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…

Chris Carter- The Death Sculptor

I was absolutely thrilled to be introduced to Chris by Emma Lowth (from Simon and Schuster) at CrimeFest  and even more thrilled that Chris was so keen to discuss his upcoming release ‘The Death Sculptor’. Apparently, I was the only other person outside of his editing team that had read the book so this is for you Chris and don’t forget you owe me a drink!

For those of a nervous disposition the fourth offering in Carter’s excellent crime series should be approached with caution, leaving all the fun of this dark and visceral thriller to us hardier souls. Carter is gathering quite a momentum with this series which achieves something that very few other crime authors balance successfully, that is empathy for both the victims and killer evinced in the character of Detective Robert Hunter. Through the single minded determination of Hunter, we are witness to one of the most multi-faceted detectives in crime fiction- highly intelligent, perceptive, focused and tenacious with an inherent need to analyse and predict the actions of the killer submersing himself into the realm of a killer’s mind as this killer seeks to test Hunter to his limit. With each book you cannot believe that Carter could create a killer more disturbing than in the book before, and although he succeeds as the extreme visceral nature of the crime scenes attest, he cleverly gives the reader a way to engage with the killer’s seemingly depraved actions in the great reveal, and to garner a particular understanding of the emotional motivation to commit such acts, hewn from the author’s previous career as a criminal psychologist. As a reader you are aware of this challenge to your rationale but it gives you the chance to question your own preconceptions of good and evil, the propensity of humans to kill when faced with emotional trauma or physical threat and to what extent the ferocity of the killing method manifests itself.

On a lighter note through the interplay of Hunter and his police partner Carlos Garcia, (which is probably Hunter’s most established relationship as he seems for the most part oblivious to his effect on women) there are perfectly pitched moments of camaraderie and humour which lighten the overall claustrophobic and disturbing nature of this particular case and on an even lighter note- hang onto your stomachs guys, you’re in for one hell of roller coaster read!

‘The Death Sculptor’ to be published  16th August  2012

(With thanks to Simon &  Schuster for the advance reading copy)

 

 

David Jackson- The Helper/Pariah

Had a chat with David Jackson at CrimeFest because after reading and reviewing a proof of his debut thriller ‘Pariah’ I have been recommending it for yonks in my daytime job as a bookseller. Bought a copy of his newest ‘The Helper’,  again featuring the charismatic Detective Callum Doyle and despite an innocent bookstore employee getting murdered in the first chapter (thanks Dave!) this was a terrific read….

With more twists and turns than snakes on a Waltzer, this is the compelling and equally well-crafted follow up to Jackson’s astonishing debut `Pariah’. Once again featuring Detective Callum Doyle what starts out with a seemingly unprovoked attack on a mousy bookshop employee escalates into a great serial killer thriller. As the killer’s murder rate escalates with varying methods of despatching his hapless victims, what appears to be a fairly random series of murders escalates into the very real threat of a serial killer stalking the streets of New York with a very specific reason for choosing the victims he does, leaving Doyle mystified by the link that he alone is sure exists and finding himself with his own personal hot-line to said killer. Punctuated by moments of great wry humour mostly at the expense of the cast of clowns that seem to be the stable of Doyle’s fellow police officers, Jackson once again balances the tautness of the central investigation with a good dose of New York mordant wit. There is an absolutely terrific reveal at the end which caught me off-guard priding myself as I do as one of those annoying readers that guess the ending and just the right injection of pace that you as the reader (like `Pariah’) are striving as much as Doyle to get to the bottom of this rooting-tooting mystery and seeking to unravel the clues in parallel with him. Along with a neatly conjoining plot woven around the aftermath of 9/11 and a mother’s search for her daughter, this is certainly a more than entertaining crime thriller that wrong foots you at every turn. My only point of dissent would be the seemingly harmonious atmosphere of Doyle’s home-life but maybe that’s just because I personally prefer my detectives to be a little more personally tortured to add another facet to their character but this is a minor quibble and should not detract from the overall satisfaction gained by Jackson’s excellent plotting and well-drawn cast of characters. Can’t wait for the next one…

Product DetailsIt’s a bad enough day for NYPD detective Callum Doyle when his cop partner is murdered. It’s about to get a hell of a lot worse . . . When the dead man’s replacement is also brutally killed, suspicion falls on Doyle himself. Then he receives an anonymous message. This is just the beginning, it says. Anyone he gets close to will die – and that includes Doyle’s own family. The only way to keep them alive is to stay away. For good. Doyle is desperate to find out who is responsible, but when his every move puts others in danger he is forced to back off. With the investigation getting nowhere and his isolation deepening, Doyle has to ask himself an uncomfortable question: just how low is he prepared to sink in order to get his life back?

The first thing to say about this crime debut that you rarely get so beneath the skin of a central character in crime fiction as you do with Callum Doyle- you really felt engaged with him as a person as well as with his professional life as a police officer. I think this added to the novel as you shared his confusion at the situation he found himself in and were almost getting to the bottom of everything at the same pace as him, rather than having your mind racing ahead and trying to solve the mystery ahead of him. Hence the real villain of the piece was difficult to identify and that was great because I hate guessing whodunnit! I loved the injection of humour-some cracking one-liners- and felt the mordant wit contributed much to Doyle’s character and really fleshed him out as character. I found the characterisation throughout was excellent- the sinister Bartoks, Spinner, Rocca and Paulsen particularly stood out and added to the depth of the novel in their interactions with Doyle. ‘Pariah’ definitely deserves to get a good push behind it as it ticks all the boxes of good crime fiction and has definitely got that ‘if you like you’ll love…’ opportunity about it as I think it would appeal to fans of Crais, Wambaugh, Child et al. All in all a great debut and a thriller that I will wholeheartedly recommend.

Asa Larsson -The Black Path

A whole host of Scandinavians were able to join us at CrimeFest this year and I , for one, was jolly pleased they did. Affable, witty and above all knowledgeable about the intricate craft of crime writing it was a pleasure to hear them contribute to the panels. In no particular order we saw Roslund-Hellstrom, Asa Larsson, Thomas Enger, Yrsa Siggurdardottir, Gunnar Staalesen, Ragnar Jonasson and, as David Hewson launched his novelisation of ‘The Killing’ , it was brilliant to hear Soren Sveistrup talk about his original screenwriting of the excellent TV series. I did manage to grab a few words with Anders Roslund and the delightful Asa Larsson and here’s my review of Asa’ s ‘The Black Path’ :

The latest instalment in Asa Larsson’s ‘Rebecka Martinsson’ series and to my mind, her best to date. Rebecka has seemingly made a full recovery from the horrific attack of the previous book and after her release from the psychiatric unit, finds herself embroiled in another murder investigation with the wonderful female detective Anna-Maria Mella. This is where Larsson excels in her characterisation that portrays Rebecka as an outwardly strong but essentially damaged woman and Anna-Maria, who witnesses so much horror in her day job, as an incredibly grounded and centred character, and who acts as a perfect foil to Rebecka’s polar opposite characteristics. The interplay and deep-seated respect and affection between them is even more prevalent in this plot as they work together to uncover some insidious goings on within an extremely influential yet corrupt mining corporation that leads to greed and murder. I think this book is the closest in context that I’ve read to say ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ or ‘The Killing’ where the more socio-political plot is given centre stage and I did find the detail regarding the corruption of big business in Third World countries extremely interesting. Obviously this was running parallel with the murder investigation and the strange trinity of the murdered woman, her brother and his friend- the figures at the forefront of the mining corporation- and their interaction and relationships with each other which was equally compelling. An accomplished and highly readable thriller from Larsson who just gets better with every book…

( With thanks to Quercus for the advance reading copy)

William Ryan- The Bloody Meadow

Was nice to catch up with William at CrimeFest as he had very kindly sent me a copy of  his excellent Korolev thriller ‘The Bloody Meadow’ to read and review. A thoroughly nice chap he is too!

 In ‘The Bloody Meadow’ we are once again immersed in the claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere of Stalinist Russia, in this the follow up to Ryan’s remarkable debut `The Holy Thief’. Our erstwhile hero and investigator Captain Korolev becomes embroiled in the suspected suicide of a beautiful young woman working as a film production assistant, and is uprooted from the relative safety of Moscow to the wilds to investigate. A seemingly straightforward case one would think, but as Korolev gets drawn in deeper to her complicated private life and her links to an especially violent period of Russian history, dark secrets are unearthed and Korolev must revisit an unpredictable and dangerous ally from the past to thwart a perilous plot at personal risk to his life and career.
Ryan’s attention to historical detail is masterful and because the novel is so rooted in the reality of this period, one truly gets the sense of the fear of speaking one’s own mind and the inherent suspicion of others that was fuelled by the suffocating and paranoid dictatorship of Stalin. This attention to historical detail and sense of place is counterbalanced by the precision of the plotting and a cast of truly well-drawn characters and the storyline is also underscored by moments of mordant humour that catch the reader unawares. I really liked the introduction of Slivka, a young female investigator who becomes invaluable to Korolev’s investigation and the reappearance of Kolya- the leader of The Thieves- was a welcome surprise as despite his criminal tendencies, he makes a wonderful foil to Korolev’s role as law enforcer. I would heartily recommend this book as a terrific criminal read but also as an astute and well-observed depiction of a terrifying period of Russian history. More than just a crime novel…

Craig Robertson- Cold Grave

A murder investigation frozen in time is beginning to melt. November 1993. Scotland is in the grip of an ice-cold winter and the Lake of Menteith is frozen over. A young man and woman walk across the ice to the historic island of Inchmahome which lies in the middle of the lake. Only the man returns. In the spring, as staff prepare the abbey ruins for summer visitors, they discover the body of a girl, her skull violently crushed. Present day. Retired detective Alan Narey is still haunted by the unsolved crime. Desperate to relieve her ailing father’s conscience, DS Rachel Narey risks her job and reputation by returning to the Lake of Menteith and unofficially reopening the cold case. With the help of police photographer Tony Winter, Rachel prepares a dangerous gambit to uncover the killer’s identity – little knowing who that truly is. Despite the freezing temperatures the ice cold case begins to thaw, and with it a tide of secrets long frozen in time are suddenly and shockingly unleashed.

After the intensely hard-hitting novel ‘Random’ featuring a serial killer in Glasgow, Craig Robertson is compounding his place in the Scottish fiction crime genre with this second novel (the follow-up to ‘Snapshot) featuring the police scene of crimes photographer Tony Winter. In this novel there is a subtle shift slightly away from Tony to the main police protagonist D.S. Rachel Narey who has her own particular relationship with Tony but is characterised as an exceptionally focused and, for the most part, by the book police officer. However, what Robertson captures brilliantly in this book is the impact of her father’s (himself a former police officer) Alzheimer’s which colours her actions throughout, both as a police officer and a daughter, being emotionally wrought by the deterioration of her father but with a single-minded determination to bring his last unsolved murder case to a conclusion which has always been the chagrin of his life post-police. This unsolved murder case forms the basis of the book, leading Rachel to operate outside her usual moral and professional boundaries to attain justice for the victim and to put to bed this case that has so haunted her father and to what extent this case impacts on her other personal relationships. It’s emotional stuff and despite my usual scepticism of a male author being able to effectively characterise women, Robertson accomplishes this with aplomb. This story is balanced effectively with the Tony and Uncle Danny show as they become involved in a connecting story line involving a community of travellers with a nicely balanced injection of humour amongst the bloodletting and counterbalanced again by Tony’s dark preoccupation with the photographs he takes for his day-job and that pervade his psyche. You certainly get a full quota of human experience in this one!

I will finish by saying that as a reader and a bookseller, the delight about Robertson is the way he slots in so neatly between the more visceral and blackly funny Stuart Mac Bride and the generally safer confines of Rankin’s ‘Rebus’, so what you get is a good solid police procedural underpinned by a more adept feeling for the realm of human relationships and the darker recesses of the human psyche.

(Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the advance reading copy)