professional approach and plan every detail first. When you finally get to writing prose, you can stray from the blueprint now and then, some characters will demand it, but the outline will get you back on track.

Raven’s review:

10faf7da8cbb005084bd1d086e119954Martin Grey, a smart, talented. young lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, is taken under the wing of a secretive group made up of America’s most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men. He’s dazzled by what they have accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be one of them They invite him for a weekend away from it all – no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But what he discovers, far from home, is a disturbing alternative reality which challenges his deepest convictions…

Although not ostensibly classified as a crime book, I was very keen to include this title as I believe that there are enough elements to fulfil the best of both genres; crime thriller and contemporary American fiction. Drawing on the theme of the continuing calls in present day America for some kind of reparation for the heinous period of American slavery, and the resonance of the falsely promised ‘forty acres and a mule’ for the emancipated slaves, Smith has constructed one of the most thought-provoking novels, with all the essential elements of a thriller, that it has been my pleasure to read for some time.

Martin Grey, a small time African American lawyer, wins a distinctly high profile court case up against a powerful and media savvy prosecution lawyer, Damon Darrell, finds himself quickly, yet mysteriously enfolded into Darrell’s immediate circle. This circle contains a small cabal of some of the most influential and successful black figures in society, and Martin, basking in the honour of being made an intimate of such a group, quickly forms an allegiance with them, despite certain misgivings when called upon to perform a strange act of initiation. Grey is then invited on a weekend of outdoor pursuits; a previous weekend of which resulted in the less than fully explained death of a former member of the group. As Martin witnesses the strange and disturbing events at the weekend retreat of ‘Forty Acres’, we, along with him, begin to bear witness to the twisted and insidiously violent events within its walls, all in the name of seeking vengeance for the sins of America’s past. Through the attempted manipulation of Martin by the cabal, and his refusal to simply see the issues raised in black and white (his name is Grey after all), he finds his highly developed moral barometer is increasingly threatened both mentally and physically…

This is not an easy read, being at times brutal and uncompromising in some of its more violent scenes. There is also an incredibly surprising and shocking reveal, as to the activities that take place within the grounds of the mysterious ‘Forty Acres’, that really pushes the morality issue to the fore. It is also a book that throws up a series of extremely troubling moral and ethical dilemmas, but at the same time steadfastly reminding the reader of the immoral period of slavery and the repercussions of this for generations of black Americans. I think this is most certainly a book that will leave readers with differing opinions and perceptions, and reading this as a white British person (with our own shady involvement in the slavery period) I would be interested to see how say, a white American or African American would perceive the issues raised. There were certainly periods of the book that challenged my own moral sense, and by taking some arguments to the most extreme degree, I found my views were increasingly in line with Martin’s as the book progressed. I think that the book was powerfully effective in highlighting the dangers of extreme beliefs whether they be affiliated with race, gender or religion, but equally how persecution of a particular group of exploited people is so easily ignored and not punished and can resonate through generations.

Smith keeps a tight rein on the build up of tension throughout, slowly accelerating the pace until the breathless denouement with Martin, and those closest to him, in imminent peril, so this more than qualifies the book as a compelling thriller. More importantly though, although not a comfortable read, the book consistently raises interesting and thorny issues in both its narrative and themes. I always enjoy books that challenge the complacency of any reader, and Forty Acres certainly achieves this. If, like me, you want a book that gets you talking, and results in differences of opinion, than this is certainly the book for you. I guarantee it will make you think, and stay in your head some time after you’ve read it. That’s the sign of a good book. Forty Acres more than fits the bill.

(Forty Acres is published by Faber & Faber and thanks again to Sophie Portas for the ARC)

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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month in the world of reading and reviewing for Raven, with the added excitement of taking part in September Classics at  Crime Fiction Lover – a whole month of features, guest posts and reviews with classic crime writing at their core.  Go and have a look why don’t you? It was great to participate in this as it gave me a chance to wax lyrical about two of my favourite American crime authors.  Here are the links if you want to take a peek, and who knows what other criminal classics you might discover on the site…

The Enduring Excellence of the 87th Precinct

Lost Classics- Arthur Lyons

Judging by my teetering to-be-read pile, October will be an equally full-on month of criminal delights as well as a busy time at work, so I will endeavour to bring you all as many reviews as physically possible. Indeed, the fun begins tomorrow with an exclusive Q&A with Dwayne Alexander Smith to mark the paperback release of the wonderful Forty Acres, so don’t miss that. Once again, I hope you find something amongst the last month’s reading to tickle your crime fancy, and thanks for reading!

Books reviewed this month:

D. A. Mishani- A Possibility of Violence

Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

Matt McGuire- When Sorrows Come

Louise Phillips- Last Kiss

Sam Millar- Black’s Creek

Arnaldur Indridason- Reykjavik Nights (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Tom Grieves- A Cry In The Night

Jennifer Hillier- The Butcher

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

mmDespite the plethora of good reads this month, this was a far easier decision than normal! After the standout Glasgow Trilogy, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter How A Gunman Says Goodbye and The Sudden Arrival of Violence  Mackay returned with a new stand alone that lacked none of the punch that the first three books provided.

Centring again on the seedy underbelly of Glasgow, and life among the criminal classes, this was another gripping and terse read that kept me hooked, and as the story plays out, Mackay effortlessly ramps up the tension to a well played out and unsettling conclusion. A truly excellent read, and strongly illustrative of the wealth of talent on the Scottish crime writing scene.

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Hillier- The Butcher

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As the end of September beckons, I just had to find the time to post a review of this one! Despite the resounding positive reviews of Hillier’s two previous books Creep and Freak, this is my first foray into her writing. Why have I waited so long?*

The book centres on Edward Shank, a retired Seattle police chief, now at the mercy of his health and struggling with his transition into residence at a seniors home. Widely acclaimed for halting the career of serial killer The Butcher 30 years previously, Shank is a highly respected figure, and a man who still affords a great deal of respect in Seattle society. Having passed the ownership of his home to his grandson Matt- an up and coming chef on the cusp of TV celebrity status- we see Shank adjusting to his change of life in his own inimitable and gruff fashion. Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, a journalist who has her own unfinished business with The Butcher, believing her mother was one of his victims, although at the time of her mother’s death, he had already been despatched to the afterlife by Shank. As her investigations continue, Matt unearths something nasty in his grandfather’s backyard, and so the shadow of The Butcher begins to loom large once again…

Edward Shank is an absolute gem of a character, with Hillier slowly revealing the multi-faceted complexity he harbours, tempering his outward appearance of a curmudgeonly old man with little time or patience with his fellow seniors at the retirement home, with the far, far, darker side of his personality. This superb characterisation drives the book completely, as Shank’s less than favourable opinions of everyone he encounters is an endless joy, and the manipulative nature of his personality is front and centre throughout. As we become more enmeshed in the secrets of Shank’s past, and his true nature is revealed, I for one, was not that perturbed by it, as Hillier’s light comic touch almost desensitises us to the horrors that are unveiled, unlike Matt and Sam whose worlds are shaken off their axis by dear old Edward throughout. I don’t know how much it says about my own slightly warped sense of humour, but I absolutely adored the blackly humorous fatalism of this book and found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions, in much the same way as Six Feet Under or Dexter with their darkly humorous take on mortality.

There are grim surprises throughout, underscored by some quite visceral violence, but this for me was the central appeal of the book, played out with this wonderful tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole affair. Fuelled by Hillier’s pokes at modern celebrity, sex, death and the sheer inanity of aspects of our everyday lives shuffling on the mortal coil, this book is not only a credible serial killer thriller, but wholly entertaining to boot. Yes, there are some slightly awkward coincidences in the plot but no matter, as generally I found I just glided through the narrative, and this was genuinely a book that I found difficult to put aside (involving reading in the wee small hours). With a couple of reveals that encouraged reactions of ‘ ew…gross’ and a bit of shifting in my seat, I was hooked throughout, and am delighted to say that the appeal of the book crosses generations. Boring my mum- herself a fairly impatient and outspoken senior- about how much fun this book was, she read it too. In two days. Loved it. So if you just fancy a pacey thriller, with a few pull-you-up moments, a nice dollop of violence and a darkly playful edge, you’d be as well to read this. A devilishly dark read, but an absolute hoot.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

*I have now bought Creep and Freak on the strength of this one…

Tom Grieves- A Cry In The Night

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With its Lake District setting and spooky undercurrents of tales of witches from days of yore, I must confess that I did find this book a mixed bag. I was initially hooked with Grieves seemingly refreshing new take on the slightly overused plot-line of child disappearance, on the back of a truly chilling opening chapter charting a cull of witches in the 17th century. The story then reverts to the present day with the murder of a young boy, and the disappearance of his sister from a tight knit but claustrophobic community in the Lakes. A male/female police combo in the shape of DI Sam Taylor and DC Zoe Barnes, are despatched to investigate, and it quickly becomes clear that this case can be linked conclusively to others around the country, but what is the connecting factor, and are there darker, less explainable, forces at work?

Initially, I was quite engaged the plot, and the adept characterisation of the police protagonists, with my enjoyment of Zoe Barnes’ character in particular, carrying on throughout the book. I liked the way that her loyalties to both her boss, Taylor and to her fellow police officers following the maltreatment of a suspect during a heavy handed arrest, were tested throughout. She was a blend of idiosyncrasies, particularly in the latter part of the book, and her professional involvement with a very dodgy female lawyer, who attempts to thwart the investigation and undermine her trust of Taylor. Barnes displays a natural wit and feistiness that engages the reader, and without her involvement in the whole affair, I think I would have struggled more with the book. DI Sam Taylor, however, was a whole different kettle of fish, and irritated me throughout. Supposedly in a state of flux and mourning after the death of his wife, he did seem to spend the majority of the book ruminating about himself, and being altogether moody and bad tempered, bemoaning his failings at being a father to a couple of typically angst ridden and stroppy daughters. However, he effectively tempered this woe-is-me attitude with a series of seedy sexual trysts with a local teenage girl in the Lake District, which although allaying (excuse the pun) his voracious sexual appetite, added nothing to the overall plot apart from a bit of titillation, and the further complication of her being intimately involved with the investigation. I grew increasingly annoyed at his midlife crisis behaviour, and just wished he’d get back to the job instead of being on it! Maybe, he should have just permanently ensconced himself in a room with his teenage conquest and left Zoe to get on with the investigation…

Although I loved the location, and the way that Grieves intertwined the haunting and indefinable beauty of this area into the novel, I did carry in my head visions of The Slaughtered Lamb pub (from An American Werewolf In London) in his depiction of some of the local colour- I will concede this may be my over active imagination at play! There seemed to be a little too much reliance on stereotyping the inhabitants, set against the more savvy and worldly detectives. That being said, there was a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from the weird and shiftily guilty members of the community, and the exposure by Barnes and Taylor of the secrets and lies behind the idyllic setting. The drawing on the historic connections to witchcraft and sorcery in rural communities was neatly done throughout. The plot played out enjoyably enough, and the shadow of witchery that overhung the connecting cases added a certain frisson to the whole affair, lifting the book from a bog-standard police procedural to quite an engaging thriller. I will quantify my misgivings, by saying I thoroughly enjoyed Sleepwalkers, Grieves’ debut, and despite the faults that I personally found with the characterisation of this book,  A Cry In The Night is still worth a look.

(Published by Quercus, I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#ChooseThePlot launches today!

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Specsavers and Penguin team up to launch crime novella

CRIME thriller enthusiasts are being called upon to help decide the narrative fate of a brand new novella this autumn using social media to plot out the direction for three celebrated crime authors in a unique literary experiment. After the success of #youdunnit, Specsavers and Penguin’s social media crowd-sourced novella in 2013, crime readers will be enticed with a new kind of involvement this weekend. In a partnership between Specsavers and Penguin’s crime community Dead Good Books, crime fans will steer the story through Facebook and on a dedicated website, influencing the very direction the narrative will flow in. Best-selling crime authors Christopher Fowler, James Oswald and Jane Casey will be challenged to write their chapter based on the decision made by readers. Each author will follow on from the last, shaping the narrative and adding their own unique style and take on the journey presented to them. A digital only eBook will be given away free from the 24th October including all chapters and their hidden alternatives. Dame Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers, says: ‘We have been supporting the Crime Thriller Awards for a number of years now as there is of course such an intrinsic link between reading, watching crime thrillers and eye sight. How exciting though to see that crime writing enthusiasts and future crime writers could create a new crime thriller story with the help of some of the best crime thriller writers!’ Penguin digital marketing manager, Lynsey Dalladay, says: ‘We’re delighted that Dead Good can work with Specsavers on creating an innovative and exciting novella. The three authors are extremely talented and looking forward to the challenge of shaping a book with the readers in the driving seat.’ The mass participation event, called #ChooseThePlot, begins on 23rd September. Contributors can find all information about the campaign by visiting www.specsavers.co.uk/choosetheplot. The site will guide them through every step of the process, and all the details about the progress of the stories.

About the authors

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UK’s top film marketing companies. He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels – and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak. His most recent novel is Bryant and May The Bleeding Heart.

JAMES OSWALD is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels. Currently there are four available, Natural CausesThe Book of Souls, The Hangman’s Song and his most recent Dead Men’s Bones. He has also written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfroinas well as comic scripts and short stories.In his spare time he runs a 350 acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep. J

ANE CASEY is an internationally best-selling crime author, married to a criminal barrister, she has a unique insight into the brutal underbelly of urban life, from the smell of a police cell to the darkest motives of a serial killer. This gritty realism in her books has led to critical successes; while D.C. Maeve Kerrigan has quickly become one of the most popular characters in crime fiction. Twice shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The fifth book in her Maeve Kerrigan series The Kill is published on 20th November 2014.

Sam Millar- Black’s Creek

samA young boy drowns in a tragic accident in a lake in upstate New York. Fourteen-year-old year old Tommy and his two friends are sure they know who drove him to take his own life: the boy’s father is also convinced and pressurises the local Sheriff, Tommy’s father, to make an arrest. But there is not enough evidence, and the boys decide to take things into their own hands.

When you begin to review a book with the phrase, “How the hell have I not read this author before?” you know you may be on to a bit of a winner. Such is my reaction to this recent discovery of Sam Millar, a comparatively old hand in the crime fiction genre having already released six novels and a memoir, is a regular contributor to anthologies, writes for stage/radio and also holds a number of literary awards. With a highly colourful background himself, accrued from his formative years in Northern Ireland, and his personal involvement with both the IRA and a $7.4million heist from the Brink’s Armored Car Depot in Rochester, New York, Millar has been a bit of a welcome find…

With its central storyline based in a small town community in upstate New York and focusing on a group of three teenage boys, comparisons to Stephen King’s Stand By Me (one of my favourites) are justified to a certain degree, as this coming of age tale had me hooked from the outset. This small town has been brought to the edge of fear, by violent sexual attacks on local teens, with Millar focusing on the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that these have wrought. The book is narrated in the first person by Tommy (the book being bracketed by himself as an adult) recounting the events in the small community in which he grew up, as the son of the local Sheriff. Following the suicide of a young boy, Joey, himself a victim, three teenage boys, Tommy, Brent and Charlie, make a blood-brother pact, to exert their own retribution on local man, Norman Armstrong, who has been tried, but not convicted of Joey’s attack. Tommy, also experiences the added complication of a fledgling relationship with local girl, Devlin, from the wrong side of the tracks, which leads to its own heartbreak for our young crusader. The characterisation of Tommy and his cohorts is absolutely spot-on with all the attendant naivety, rivalry and angst that accompanies their teenage selves. All three are from differing backgrounds, and Millar captures the intrinsic differences of their familial backgrounds superbly, including the underlying tensions of Tommy’s parents, the welcoming attentions of Brent’s flirtatious mother, the more well-to-do status of Charlie’s family and Devlin’s peculiar artistic upbringing. The interplay and dialogue between the boys in particular, is completely engaging in their mission (influenced by their love of superhero comics) to exact revenge on the altogether creepy Armstrong, despite the danger and family strife that arise from their actions. I also loved the understated effect of the lawful investigation on Tommy’s father, in the glare of publicity. His descent into despair, caused by the pressure of the case, is gradually revealed, as his son blunders on regardless, fuelled by the impetuosity of youth, seemingly unaware of the effects of this investigation as a whole, close to home.

This is a real read-in-one sitting book as the slowly escalating sense of peril and Millar’s descriptive prowess, both of characters and location, keep you immersed in the events of this small but multi-faceted community. There is a brilliant build-up of tension, offset by the powerful dynamics of friendship and family that Millar brings to bear on the story. Millar pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence that permeates the attacks, with the more violent interludes in the book being perfectly placed, so the details of these and their ramifications for the community at large, become more vital. I did feel the ending was a little rushed, in comparison to the pace of the rest of the book, but taking into account what had gone before that was of little consequence. Highly recommended and an author that I will unquestionably seek out again.

(With thanks to Brandon Books for the ARC)

Special Feature- Irish Crime Fiction Round-Up

In recognition of the saturation coverage of the vote for independence in Scotland, I thought now is the time for a special feature. On Irish crime. I like to be different. I have recently read the latest releases from three authors I have reviewed in the last year. Mark O’Sullivan, whose debut novel Crocodile Tears featured the utterly engaging DI Leo Woods; Matt McGuire with his striking Belfast set police procedural Dark Dawn , and Louise Phillips’ intriguing psychological thriller The Doll’s House So without further ado, feast your criminal eyes on these…

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

slGangland boss Harry Larkin has taken three bullets and lies dying in a Dublin hospital. Amongst his delusional ravings to Senior Ward Nurse Eveleen Morgan, one name stands out: Detective Inspector Leo Woods. Harry’s message for his old ‘friend’ Leo: find my daughter Whitney. Leo is drawn into the murky world of the Larkin family, a hell he thought he had escaped from thirty years earlier. With the help of Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, his search for Whitney turns up more questions than answers, more darkness than light…

O’ Sullivan’s debut novel Crocodile Tears made a strong impression on me last year and snapped at the heels of my final selection of the Top 5 crime reads of 2013. Introducing the slightly curmudgeonly and many-layered police officer DI Woods, I was struck by how O’Sullivan circumvented the normal bog-standard police procedural with his attention to characterisation and the more literary quality to his prose throughout. Sleeping Dogs has done little to undermine my initial favourable impressions of his writing, once again giving rise to an extremely character-driven story, centred on the investigation of the shooting of local figure Harry Larkin. Ultimately, the whys and wherefores of this shooting is of little importance in the book, as the cast of characters on both sides of the investigation provide the real strength of the book. With the connection between DI Woods and Larkin established by their interactions some 30 years previously at the height of the Troubles, Woods is caught offguard by Larkin’s dying entreaties to find his missing daughter. What transpires is an extremely engaging tale of dark family secrets and lies, where the truth is hard to find, causing Woods and his team to embark on a tricky and at times heart wrenching investigation. Add into the mix an intriguing side plot involving a Libyan intern, and his connection to Larkin’s missing daughter Whitney, a mixed-up kid troubled by the dark goings-on close to home and O’Sullivan neatly enfolds us into a plot full of red herrings and partial truths. Woods is as appealing as in the first, embarking on a touching romantic interlude, but in the footsteps of the lovelorn Inspector Morse, doomed to disappointment. His predominant sidekick DS Helen Troy, provides not only a credible female detective, but is a good sounding board for the more intense Woods, and the interplay between them is also an added point of enjoyment throughout. A great follow up to a strong debut,  and definitely a series to be added to your must read lists.

Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.

Matt McGuire- When Sorrows Come

9781780338323Belfast, 2am, Tomb Street. A young man lies dead in an alley. Cracked ribs, broken jaw, fractured skull. With the Celtic Tiger purring and the Troubles in their death throes, Detective Sergeant John O’Neill is called to investigate. Meanwhile O’Neill’s partner, DI Jack Ward, a veteran troubles detective, is receiving death threats from an unknown source…

Having quickly established a well deserved place alongside the likes of Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes, McGuire returns with the second in his police procedural series featuring DS John O’Neill. In common with his debut, Dark Dawn, McGuire pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence lurking just beneath the surface of Belfast, a city undergoing change and growing prosperity but still grappling with the imprint of its bloody history. To all intents and purposes, When Sorrows Comes does revisit some of the original tenets of the first book in terms of the social and well established facts of Ireland’s political history, as the investigation plays out. However, the further establishment of DS O’Neill’s character lifts the plot from the fairly pedestrian to greater interest, as he grapples with the demands on his personal and professional life. Still attracting the displeasure of his superiors by his more renegade actions and detection techniques and general unwillingness to tow the line, O’Neill combines a good mix of stubborness and empathy, whilst retaining a fixed resolution to follow the course of justice. His personal life is messy- in common with many of the best detectives- and our sympathies with him in this area of his life are pulled this way and that as the softer side of his character comes to the surface in the increasingly hostile interactions with his estranged wife, Catherine and his relationship with his daughter Sarah. An enjoyable follow up to the first in the series, if a little too similar, but well worth a look for police procedural fans.

Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.

Louise Philips- Last Kiss

10406581_676106955792842_8923423451031752354_nIn a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home. In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck. But what connects them? When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

I must confess with the absolute glut of female psychological thriller writers currently inhabiting the genre, my recent reading in this genre has been an up and down affair. However, building on the success of both Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, Phillips has earned a steadfast place in my list of favoured writers. Once again placing the likeable and engaging  criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson in league with the grizzled and world weary DI O’Connor, there is again time for Phillips to play with the dynamics of their relationship, as they are pitted against a sadistic murderer and a far reaching investigation. What quickly transpires is that the killer they seek has killed before, and has no compunction in killing again…and again. This is a difficult review to write as I am not going to dwell on plot, purely because this is such a chilling and twisting investigation that I am desperate to avoid spoilers. Needless, to say I loved the little false alleys that Phillips leads us up in the course of the book and although I guessed the identity of the killer (more through fluke I believe) , which is beautifully concealed, there was no way I saw that ending coming. It’s dark, devious and totally gripping with interesting and engaging central characters, a good use of the contrasting locations, and more slippery than an eel covered in Vaseline. Thanks to Phillips for restoring my faith in the psychological thriller, and in some style.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

 

(With thanks to Transworld Ireland, Constable and Robinson and Hachette Books Ireland respectively for the ARCs)