Craig Russell- Lennox/ The Long Glasgow Kiss/ The Deep Dark Sleep/Dead Men and Broken Hearts

l1 Glasgow, 1953, is a hard city at a hard time. The war may be over but the battle for the streets is just beginning, and shady investigator Lennox is the man in the middle. Standing somewhere between legal and illegal, between honour and greed, Lennox can only be certain of one thing: this is a place where only the toughest and most ruthless survive. The McGahern twins were on the way up until Tam, the brains of the outfit, becomes the victim of a vicious contract killing. Tam’s brother Frankie turns to Lennox to find out who killed his twin. Lennox refuses. Later that night, Frankie turns up dead, and Lennox finds himself in the frame for murder. The only way of proving his innocence is to solve the crime – but he’ll have to dodge men more deadly than Glasgow’s crime bosses before he gets any answers…

A cracking start to a potentially great series and a book which further compounds my disbelief that Russell is so underated in the crime genre as his Jan Fabel series is compelling reading! Anyway, I digress, ‘Lennox’ does for 50‘s Glasgow what Arnott did for 60‘s London with the same assortment of dodgy gangsters, bent coppers and the wonderfully seedy underbelly of post war society. I think what sets this apart is not only the brilliant re-creation of the period but the strength of the characterisation and the blackly comic asides that permeate the book. I liked the fact that Lennox is Canadian and views everything that’s thrown at him with the air of an outsider but by the same token how he has overcome this status to mix with some, by and large, unsavoury characters and who is man enough to take a beating! Teamed with a pacy plot this series is one to watch and I was just itching to read the next…

 l3Glasgow in the 1950s – private investigator Lennox is keeping a low profile, enjoying a secret fling with the daughter of shady bookie and greyhound breeder MacFarlane. When MacFarlane is found bludgeoned to death, Lennox is a suspect. Luckily, he has a solid gold alibi – he was in bed with the victim’s daughter. Lennox is quickly drawn into hunting the killer. It turns out MacFarlane was into some seriously dodgy stuff. One of Glasgow’s notorious Three Kings, crime boss Willie Sneddon, is involved and he’s not a man Lennox wants to cross. But there’s an even bigger player lurking in the shadows and it looks like Lennox is going to get his fingers burnt, badly…

 The bleak dark violent atmosphere of the first book seeps it’s way into this follow-up- and it’s great! Grubby, earthy and once again peopled with a shady bunch of characters, Russell perfectly evokes the look and feel of Glasgow among it’s seedier elements. The dry wit that ran through the first continues with perfectly placed examples of the Glasgow vernacular pitched against Lennox, our laconic wise-cracking Canadian hero- a series that will run and run and with an ending that will ensure that you will be swiftly seeking out the next in the series ‘The Deep Dark Sleep’…

l2Human remains are recovered from the bottom of the River Clyde. Not an unusual occurrence, but these have been sleeping the deep, dark sleep for eighteen years. Suddenly Glasgow’s underworld is buzzing with the news that the dredged up bones belong to Gentleman Joe Strachan, Glasgow’s most successful and ruthless armed robber. When Isa and Violet, Strachan’s daughters, hire Lennox to find out who has been sending them large sums of cash each year, on the anniversary of Strachan’s most successful robbery, his instincts tell him that this job spells trouble and will take him back into the dark world of the Three Kings – the crime bosses who run the city. He takes the job nevertheless. And soon learns that ignoring his instincts might just cost him his life…

The third in Craig Russell’s excellent ‘Lennox’ series and I would say one of the darkest so far. Our silver-tongued, justice seeking private eye encounters more than one or two physical scrapes through business and pleasure when he takes on two cases that will test him to the hilt. Is it really criminal mastermind Gentleman Joe Strachan that languishes below the grey choppy waters of the Clyde who appears to be sending messages and issuing death warrants from beyond the grave, or are there other forces at work? And what links an American movie star with an aristocrat’s son in a positively salacious incident of blackmail? And how the jiggins is Lennox going to sort it all out whilst still in pursuit of his delectable landlady Fiona, fighting off commando window cleaners and juggling the demands of the Three Kings who rule Glasgow with their iron fists? It’s no walk in the park as our battered and bruised hero grapples with his toughest cases yet with a wonderfully violent denouement that sees Lennox dispensing justice in his own inimitable style but with what consequence? This series just gets better and better in my eyes- accomplished plotting, great characterisation melded with a perfect balance of grim violence and wise-cracking dialogue.

l4November 1956. The world is in turmoil. While the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising boil away in the background, Lennox has more immediate concerns, like getting his personal life, and his business, back on track. So, when a woman comes into Lennox’s office and hires him to follow her husband, whom she suspects of leading a double life, it seems the perfect case. Straightforward, typical – if a little sordid – and most of all, legal. But as he begins to dig deeper, Lennox realizes that this is no ordinary case of marital infidelity. He finds himself caught by the police in a room with a dead body; pursued by shadowy members of the intelligence community; and once more a target of the Three Kings, the crime bosses who between them run Glasgow’s underworld. Lennox must again draw on the violent, war-damaged part of his personality that he has tried to keep buried, in order to survive…

Having thought that ‘The Deep Dark Sleep’ was more dark in tone than the previous two ‘Dead Men and Broken Hearts’ has gazumped it as Lennox finds himself in the throes of an almost existential crisis. With his personal relationships causing him no end of angst and a seemingly straightfoward case of marital infidelity devolving into an infinitely more complicated caper, Lennox really begins to question his place and occupation on the mean streets of Glasgow. As he tussles with a shadowy world of Hungarian emigres and a positively Scarlet Pimpernel-esque conman he once again finds himself on the wrong side of the law and living on his wits to untangle the nefarious mysteries of the cases he’s involved in. Calling on the personal services on one of my favourite characters Twinkletoes McBride (whose chosen form of torture usually involves feet and boltcutters) there is the development of a wonderful ‘Odd Couple’ humour that lightens the relief of this sombre tale but Mr Russell ramps up the personal pain for Lennox right at the end of the book with….well I can’t tell you what…but it’s very sad indeed although beautifully done.  A great series which I implore you to read.

I am now feeling slightly bereft having reached the end of my many hours spent in the company of Lennox and the brilliant writing of Mr Russell. When’s the next one- it can’t come soon enough!

Have a look at this wonderfully witty interview with Mr Russell himself at: http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/blog/2012/07/04/quercus-couch-craig-russell/

John Connolly- The Wrath of Angels

The Wrath of Angels: The Eleventh Charlie Parker ThrillerIn the depths of the Maine woods, the wreckage of an aeroplane is discovered. There are no bodies, and no such plane has ever been reported missing, but men both good and evil have been seeking it for a long, long time. What the wreckage conceals is more important than money: it is power. Hidden in the plane is a list of names, a record of those who have struck a deal with the Devil. Now a battle is about to commence between those who want the list to remain secret and those who believe that it represents a crucial weapon in the struggle against the forces of darkness. The race to secure the prize draws in private detective Charlie Parker, a man who knows more than most about the nature of the terrible evil that seeks to impose itself on the world, and who fears that his own name may be on the list. It lures others too: a beautiful, scarred woman with a taste for killing; a silent child who remembers his own death; and the serial killer known as the Collector, who sees in the list new lambs for his slaughter. But as the rival forces descend upon this northern state, the woods prepare to meet them, for the forest depths hide other secrets. Someone has survived the crash.  Some thing has survived the crash. And it is waiting . . .

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big, and in true John Connolly fashion, quite nasty surprise in this the eleventh, in the Charlie Parker series. Fear not if this is your first step into the dark, supernatural tinged tales from the pen of Mr Connolly as there is just the right amount of back story to bring you right up to speed as to why everyone behaves in the way that they do, and the numerous, and at times more than a bit scary skeletons that reside in Parker’s closet which delight in coming back to bite him on the derriere. If you’re a seasoned fan of the unholy trinity of Charlie, Louis and Angel step right in and prepare to be entertained- this is a corker with more than a few familiar faces along the way…

 Despite the slight flippancy of the introduction to my review, this is indeed one of the darkest tales yet featuring Charlie Parker and there is a suffocating miasma of evil throughout the whole affair, with most characters being touched in some way by this atmosphere of death and misery. From the opening scene of a dying old man’s confession of a past sin to a sinister path of discovery towards a hidden list of doomed souls, Connolly weaves a convoluted tale that is murderous, tangential and twisting hither and thither with all the main protagonists being expertly drawn together for a bloody denouement. As I alluded to earlier, the recurring characters all have a part to play and with the reappearance of  wonderfully sinister Kushiel (or ‘The Collector’) and with a couple of other nasty surprises,  there is more than enough to keep Parker on the back foot throughout the novel as they close in for different reasons to the acquisition of the list, languishing in the wrecked fuselage of a crashed plane in the backwoods of Maine. As regular readers of Connolly know, there is a strict adherence in his writing that no-one can really be perceived as ‘good’( and spookily in this tale not even children as one character more than proves)- there is an element of badness within all the main characters with strikingly different reasons for the course of their actions and how this ‘badness’ manifests itself in their own tarnished views of the world. There is always a balance between depraved cruelty and loving heroism and this is what sets Connolly apart from just being a mainstream crime writer as his books always give the reader something more to think about on the human condition, as well as his ability to construct a good yarn…

 There is a carefully used quote at the outset of the book from artist Andrew Wyeth that says “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape- the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show” and what was particularly striking in this novel was Connolly’s adherence to the naturalistic writing style prevalent in the formative period of American fiction in his depiction and realisation of the potency of the natural environment within this tale. The natural setting of the woods is instrumental to the thrust of the plot and his perfectly rendered descriptions of the beauty but inherent malevolence of the natural world are perfectly realised. Skilfully interweaving folkloric tales into the plot, the woods and their surrounds become like another character in the book and influence greatly the actions of the human characters within its confines as it seeks to conceal the evidence of evil that the protagonists are seeking with a grail-like intensity…

 But even within the darkness of the plot there are elements of humour particularly in the interplay of Charlie, Louis and Angel on a particularly eventful evening babysitting Parker’s daughter Sam and in the description of the most depressing ‘titty bar’on the planet to name but two, and these interludes of playful joshing or pure wit do much to lighten the sinister atmosphere that prevails within the rest of the novel.

 All in all another great read in an always entertaining, yet wonderfully disturbing series that deviates enough from being strictly crime writing to incorporate moments of pure horror but beautifully balanced with a literary, naturalistic and philosophical bent- what more could any reader ask for?

See John Connolly talking about the new book and Charlie Parker here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xz3TyE74I

(Many thanks to Kerry Hood at  Hodder for the advance reading copy)

BOOKS TO DIE FOR is a unique, must-have anthology for any fan of the mystery genre, featuring personal essays from 120 of the world’s most beloved and renowned crime writers on the mysteries and thrillers that they most admire, edited by two of their own—John Connolly and Declan Burke.

Certainly like the look of this new collection from some of the finest names in crime writing and if you pop over to the website you can make your own contribution as well-   http://www.bookstodiefor.net/p/your-picks.html

 

 

Kathy Reichs- Bones Are Forever

A newborn baby is found wedged in a vanity cabinet in a rundown apartment near Montreal. Dr Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec, is brought in to investigate. While there, she discovers the mummified remains of two more babies within the same room. Shocked and distressed, Tempe must use all her skills and inner strength to focus on the facts. But when the autopsies reveal that the children died of unnatural causes, the hunt for the mother – a young woman with a seedy past and at least three aliases – is on. The trail leads Tempe to Yellowknife, a cold, desolate diamond-mining town on the edge of the Arctic Circle, where her quest for the truth only throws up more questions, more secrets, and more dead bodies. Taking risks and working alone, Tempe refuses to give up until she has discovered why the babies died. But in such a hostile environment, can she avoid being the next victim?

From the distressing opening scene of a small maggot-infested corpse, you know straightaway that this latest from Kathy Reichs is seemingly more edgy in it’s subject matter and choice of victim than her usual fare, as Temperance Brennan once again finds herself embroiled in murders most foul. With typical attention to detail, we follow Brennan’s crucial forensic discoveries as she pieces together- sometimes literally, as later she solves a macabre jigsaw involving exhumed remains- the secrets that dead bodies can yield up under her close scrutiny . No matter how many times the song ‘Dem Dry Bones’ crosses my mind in Reichs’ detailing of which bone connects to which, I always find the specificity of this information strangely compelling andit always adds to the perennial authenticity of Brennan’s logical and focused investigations of the human body.

Another weapon in Reichs’ armour is her ability to perfectly capture place and atmosphere, whether in the ‘nuts and bolts’ description of location, or is as particularly evident in the setting of Yellowknife, the own peculiar history of that location. Reichs’ takes us on a historical trip back through Yellowknife’s former fortunes as an area rich in gold, to it’s now new lucrative position as a diamond -mining town. Personally,  I rather enjoy this sojourn down a rags to riches memory lane (at least for some of the prospectors) to flesh out what is at times a slightly leaky story with some twists in the plot signposted a little too clearly for the seasoned crime reader. Also, in the course of the book, Reichs’ tries a little homespun social analysis on the subject of race and dips her toe into a somewhat stereotypical depiction of environmental campaigners and, although I can understand her needing to employ these facets of the story to drive the plot forward in a particular direction, it does feel a tad forced and, dare I say it, slightly clunky at times.

On an altogether lighter note, Brennan finds herself torn between two lovers as a couple of former suitors flex their muscles and vie for her attention, with the inevitable butting of heads that always ensues in these situations, and with rather a surprise announcement by Brennan’s daughter Katy to add to her personal chagrin, there is a nice balance as usual between Brennan the professional forensic anthropologist, a concerned mother and quite possibly a lover…no spoilers here!

I must confess after not having read a Kathy Reichs for a while it was quite nice to revisit a familiar character- like pulling on a comfy pair of slippers- and despite its flaws it was great to spend some time in the company of Temperance Brennan. I’d rather missed her!

 (And it goes without saying,  extra points for the adaptation of a Bond movie for the title…!)

(Thanks to Random House for the advance reading copy)

 Kathy will be appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Saturday October 13, 2012

12pm — Kathy Reichs & Val McDermid – Two bestselling crime writers from opposite sides of the Atlantic discuss how their novels have bred successful TV series. Kathy Reichs from the US, whose Temperance Brennan novels were the inspiration for TV series, Bones.  And from the UK, Val McDermid, whose Tony Hill & Carol Jordan novels inspired Wire in the Blood.

6.30pm —- Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin, & Dr. Stuart Holmes – Science and the art of murder come together in this fascinating discussion. Bestselling exponent of taut and compelling Scottish noir, Ian Rankin, forensic anthropologist and author, Kathy Reichs, and Dr. Stuart Holmes of the Royal College of Pathologists join us to discuss the true relationship between writing about murder and getting the science right.

http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/literature/