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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

June 2012

John Gordon Sinclair- Seventy Times Seven

Danny McGuire doesn’t like his job, but he’s good at it. Since his brother’s murder eight years earlier he has become a professional killer: a hit man for hire, bent on retribution. The Job: Danny’s been contracted to eliminate the ‘Thevshi’ – the Ghost’ – the most elusive informant that has ever penetrated the Republican movement in Northern Ireland. But there’s a problem: the Thevshi claims to know who’s responsible for his brother’s death. Danny’s never killed someone he needed to talk to first. The Target: When Finn O’Hanlon (A.K.A. the Thevshi) is attacked in a bar in Alabama he realises that his past has finally caught up with him. Forced to flee, he embarks on a desperate journey to find Danny McGuire before it’s too late. The Complication: What Danny McGuire and Finn O’Hanlon don’t know is that they’re up against someone who’s spent years hiding a secret, and it’s a secret they’ll go to any lengths to protect…          

This is the first in a two book deal secured by actor John Gordon Sinclair and sure to gain him  membership of the Tartan Noir pack. With a title taken from a Bible quote in which St Peter says there is no limit to the forgiveness you can have for someone and that it could be seventy times seven, Sinclair has crafted a fast moving and page-turning thriller reminiscent of the brilliant ‘Michael Forsythe’ series by Irish crime writer Adrian McKinty. Sinclair has cleverly  adopted the writing style of the creme de la creme of the Irish thriller writing scene, Bruen, Neville et al and melded it with the sure-footed, fast-talking and terse prose prevalent in American crime fiction. Although originally conceived as a potential film script, there is more than enough meat on its bones to make this a highly readable and competent thriller that would indeed translate very well to film if the situation arose. With it’s Atlantic hopping setting from Limavady, Northern Ireland to the one horse town of Tuscaloosa,  Alabama,  there are thrills and spills galore with enough violent shoot-outs and well-drawn central protagonists to keep you hooked; the characters both sides of the Atlantic being convincingly brought to life and driving the central plot along well. The assured characterisation is indeed probably the strongest aspect of the book with some protagonists  being very, very, bad indeed (which I particularly liked) and others with blurred boundaries of good and evil in their search for retribution. Nice to see a couple of  sassy female characters, although this was clouded somewhat by the inevitable love interests that arise- this always tends to spoil some of the best action movies as well but such is the nature of the genre and only a minor quibble on my part. 

Sinclair has recently said in an interview that he would aspire to be as good as someone like Ian Rankin and says in a wonderful self-deprecating way: “It is quite exciting. I am a fan of Ian Rankin. Like the care in the community guys that go on X Factor believing they can sing, I always had this notion that I should have been Rebus. But it is one of those misplaced things where you see it on the telly and think, ‘What was I thinking?’ Well, no John, this is only your first book but I think we can say that you’re definitely on the right track! A good read and one I can thoroughly recommend…

‘Seventy Times Seven’ to be published 6th September

(Thanks to Faber & Faber for the advance reading copy)

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Antonin Varenne- Bed of Nails

Product DetailsIt’s as if he’s being mocked from beyond the grave. When John Nichols arrives to identify the body of an old friend, he is immediately caught up in the detritus of Alan Musgrave’s life, the side of Paris the tourists don’t see, where everyone has a past but very few count on a future. But what can he expect from a man who bled to death in his own excruciating S&M stage show? Now there’s a maverick police lieutenant on the prowl who thinks that Musgrave’s suicide was murder. Guérin might not look like much, but he’s one of the few honest officers on the force. As the horrific extent of police abuse is revealed, the race is on to find the link between a slew of recent suicides – and the key to it is buried deep in Nichols’s past. Bed of Nails does for Paris what James Ellroy did for vintage America, shining a light as never before on the seedy underbelly of La Ville-Luminère…          

I have not read a crime thriller as utterly compelling and emotionally powerful as ‘Bed of Nails’ for many years and, having been promised a unique crime reading experience by those lucky enough to have read this before publication, I would implore that you seek this out and prepare for an unparallelled master class in crime writing. A novel that metaphorically slaps you round the face from the opening scene of a harrowing suicide and a plot that continues to pummel the reader’s senses throughout, plunging you unreservedly into the seedy underbelly of Parisian life, police and foreign diplomatic corruption and a twisting thriller peopled by a cast of beguiling and emotionally flawed but totally engaging characters. Being reluctant to divulge any further details of the plot, I would say that this a novel that is best approached from another angle entirely and for the following reasons:

There’s that awful reviewer’s cliche that ‘this is a book that stays with you long after the final page is turned’ but I would absolutely endorse this statement in relation to this novel. The ending is so emotionally bleak for all the main protagonists, but you have engaged with them so much during the course of the book, gravitating between moments of violence to tenuous but touching interludes of human connection that it genuinely strikes a powerful chord. As the denouement unfolds with such devastating consequences for the characters , there is a calm and understated depiction of human frailty. In the death of one character in particular, whose violent end is tinged with a moment of complete serenity, there is a beautifully wrought and succinct juxtaposition with a solitary image that is wholly resonant of the natural world . With assured vignettes like this at absolutely the right moments, the manipulation of language to suit the change of tempo and tone in the plot, and the deeper philosophical context, this crime novel just draws you in and adds to your sense of this being more than a thriller, but a literary exploration of the boundaries of mainstream crime writing. Simply wonderful…

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Jeffrey Deaver- XO

Kayleigh Towne is a beautiful and successful singer-songwriter, and Edwin Sharp is her biggest fan. When she replies to one of his fan letters with ‘XO’, Edwin is convinced she loves him, and that her latest hit song ‘Your Shadow’ was written for him. Nothing Kayleigh or her lawyers can say persuades him otherwise. Then the singer gets an anonymous phone call; it’s the first verse of ‘Your Shadow’ playing. Soon after, one of the crew is horribly murdered. Kayleigh’s friend Kathryn Dance, a special agent with the California Bureau of Investigation, knows that stalking crimes are not one-off occurrences, and, sure enough, more verses of the song are played as warnings of death to follow. With a little help from forensic criminalist Lincolyn Rhyme, Dance must use her kinesic and investigative skills in an attempt to find the killer before more people die…

As you can see from the synopsis, this is the latest in Jeffrey Deaver’s ‘Kathryn Dance’ series and what could be a fairly straightforward tale of celebrity stalking is differentiated from the standard fare by Deaver’s ratcheting up of the sense of peril and tension that he is so accomplished at. As the story plays out, the reader is wrong-footed at every turn as the body count mounts and the killer remains undetected. This is all well and good and typical of Deaver as he adds the layers of kinesic science through Dance, and by a guest appearance by Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, the forensic detail, but what really struck me, and what I was most impressed by, was how Deaver’s personal enjoyment and passion for music comes- excuse the pun- singing throughout the book. Whether he is adding detail about specific instruments, the performance arenas with the best acoustics or simply name-checking the luminaries of the Country and Western hall of fame, it makes you feel really involved with the story on a different level. Obviously he uses Dance with her mission to capture the traditional music of the California Fresno region for her down time music web site as an additional foil to indulge this love of music, as she sets about recording the music of Mexican migrants in between thwarting the evil aims of the seemingly psychopathic stalker. At the back of the book are the lyrics (composed by Deaver) to Kayleigh Towne’s greatest hits and by moseying onto his web site these songs have been recorded and are available to download. The lyrics are also very carefully constructed to add clues to how the main story will play out and give hints to the murders before they occur so again lets the reader play detective to some degree.

Again, we have the convoluted and troubled personal relationships of the main characters at the forefront of the book demonstrated by Dance’s increasingly complicated romantic attachments and her initially spiky relationship with the detectives at the local sheriff’s office. We also bear witness to the difficult relationship of Kayleigh with her ex-Country and Western superstar father and how her fame has led to some heartbreaking decisions under his influence. All this is nicely counterbalanced by the wonderfully understated personal and professional relationship of Lincoln and Amelia which is always a joy to behold. Another great read from Deaver with the added bonus of a musical accompaniment which I will certainly be downloading from  http://www.jefferydeaver.com/

(Thanks to Hodder for the advance reading copy)

Xavier-Marie Bonnot- The Voice of the Spirits

When Commandant Michel de Palma follows an anonymous tip-off to a gated mansion by the coast, he finds a body whose face is obscured by a fearsome tribal mask, beneath it a mysterious wound that could not have been caused by a bullet. Surrounded by scores of masks and painted skulls, de Palma hears the haunting strains of a primal flute from the floors above. With few leads to go on, de Palma delves into an account of the murdered doctor’s voyage to Papua New Guinea seventy years earlier, accompanied by a fellow amasser of Oceanic art, Robert Ballancourt. As the doctor’s attractive but distant granddaughter offers de Palma further insights into her grandfather’s second life as an intrepid collector, he and his team stumble upon an art-smuggling ring working out of Marseilles’ dilapidated docks. But when his chief suspect is found dead, killed by the same method as Dr Delorme, even de Palma begins to wonder whether the bodies on his hands are the victims of spirits intent on revenge…

Opening with the steamy and luscious surrounds of 1930‘s Papua New Guinea in the company of artefact seekers and then transporting us to modern day Marseilles, Bonnot has constructed a thriller that is not only thoughtful and intelligent but demonstrates an exceptional attention to detail. The murders in the contemporary story are committed in the traditional style of the head-hunters of New Guinea which does make for interesting interludes for exploring the anthropological history and tribal ceremonies of this region with much pursuing of sacred skulls, and the tracking of a killer well-versed in these traditional hunting methods, as the sins of the past impact on the present.

The main plot is driven and shaped by the razor-sharp detection of the utterly charming Commandant Michel de Palma. De Palma is a detective fuelled by logic and rational reasoning but this leaves him open to try and conduct his personal affairs with the same thought processes instead of acting impetuously in his pursuit of the buxom beauty Eva from the bakery – but will his tentative approach eventually pay off? His police counterparts are also extremely well drawn and I particularly like the relationship between himself and Maistre who himself likes nothing better than donning his housewife’s apron and preparing (admittedly frozen) meals for his friend and boss even if de Palma does chide him for dressing up like his Nan to do this.

The only bone of contention with me was the sometimes clunky translation from the original French where very modern English colloquialisms sit uneasily beside translations like ‘Hop it’. I don’t think I have heard anyone say “Hop it” apart from Dixon of Dock Green and Stanley Holloway as a chirpy Cockney character in the 1950’s so these incidents of idiomatic irregularity were slightly irritating. However, this is not the only translated crime fiction where this is a problem and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book and the pleasure gained from the backdrop of history that Bonnot provides along with a fascinating and twisting murder plot peopled by some great characterisation.

(Thanks to MacLehose for the advance reading copy)

 

Alex Marwood- The Wicked Girls

One summer morning, three little girls meet for the first time. By the end of the day, two will be charged with murder. Twenty-five years later, journalist Kirsty Lindsay is reporting on a series of sickening attacks on young female tourists in a seaside town when her investigation leads her to interview funfair cleaner Amber Gordon. For Kirsty and Amber, it’s the first time they’ve seen each other since that dark day when they were just children. But with new lives – and families – to protect, will they really be able to keep their wicked secret hidden?

Marwood has constructed a crime thriller with obvious allusions to the lives of other well documented child murders with the perpetrators being children themselves and how they assimilate back into society on release. Choosing her protagonists to be two women puts a neat twist onto the whole criminal responsibility of children as most of the well known cases tend to centre on male perpetrators. This, I found, was the most well-executed aspect of the book as the reader’s sympathies shift and sway as more of the original crime unfolds throughout the book as Kirsty and Amber find themselves in grudging contact with each other as a serial murder infiltrates a small seaside town where Amber lives, and where Kirsty as a journalist goes to report on the events. The whole serial murder storyline I did find a little forced although it did serve as a backdrop, although unconvincing, to play out Kirsty and Amber’s stories and I did find the final denouement a little far-fetched with just one too many unbelievable coincidences. I appreciate that Marwood wanted to capture the small-town mentality of this insular seaside town but thought it would be more feasible that a figure that was pillioried as much as Amber would maybe have ‘lost’ herself better in a big city and this would have made the whole serial-killer aspect of the story, in terms of setting, a little more believable and I was surprised that she had remained undetected for as long as she had. Having said that I would recommend this book for the depth of humanity Marwood brings to her protagonists as she reveals little by little the tragic events of their youth and how this markedly affects them in their very different upbringings post-release and this alone makes ‘The Wicked Girls’ an interesting read and a great choice for bookgroups as there are many talking points and potential areas of conflict ripe for discussion…

James Thompson- Snow Angels

Inspector Kari Vaara of Helsinki is thrown into a case that sees a beautiful young woman murdered in an apparent sadomasochistic attack… But his investigation leads to him coming up against a wall of silence that implicates the very highest levels of power. His previous case left Kari Vaara with a scarred face, chronic insomnia and a full body count’s worth of ghosts. A year later, in Helsinki, and Kari is working the graveyard shift in the homicide unit. Kari is drawn into the murder-by-torture case of Iisa Filippov, the philandering wife of a Russian businessman. Her lover is clearly being framed and while Ivan Filippov’s arrogance is highly suspicious, he’s got friends in high places. Kari is sucked ever deeper and soon the past and present collide in ways no one could have anticipated…
Inspector Kari Vaara is back who despite his move away from the Finnish backwater which saw some horrific events in the first book ‘Snow Angels’ again finds himself embroiled in murder and personal torment. Whilst juggling the demands of a particularly savage murder case, the investigation of possible war-crimes, a heavily pregnant wife, his truly irritating in-laws and his gung-ho new partner, he is also grappling with a deterioration in his own health which even he can’t assuage with copious amounts of kossu. I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up novel and found it much more authentic in the terms of a Scandinavian style. I think it was far more apparent in the first book that Thompson is American and ‘Snow Angels’ had a slight feeling of an outsider looking in whereas this seemed more immersed in Finnish culture and more real somehow. Unlike  some other reviews of the book I have read I did not find the violence at all gratuitous, having read a lot worse in more established author’s works, and as for the accusation of it being pornographic, I think in my long experience of crime reading, many crime storylines are fuelled by sexual jealousy and crimes of passion. So all in all a good follow on thriller and looking forward to the next…
 

Daniel Blake- City of Sins

cityofsinsThe pulse-pounding new thriller featuring FBI agent Franco Patrese, in New Orleans on the hunt for a warped serial killer as Hurricane Katrina threatens the city. New Orleans, Summer 2005:                    
Detective Frank Patrese is back in this cracking follow-up to ‘Soul Murder’ which sees him uprooted from his beloved Pittsburgh to join a FBI unit in sultry New Orleans. I can honestly say that this is one of the most multi-faceted serial killer thrillers I have read including (takes a deep breath)….the Asian tsunami, body dismorphia, voodoo, ethnic cleansing, Mayan legends, Hurricane Katrina…oh…and a goodly amount of gory murders. I must admit that I felt the flimsy tsunami opener surplus to requirements and added nothing to the plot. One environmental disaster was plenty and the story would have been none the worse for its exclusion. Blake’s depiction of the seedy underbelly and voodoo heritage of New Orleans was exceptionally well-drawn and equally, the tense build-up to Hurricane Katrina and its horrific aftermath showed a deftness of touch. I will also say that I have not read any crime novel that used the largely un-addressed issue of body dismorphia as a plot device and this was fascinating and worked well within the overall plot-line. On the subject of character this novel more than establishes Frank Patrese as a credible character with just the right degree of toughness, morality and vulnerability and this bodes well for future outings. Overall, although the central plot-line was a little far-fetched, I found this a good read with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep me hooked and I shall certainly pick up the next one…

Clare O’Donohue- Life Without Parole

This is the first in the ‘Kate Conway’ series by Clare O’Donohue that I have read and I was quietly impressed. Feisty TV producer Kate is commissioned to conduct a series of interviews with two men serving life imprisonment but also finds herself manipulated into producing a reality documentary charting the opening of a high-end restaurant which throws her into the path of not only her ex-husband’s ex-lover Vera but into the path of murder and betrayal. Overall both storylines were well-executed but I felt more empathy with the prison plot than the shallow, rich and shady characters involved in the restaurant and more interested generally in the jailbirds and their interesting interation and developing relationships with Kate.  I particularly enjoyed Kate’s sassy one-liners and putdowns which were very reminiscent of the style of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich and the male foils to the Kate show were great, squabbling and bickering like petulant children. I also enjoyed the fact that Kate wasn’t enmeshed in some ludicrous romantic entanglement so prevalent amongst American female crime authors and overall found this an easy and engaging read.

 

Thomas Enger- Burned & Pierced

 

 A BRUTALISED VICTIM IN THE WILDS A solitary tent is found to contain the body of a half-buried woman. She’s been stoned to death. There are lash marks across her back. One of her hands has been cut off. A LONE VOICE Two years earlier internet reporter Henning Juul lost his son, Jonas, in a domestic fire. As he returns to work, physically and emotionally scarred, Henning struggles to escape this past and to be taken seriously again as a reporter – by his colleagues, his ex-wife and the police. A MYSTERY IGNITED Told to cover the story of the woman in the tent, he finds an increasingly dangerous trail and, despite an early arrest, he is convinced that the story is more complex than the police think…

A convicted killer: Despite always maintaining his innocence, Tori Pulli, once a powerful player on Oslo’s underground crime scene, has been found guilty of murder. A Loose End: Scarred reporter, Henning Juul, is contacted by Pulli, who claims that if Henning can help clear his name he can give him details of who was responsible for the fire which killed his six-year-old son, Jonas. A Double Threat: Desperate to continue his own search for justice, Henning realises that the information Pulli promises is life threatening, to both of them and to others. As events take a deadly turn, Henning finds himself on the trail of two killers for whom the stakes have never been higher…
 
 

Have just read ‘Burned’ and ‘Pierced’ back to back, with both novels featuring the character of journalist Henning Juul, an extremely empathetic character scarred physically and emotionally by the loss of his child in a suspicious house fire that Juul blames himself for. I was extremely impressed by the tight plotting, characterisation and socio-political detail in both books as well as the powerful depiction of Juul’s entanglements in the seedy underbelly of Norwegian society as he seeks answers for the deeper questions in the events of his life and as he becomes embroiled in criminal investigations. Enger is a powerful new voice in the ever expanding Scandinavian crime stable and a writer I, for one, will follow with great interest…

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