Chris Carter-The Death Sculptor

‘Good job you didn’t turn on the lights …’ A student nurse has the shock of her life when she discovers her patient, prosecutor Derek Nicholson, brutally murdered in his bed. The act seems senseless – Nicholson was terminally ill with only weeks to live. But what most shocks Detective Robert Hunter of the Los Angeles Robbery Homicide Division is the calling card the killer left behind. For Hunter, there is no doubt that the killer is trying to communicate with the police, but the method is unlike anything he’s ever seen before. And what could the hidden message be? Just as Hunter and his partner Garcia reckon they’ve found a lead, a new body is found – and a new calling card. But with no apparent link between the first and second victims, all the progress they’ve made so far goes out of the window. Pushed into an uncomfortable alliance with the confident Alice Beaumont, Hunter must race to put together the pieces of the investigation …before the Death Sculptor puts the final touches to his masterpiece…
 
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!

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

 

Mark Billingham- Rush of Blood

Perfect strangers. A perfect holiday. The perfect murder…Three couples meet around the pool on their Florida holiday and become fast friends. But on their last night, their perfect holiday takes a tragic twist: the teenage daughter of another holidaymaker goes missing, and her body is later found floating in the mangroves. When the shocked couples return home, they remain in contact, and over the course of three increasingly fraught dinner parties they come to know one another better. But they don’t always like what they find: buried beneath these apparently normal exteriors are some dark secrets, hidden kinks, ugly vices… Then, a second girl goes missing. Could it be that one of these six has a secret far darker than anybody can imagine?

From the outset I will say that I am a steadfast fan of Mr Billingham, having read all the books, having watched the excellent TV adaptations and yes I probably would buy the T-shirt, but overall I  found this a curious and unsettling departure of style for him.

The story opens in Florida as three British couples find themselves implicated in the disappearance of a teenage girl, Amber-Marie Wilson from their holiday resort. She is later discovered murdered. On their return to the UK the couples resume contact with one another over a series of meetings and meals which exposes the quirks and frailties of their personal relationships heightened by the fact that another young girl goes missing in similar circumstances to the Florida case. Jenny Quinlan, a young trainee detective is tasked with investigating them as the Trans-Atlantic connection becomes evident and puts them under scrutiny in a bid to expose their darkest secrets and to catch a killer or killers…

For my part, I did enjoy the Florida-based sections of the book more with the beautifully drawn account of Patti Wilson’s heartache and sense of loss over the murder of her daughter and the depiction of Detective Jeffrey Gardner in charge of the US investigation, a focused and likeable character who liaises with his British counterpart the equally focused and ambitious Quinlan. I appreciate that having set the premise that by default all of the couples are under suspicion and that they should appear to a certain degree to be unlikeable, but I feel that Billingham pushes this too far and that as a reader you begin not to care ‘whodunnit’ or indeed why, such is the harshness of the characterisation and it felt at times more caricature than characterisation.  With the grand reveal (which I guessed- humph!) the motivation for these crimes seems a trifle implausible in the light of the characterisation up to this point and despite a plot punctuated by vignettes of narration by the perpetrator it all seemed a tad…well…unbelievable and all a bit obvious as to how the court scene at the end would play out. It’s interesting to see that this is being marketed as having a more ‘unisex’ appeal as I did at times lose sight of the fact that I was reading a Mark Billingham book and thought I had wandered extraneously into a Sophie Hannah book- which admittedly is not always a bad experience- but felt a little strange!

As much as it pains me to say it this was indeed a book of two halves (and on a football note surely Barry would turn off Football Focus hearing about the Championship or League One and not Division One?) with the American plot-line more reminiscent of Billingham’s ease of characterisation and fluidity of style than the slightly less plausible nature and ‘clunky’ characterisation of the British plot. An interesting experiment I feel but rather relieved that it is just a standalone and that normal service will be resumed…

 (Note to Mark Billingham if you ever happen to read this… Get to work on that Thorne ™  merchandise so I can indeed wear the T-shirt 🙂  )

See Mark Billingham talking about his new book here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiNFMrF3H2A

 (With thanks to Little Brown for the advance reading copy)

Camilla Grebe & Asa Traff- Some Kind of Peace

34-year-old psychotherapist Siri Bergman is terrified of the dark. Living alone in a picturesque, but isolated area east of Stockholm, she has tried hard to convince herself that she has moved on since her husband, Stefan, died in a diving accident several years ago. But when she goes to bed, Siri leaves all the lights on unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching her at night. So when one night she wakes up to find that the house is pitch black, and the torch she keeps by her bed for back-up is not where she thought she’d left it, it seems that Siri’s worst fears have been realized. And when the lifeless body of Sara Matteus, one of her patients, is found floating in the water near Siri’s house, events quickly spiral. It is clear that Siri is in great danger, and she is thrown headlong into the centre of a murder investigation which will put each of her closest friends under the spotlight and force her to relive her troubled past…
 
Another welcome addition to the Scandinavian crime stable with this admittedly not unique premise of a plot, but with an utterly compelling and pschologically complicated central protagonist which draws you in as a reader and plays on your natural sympathy for our beleagured heroine.
     Siri is a wonderful construct of two adverse personalities being both an assured and professional psychotherapist who displays all the natural qualities needed to get to the root of her patient’s problems, but also an insecure woman traumatised by the death of her husband with an inherent fear of the dark. Finding herself attracting the unwelcome attentions of a, what proves to be, murderous stalker, Siri finds the isolated  haven of her coastal cottage under threat.  Naturally as a reader you do question her decision to live far removed from her place of work in Stockholm but hey it’s a great plot device.
     The screw is further tightened by the further invasive behaviour of her stalker in all aspects of her personal and professional relationships, causing her growing suspicion of those closest to her, who all seem consumed with a natural propensity for secrets and lies. There are carefully placed vignettes offering an insight into the motivations of her stalker which serve to ratchet up the tension further and allow the reader to play detective themselves. As we see the deterioration of Siri’s mental state the scene is set for a nail-biting denouement which is perfectly executed as her stalker closes in.
     This is a thoroughly engaging tense psychological thriller with extremely well-drawn characters and a well-imagined use of place and atmosphere as the tale moves between the tranquility and natural surrounds of the coast and the pulsing heart of Stockholm. I shall await the next offering, ‘More Bitter Than Death’  from this new crime writing partnership with interest…
 
 

Mark Allen Smith- The Inquisitor

Geiger’s business is extracting information. A meticulous torturer, his methods range from the brutal to the psychologically complex, and he will stop at nothing to get the job done. His clients are referred to him from international corporations, government agencies and organised crime; his skills are in worldwide demand. He calls his company Information Retrieval.
Geiger only has one rule: that he will never work on a child. So when a client presents Geiger with a twelve-year-old boy, his instinct is to walk away. But the alternative – the unknown horror that might await the boy elsewhere – is too awful for him to contemplate. Geiger’s history is a blank page – even to him. In accepting this assignment in an attempt to save the boy, he will discover that history, no matter how torturous that proves to be…

Time to enter the world of the mysterious Geiger- just Geiger- no other name- a character with layers of secrecy about him that are instrumental to his employment as an Information Retrieval specialist. As the story opens we witness Geiger’s more unorthodox techniques to elicit information from imprisoned individuals- quite simply Geiger is a man that can extract the truth but who only works on his terms and at his own behest. He is a damaged individual mentally and physically, the causes of which manifest themselves throughout the course of the book, as he becomes involved in a shady interrogation. This puts him and those around him in harms way, becoming embroiled in a desperate race to uncover some damaging information and resulting in a tense and well-plotted thriller. The character of Geiger is extremely well-drawn and probably the most compelling aspect of this tale because as a reader you are genuinely intrigued by him and the complexity of the emotions he undergoes both as an individual and in his somewhat dubious but quite fascinating employment. Unfortunately, most of the characters are very reminiscent of a fairly bog-standard movie script- the partner, Harry, with the screwed up past and a mentally challenged sister who puts him in peril, Ezra, the cutesy kid complete with violin who gets kidnapped- then rescued- then kidnapped again and add to this the waitress in the local diner with the heart of gold, the earnest psychiatrist who seeks to plumb the depth of Geiger’s mind but unsurprisingly finds himself caught up in action, and the disabled Vietnam veteran plying his trade on the streets as a memory man and waxing lyrical on the human condition whilst foiling the bad guys in their pursuit of Geiger and Harry. However, these fairly stereotypical characters all add to the mix quite effectively and did not impinge on my overall enjoyment of the book as I felt that the main plot itself was unlike many thrillers I have read and seemed fresh and new. A perfectly readable thriller whose excellent plot is slightly undermined by some lazy characterisation but still worth a read…

Lee Child- A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher 17)

A Wanted Man - Jack Reacher 17When you’re as big and rough as Jack Reacher – and you have a badly-set, freshly-busted nose, patched with silver duct tape – it isn’t easy to hitch a ride. But Reacher has some unfinished business in Virginia, so he doesn’t quit. And at last, he’s picked up by three strangers – two men and a woman. But within minutes it becomes clear they’re all lying about everything – and then they run into a police roadblock on the highway. There has been an incident, and the cops are looking for the bad guys…Will they get through because the three are innocent? Or because the three are now four? Is Reacher just a decoy?

ATM card- check

Out of date passport- check

Toothbrush- check

Public information leaflet on the inherent perils of hitchhiking- you have got to be kidding- this is Jack Reacher!

Yes, Jack is back in the 17th outing for everyone’s favourite tough guy and picks up straight from the close of ‘Worth Dying For’. Navigating his way from Nebraska to an assignation in Virginia , Reacher again finds himself embroiled in trouble after innocuously hitching a ride that then manifests itself into a violent trip comprising of kidnap and terrorism. Naturally Jack is forced into a position of working with American governmental agencies to track down the bad guys whilst retaining his familiar role as a lone ranger fighting to restore right in the face of some pretty serious wrong with his inherent suspicion of said agencies. Joining forces with a pair of pretty feisty females who for differing reasons don’t inherently trust him at first, there is a nice interplay between the three during the course of the book and always good to see a couple of kick-ass female characters to counterbalance the oozing of testosterone (that admittedly Reacher’s female fans tend to appreciate) synonymous with the character of Reacher himself.

All the keynote characteristics of the typical Jack Reacher thriller are here- bad guys biting the dust, plenty of militaristic detail in relation to weaponry and army procedures, Reacher’s numerical brain- puzzlers, 101useful facts about every American state, clipped dialogue, and plenty of high-adrenaline action. As is standard in the series, there is no real deeper exploration of Reacher in terms of character development and overall the plot is pretty formulaic in terms of the motivations of the bad guys but as regular readers appreciate this is not really what we expect as this series is essentially built on Reacher’s tough guy antics and sense of justice. The ending did feel a little rushed in comparison to the roving and backtracking nature of the build-up and overall the book read as a mere tangential adventure before Reacher actually manages to meet his assignation in Virginia with whatever action and excitement that may hold.

As a consistent reader of the Reacher series I did enjoy this one more than ’61 Hours’ and ‘Worth Dying For’ but personally speaking I think it still lacks the intensity of some of the earlier books and sincerely hope that this previous originality will be recaptured in the future….

 ‘A Wanted Man’ is published 30th August 2012

 (Thanks to Alun at Random House for the advance reading copy)

 

Check out the movie trailer for ‘One Shot’ here- on release December 2012

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v9mtaMotF4

 

Ryan David Jahn- The Dispatcher/Low Life/Acts of Violence

 

Ian Hunt is the police dispatcher for the small town of Bulls Mouth, East Texas. Just as his shift is ending he gets a call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Maggie, who has just been declared dead, having been snatched from her bedroom seven years ago. Her call ends in a scream. The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of his battle to get his daughter back. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase along Interstate 10, from Texas to California. The riveting new novel from the acclaimed author of Acts of Violence and Low Life is a brilliantly original, blood drenched thriller, about the lengths a man will go to for his daughter.

 

Well- what can I say? The genius of Jahn is in evidence again in this new thriller which again is distinctly different to his first two books. In a lesser author’s hand this could easily have been boxed in with the Harlan Cobens and Linwood Barclays but thanks to Jahn’s depth of characterisation this is altogether a more meaningful read. I loved some of his little descriptive flourishes e.g ‘He sat there motionless, his mind a room without any furniture in it’ and the sheer wretchedness of emotion that Ian Hunt goes through with his trail of broken relationships, his physical and mental turmoil, the disappearance of his daughter and the breaking of his own personal moral codes in his desperation to get her back. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked anyone as much as Henry Dean, a sadistic man who feeds off the weakness of his wife Beatrice to justify his inborn propensity for violence and his utter disregard for those he perceives as getting in his way.
I liked the little sparks of wit punctuating the novel as in Ian’s interaction with the buxom gun store owner who said that any relationship between them would be ‘like a teddy bear trying to cuddle dynamite’ and how ‘a hatchet isn’t exactly a precision tool’ whilst hacking away at somebody’s toes.
As always with Jahn and his background as a film-maker the setting and episodic nature of the novel would easily lend itself to a movie and it does have a very Coen-esque smalltown feel to it with the extreme evil of Dean pitted against the morally tortured Hunt (great character name as this is his raison de-etre during the course of the book).
A powerful and affecting book that rises above the bog standard thriller and really does investigate the symbiosis of good and evil at the heart of the human condition.

When Simon Johnson is attacked in his crummy LA apartment, he knows he must defend himself or die. Turning on the lights after the scuffle, Simon realises two things: one, he has killed his attacker; two, the resemblance of the man to himself is uncanny. Over the coming days, Simon’s lonely life will spiral out of control. With his pet goldfish Francine in tow, he embarks on a gripping existential investigation, into his own murky past, and that of Jeremy Shackleford, the (apparently) happily married math teacher whose body is now lying in Simon’s bathtub under forty gallons of ice. But Simon has a plan. Gradually, he begins to assume the dead man’s identity, fooling Shackleford’s colleagues, and even his beautiful wife. However, when mysterious messages appear on the walls around Simon’s apartment, he realises that losing his old self will be more difficult than he’d imagined. Everything points to a long forgotten date the previous spring, when his life and Shackleford’s first collided. As the contradictions mount, and the ice begins to melt, the events of the past year will resolve themselves in the most catastrophic way…

Following the success of the mesmerising ‘Acts of Violence’ , Jahn’s attempt at that tricky second novel does not disappoint. In ‘Low Life’ the reader is drawn into a twisting, psychological mystery, as we follow the mental and physical breakdown of an unassuming individual seemingly adrift in society. Simon Johnson believes that he has brutally murdered an intruder who is his physical double, leading him into a chain of events that are perfectly Hitchcockian in their rendition reflecting Jahn’s filmaking roots. A smarter than average crime thriller that seeks to unsettle and challenge the reader at every turn.

Katrina Marino is about to become America’s most infamous murder victim. This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbours, those who witnessed her murder and did nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for the truth; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s ‘red right hand’. Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other…

I absolutely loved this fictional interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the real life murder of Kitty Genovese and the whole fleshing out of ‘bystander theory’ that this case sparked in the US. I thought the construction of the lives of the residents of the apartment block was exceptional, providing perfect vignettes of the struggles both moral and physical of these people unknowingly a hairs breadth away from the scene of an horrific crime. Their reticence to intervene in this crime was perfectly pitched because I think all of us have at some time ignored a scream in the night putting it down to tricks of the imagination or someone else’s problem. The unfolding of the murder was strategically placed in the timeline of the book and as a reader I felt increasingly anxious as these events unfolded but equally as curious to get back to the onlookers and the minutiae of their lives. A literary crime thriller that is begging to be made into a film!

Arne Dahl- The Blinded Man

Two of Sweden’s most powerful businessmen have been murdered. In the face of mounting panic amongst the financial elite, a task force has been created to catch the culprit before he kills again. To his surprise, Detective Paul Hjelm, currently under investigation for misconduct after shooting a man who took an immigration office hostage, is summoned to join the team. But the killer has left no clues – even removing the bullets from the crime scenes – and Hjelm and his new teammates face a daunting challenge if they are to uncover the connection between the murdered men and identify any potential victims before he strikes again…

This almost escaped my Scandinavian crime radar but I’m jolly glad it didn’t as I thoroughly enjoyed this taut and well-written thriller. This is the first of Dahl’s Intercrime series to hit British shelves (previously published as ‘Misterioso’ in reference to the killer’s particular use of background music) with the follow-up ‘Bad Blood’ due for release next year. Billed as Henning Mankell meets ‘The Wire’, an elite group of detectives strive to uncover the identity of a killer unceremoniously bumping off some of Sweden’s most influential business figures. Although ostensibly a perfectly sound police procedural, the gathering of this small band of detectives who comprise the wonderfully bland sounding A-Unit, really brings the plot together as they provide a picture perfect microcosm of race, gender, differing social backgrounds and in some cases dysfunctional personalities. This gives Dahl a free hand to play around with how these characters interact and work together as they track the killer and how their differing personalities result in moments of extreme wit (particularly in the mocking of other Scandinavian cultures) or dark pathos as some members of the team seem to have their fingers permanently on a self-destruct button. The plot is convoluted but well-structured to provide enough blind alleys to satisfy most crime readers and as normal (within the Scandinavian crime genre) there is ample opportunity for Dahl to bring in the usual socio-political perspective on Swedish society. An enjoyable debut from Dahl and definitely a series to warrant further investigation…