Luca Veste Blog Tour- The Inspiration for The Dying Place/Review

DP Blog Tour2 To celebrate the UK publication of Luca Veste’s second book The Dying Place it gives the Raven great pleasure to post a short piece by Luca on his initial inspiration  for the plot.  The Dying Place raises some very valid arguments at each extreme of the moral dilemma it presents, but is violence the most viable course of action to deal with the social deprivation that has permeated our everyday lives?  Read on…

“When I started writing THE DYING PLACE, my first thought was that it had to be different. Not different in a non-crime fiction sense, but different from DEAD GONE, in a way that would be at least noticeable to people. There was a temptation to go with what had seemingly worked in the first novel – a serial killer thriller, with an unknown force stalking the streets of Liverpool a year on from events in DEAD GONE – and I even mapped out a small plan for such a novel. I found that I wanted to test myself a little however, seeing if I could hold suspense with one body/death for over half the novel. Then, in a conversation with my dad talking about Book Two, the chat turned to what has been an ongoing battle between us about what to do with issues with young people. My dad is very liberal in almost all subjects, with one exception – how to deal with what some people call “scallies”. Young people who cause problems on the streets and within society. A disenfranchised section of society, who are the subject of much media interest, even though they make up a small minority of young people. My dad’s idea – one which is mirrored in so many of his generation – is to get a van full of “old boys” and go around giving these “scallies” a good kicking, which apparently would sort them out and solve all the problems caused by them.

lucaNaturally, I have misgivings about this idea. Violence stopping violence just doesn’t seem to work logically in my mind. However, I know there is – and has been since time began – a clash of generations, with the older generation always believing the younger generation is somehow a “problem”. That clash of generations was something I become more and more interested in, and eventually became the focus of THE DYING PLACE. I knew, however, that allowing my own thinking to intrude in the novel would make the book too much of a manifesto against one idea. Therefore, I had to present the two forces equally – the issues and crimes caused by some young people vs the rose-tinted view of the past some older people have. The book opens with those two view-points – a single mother of young teenagers and the issues created by a society which still treats them with disdain… and a pensioner, lamenting the way he sees his city changing around him, and the very real crimes he experiences. As we go through the book, the characters we meet are from both sides, their experiences skewing viewpoints and thoughts.

What I hope it creates is a moral dilemma in the readers mind. Whilst you may begin feeling sympathy for one character may change over time. I want to challenge a reader, whilst also providing a thrilling read, which will hopefully keep you gripped. There’s nothing better than hearing “I couldn’t stop turning the pages… ” for me.

Oh, and book three will be a serial killer again… but with a twist! ” 

Raven’s Review

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Once inside…there’s no way out. A fate worse than death…

DI Murphy and DS Rossi discover the body of known troublemaker Dean Hughes, dumped on the steps of St Mary’s Church in West Derby, Liverpool. His body is covered with the unmistakable marks of torture. As they hunt for the killer, they discover a worrying pattern. Other teenagers, all young delinquents, have been disappearing without a trace. Who is clearing the streets of Liverpool? Where are the other missing boys being held? And can Murphy and Rossi find them before they meet the same fate as Dean?

I think it was Karin Slaughter who said that to really tap into the sociological fears and concerns of any community that the perfect conduit for this is crime fiction. In The Dying Place- the follow up to his debut novel Dead Gone- Veste proves the point admirably. Focusing on a band of older vigilantes, swiping errant youths off the streets of Liverpool, and incarcerating them to undergo a form of behavioural re-programming, Veste uses the plot to provide a thoughtful and balanced examination of how these youths, that are such a thorn in the side of their local community, should be dealt with, and if meeting violence with violence is really the right way to address the problem. Do these youths all really fit a template because of the way they dress? Are some conditioned to be ‘bad’ by the very unstable nature of their upbringings, and detrimental familial influences? As the vigilante’s leader becomes more unhinged, scarred by the actions of youths such as these in his personal life, Veste ramps up the tension and the police themselves come into the firing line too.

Cleverly, our empathy is roundly manipulated, as we see how the actions of this vigilante band spirals out of control, and the implications for not only their detainees, but also bringing into play their family backgrounds, and the effects of the investigation on the police protagonists- most notably DI David Murphy, and his feisty DS Scouse/Italian sidekick Laura Rossi. I was most impressed with this detective duo in the debut, Dead Gone, and love the balance between the stoical and world weary Murphy, set against the hot temper and really quite enjoyable colourful swearing of his police partner Rossi. What I also enjoy about Veste’s characterisation is the way that he roundly avoids the typical stereotypes of many crime fiction novels, giving a realistic feel to the personal lives of both, and how the very nature of their jobs, and this investigation in particular, impinge on their personal relationships- or lack of. They form a solid partnership that is providing a real backbone to the continuation of the series, and with the shocking denouement affecting Murphy on an incredibly personal level, I will be interested to see the repercussions of this in the next book. Within the framework of this crime novel, Veste balances perfectly the larger sociological issues, with a pacey plot, and a solid cast of characters that proves itself an eminently enjoyable read. More please…

Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Scouse heritage, married with two young daughters, and one of nine children. He is currently studying psychology and criminology at University in Liverpool.  He is also the editor of the Spinetingler Award nominated charity anthology ‘Off The Record’, and co-editor of ‘True Brit Grit’, also an anthology of short stories for charity. A former civil servant, actor, singer and guitarist (although he still picks it up now and again), he now divides his time between home life, Uni work and writing. Follow on Twitter @lucaveste

Find out more about Dead Gone here

(With thanks to Avon for the ARC)

Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2014- The Winners

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Winners unmasked at Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2014 on ITV3

  • Keeley Hawes for Line of Duty – Dagger for Best Actress
  • Matthew McConaughey for True Detective - Dagger for Best Actor
  • James Norton for Happy Valley – Dagger for Best Supporting Actor
  • Amanda Abbington for Sherlock - Dagger for Best Supporting Actress
  • Happy Valley – Dagger for Best TV Series
  • True Detective – Dagger for Best International TV Series
  • Cold in July – Dagger for Best Film
  • Peter May – Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year
  • Wiley Cash – CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger
  • Ray Celestin – CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger
  • Robert Harris – CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year
  • Denise Mina, Robert Harris and Midsomer Murders were inducted into the Hall of Fame

The awards, now in their seventh year, mark the culmination of ITV3’s six-week prime time series, The Specsavers Crime Thriller Club. The ceremony will be shown on ITV3 at 9pm, Monday 27 October 2014.

The Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the year was awarded to Peter May for ‘Entry Island’. This award is selected by a group of independent publishing experts from the Awards Academy, from a shortlist of 6 great Crime reads featured throughout the Crime Thriller Club Series on ITV3.

This year’s CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year was won by Wiley Cash for his novel This Dark Road to Mercy, a story of blood and vengeance involving two young sisters. Cash’s book beat an exceptional line-up of likely suspects including Paul Mendelson’s The First Rule of Survival, Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In and Paula Daly’s Keep Your Friends Close to win the prestigious award.

The CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger for Best New Crime Writer of the Year was awarded to Ray Celestin for his debut novel The Axeman’s Jazz. Named the most wanted new author in crime fiction, Celestin’s The Axeman’s Jazz and its tale of an axe killer with a mysterious identity beat off competition from M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine, Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea and A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife to take home the award.

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year went to Robert Harris for An Officer and a Spy. This bestselling author thriller battled it out against Terry Hayes for I Am Pilgrim, Greg Iles for Natchez Burning and Louise Doughty for Apple Tree Yard to win the esteemed award.

www.crimethrillerawards.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal- Scott Mariani- The Forgotten Holocaust (Ben Hope Book 10)

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COMING JANUARY 2015

The breathtaking new adventure from Scott Mariani, starring Ben Hope, will take you on a gripping journey of non-stop action up until the very last page.

 A lost, aimless and hard-drinking Ben Hope has wandered back to his old haunt in Ireland. The ex-SAS soldier is searching for peace, but trouble soon appears when Kirsten Hall, a young journalist, is brutally murdered right in front of him. Unable to prevent it, Ben is driven by guilt to hunt down the killers. All he has to go on is a handful of clues from Kirsten’s research – but how can the journals of Lady Stamford, the wife of an English lord during the time of the Irish Great Famine, have put Kirsten in mortal danger?

Ben’s quest for the truth leads him across the world and finally to Oklahoma, USA, where a deadly secret awaits. What connects the journals, a wealthy American politician and an intrigue surrounding the Irish famine?

What Ben uncovers is a shocking historical conspiracy linked to the deaths of some two million people: a veritable holocaust that time has all but forgotten. Those who are still profiting from the lies and corruption of the time, and who are ready to kill anyone to protect their secret, are about to pay . . .

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

butcher

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)