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August 2012

Ferdinand von Schirach- The Collini Case

For thirty-four years Fabrizio Collini has worked diligently for Mercedes Benz. He is a quiet and respectable person until the day he visits one of Berlin’s most luxurious hotels and kills an innocent man. Young attorney Caspar Leinen takes the case. Getting Collini a not-guilty verdict would make his name. But too late he discovers that Collini’s victim – an industrialist of some renown – is known to him. Now Leinen is caught in a professional and personal dilemma. Collini admits the murder but won’t say why he did it, forcing Leinen to defend a man who won’t put up a defence. And worse, a close friend and relation of the victim insists that he give up the case. His reputation, his career and this friendship are all at risk. Then he makes a discovery that goes way beyond his own petty concerns and exposes a terrible and deadly truth at the heart of German justice . . .

This is the first novel by Ferdinand von Schirach that I have read and I was instantly absorbed into a world where the legal system can systematically fail those in search of justice. The story opens with an apparently cold-blooded and nonsensical murder where the perpetrator (a man in his sixties) takes full responsibility for his actions and there is no question of his guilt in murdering a prominent German industrialist, Jean Baptiste Meyer. His case is taken on by Caspar Leinen, a newly qualified defence lawyer who finds himself facing a seemingly unwinnable case, but as the story progresses becomes more entangled on a personal level due to his history with the victim of the crime. During the course of the trial Leinen finds himself pitted against the legal brain of Mattinger, an incredibly experienced lawyer who sees the spark of promise in Leinen who proves himself a worthy opponent. As the trial unfolds the impact of brutal events in Germany’s former history bring light to bear on contemporary proceedings but can justice truly been done?

 I will concede that I am not usually keen on books that depict courtroom trials, but I was utterly absorbed by the unfolding of events in the course of the narrative. I think this was mainly due to the almost dispassionate and emotionally removed style of von Schirach’s writing which merely presents events in a spare and pared down style not given to unwarranted bouts of emotion. The reportage of the events some decades previously were so pared down in fact that it causes the reader’s imagination to be powerfully affected by these incidents in their sparsity thus making them even more palpable. Particularly interesting was the way that history was introduced almost as another character within the narrative as it’s influence and path of events so dictated the actions of the central protagonists in the novel, leading to Collini’s actions and the reasons for these as he is forced to seek violent retribution when failed by the legal system. The plot unfolds at an extremely measured pace which suits the style of the narrative perfectly as the hidden layers of the story are slowly revealed.  Equally interesting is the development of Leinen, the lawyer from newly qualified lawyer to a man confronted with the weaknesses of a legal system that he has pledged to dedicate his life to and also to his realisation that human nature can conceal the darkest deeds from those closest to them.

I am reluctant to draw on cliches, but I genuinely feel that this book will stay in my mind for some time to come, due to the wholly affecting and thought provoking nature of von Schirach’s prose and I will certainly be seeking out other works by this author in the future.

‘The Collini Case’ is due for publication 13th September- Michael Joseph

Visit Ferdinand von Schirach’s website here: http://www.schirach.de/

See Petrona’s review here: Book review: The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach.

(My reading copy was supplied in Kindle format by NetGalley http://www.netgalley.com/ )

 

 

Steve Mosby- Dark Room

DI Andrew Hicks thinks he knows all about murder. For Hicks, however horrific the act, the reasons behind killing are ultimately all too explicable. So when a woman is found bludgeoned to death, he suspects a crime of passion and attention focuses on her possessive ex-husband. But when a second body is found, similarly beaten, Hicks is forced to think again about his suspect: the second victim is a homeless man with no links to the other woman. When more murders take place in quick succession, Hicks realises he is dealing with a type of killer he has never faced before, one who fits nowhere within his logic. Fear spreads, as the police search for patterns and reasons where none appear to exist. Then the letters begin to arrive. As the death toll rises, the threat gets closer to home. To survive, Hicks must face not only a killer obsessed with randomness and chaos, but also the secret in his own past. If he is to stop the killings, he must confront the truth about himself and the fact that some murders begin in much darker places than he ever imagined…

Steve Mosby ranks highly in my list of favourite crime authors having read all of his previous novels and ‘Black Flowers’ is one that I constantly recommend to crime readers. I can assure you that this, his latest, does not disappoint either!

 The key thing that sets Mosby apart, in my view, is his ability to avoid the obvious in his plotting so with each book you are immersed in a multi-stranded narrative which as a reader becomes more of a challenge as you seek to determine how these strands will meet together in the whole structure of the plot. One subject that defines the whole plot of ‘Dark Room’ is the theme of randomness, which is evident within the first few chapters and throughout the book. Instantly you are confronted with three completely unrelated plot lines which as the story develops, effectively have you wondering if there can possibly be any connection between them. The greater theme of randomness is developed within the central murder investigation as Detective Hicks and his colleagues are faced with the terrifying prospect of a completely indiscriminate killer whose choice of victim is so random that it completely disempowers their investigation where no discernable pattern or connection can be made between the killings- the essential key to tracking down a killer. The killer’s victims are different genders, ages, social class and so on, which then leads to an additional quandary on the part of the police as these crimes singularly defy the neat compartmentalising of the killer as a mass murderer or a serial killer. A mass murderer would suggest a completely random series of killings, but equally the team cannot ignore the possibility that these victims have been specifically targeted for reasons unknown and, however shrouded the selection of victim is, conform to some kind of pattern. Needless to say I cannot possibly reveal the outcomes of these plots but the pacing is perfectly controlled by Mosby to reel you in and keep you guessing as long as possible…

 Another aspect of this book I found particularly appealing was the depiction of Detective Hicks himself. I’m not a great fan of well-adjusted plods whose investigations progress smoothly and end up wrapped up in a nice neat parcel. Hicks is undergoing a fair amount of crisis in his personal life as his wife is pregnant, but their relationship has deteriorated to near breaking point as Hicks has his own deep-seated worries about the notion of bringing a child into the world, coloured by his own experiences as a child. He has the shadow of a previous case looming large over him during the course of the book and also finds himself in the uncomfortable position of a killer becoming his pen-pal. Hicks, despite the emotional baggage, proves himself to be a focused and smarter than average detective as he grapples with the notion of a killer who defies all existing patterns of behaviour whilst balancing the demands of being subject to his own personal crises. And further on the strength of characterisation, Hicks’ story is carefully interwoven with that of an elderly candle-maker Levchenko and his wife Jasmina whose personal grief is tangible throughout the plot due to the murder of their daughter and who are two beautifully realised yet understated characters adding much to our perception of Hicks as an individual and his emotional impulses.

 Overall a great read and if this proves to be the first Mosby you read I can guarantee it won’t be your last!

Visit Steve Mosby’s website: http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 
 

Niall Leonard- Crusher

CrusherThe day Finn Maguire discovers his father bludgeoned to death in a pool of blood, his dreary life is turned upside down. Prime suspect in the murder, Finn must race against time to clear his name and find out who hated his dad enough to kill him. Trawling the sordid, brutal London underworld for answers, Finn exposes dark family secrets and faces danger at every turn. But he’s about to learn that it’s the people you trust who can hit you the hardest…

With more holes in the plot line than a tramp’s socks and some utterly implausible coincidences, I can still say that I thoroughly enjoyed this young adult debut thriller by Niall Leonard! At numerous points in the story you are thinking that certain scenarios just could not possibly happen and are incredibly far-fetched, but you can’t help yourself being sucked into the ludicrous plot by the sheer strength of Leonard’s characterisation of confused teenager Finn Maguire, an extremely well-drawn and empathetic character.

 Finn is a character displaying all the teenage angst that a rift between parents can cause to a child, with a background of disruptive behaviour that has brought him to the attention of police, but who is obviously a bright and resourceful kid trying to get himself back on the straight and narrow.  He has been hampered throughout his life by his dyslexia, but this has provided him with the ability to think on his feet, to use his common sense and invested him with the strength and determination to attempt to track down his father’s murderer. As Finn turns into a contemporary Sherlock Holmes with attitude, seeking answers to the death of his father, he is drawn into a murky underworld overseen by a notorious figure known as ‘The Guvnor’ who epitomises every cliche one could apply to a Gangland boss. Through Finn’s incredibly fortuitous rescue of said Guvnor’s drowning child he finds himself in a position of constant peril punctuated by human trafficking, a celebrity chef, a Death Row killer, a German hitman, dead actors, psychotic women and many other brilliantly implausible moments of danger. Finn himself has no compunction to rendering dead those stupid enough to take him on but always narrowly avoids any criminal responsibility due to the idiocy of his police nemesis Prendergast who has his own special relationship with the Guvnor. Naturally there is time enough in the plot, between Finn keeping himself alive, for a little teenage dalliance with the mysterious Zoe who is definitely not all that she appears to be, to add to the maelstrom of confusion for our erstwhile hero. Maybe as an adult reader the holes in the plot were too self-evident but I loved the way the author at one point actually draws attention to one particular gaffe asking why a character could turn up in England undetected for which no answer could be offered- yes, how did he turn up in England undetected? But alas this is just one of many questions that go unanswered in terms of plot and luckily for Leonard he does have a secret weapon to rescue the book and that is Finn. I think this characterisation pretty much saves the book from just being compelling tosh and the fact that I read it in a couple of sittings, even though my sensible head was saying “No, that couldn’t possibly happen” bears testament to Finn being its saving grace. There is also a fair smattering of pretty fruity language and raw violence that although is perfectly attuned to the nature of the story line may cause some consternation as to this being marketed as a young adult read (not for the more sensitive teenage reader) and with these more adult themes, the book could work quite well as a crossover as demonstrated by some major names in the crime genre (Reichs, Patterson, Coben et al) who are also tapping this additional market.

 All in all a good read as you cannot help but be strangely drawn to find out what happens next, but a book that may make you question why you want to!

 ‘Crusher’ published by Doubleday on 13th September 2012

 (Thanks to Random House for supplying an advance reading copy)

John J. Niven- Cold Hands

You thought you could leave the past behind. Think again. Donnie Miller counts himself lucky. Living in a beautiful, spacious house in the wild and remote landscape of central Canada, he spends his days writing for the local newspaper, working on a film script, and acting as house-husband. After a troubled and impoverished upbringing in Scotland, he now has all he wants: a caring wife, a bright and happy son, a generous father-in-law. As the brutal northern winter begins to bite, he can sit back and enjoy life. But his peace is soon broken. There are noises in the nearby woods, signs of some mysterious watcher. When the family dog disappears, Donnie makes a horrifying discovery. Is it wolves, as the police suspect, or something far more dangerous, far darker? What secrets has Donnie been keeping? And why does he have the terrible sense that his dream was never going to last?

John Niven is perhaps better known for darkly witty satires, ‘Kill Your Friends’, ‘The Amateurs’ and ‘The Second Coming’ so I was interested to read this, his first foray into the world of crime writing with the skilful insertion of a ‘J’ to differentiate this from his normal fare. And what a completely gripping, criminal smorgasbord of brilliant and blood-soaked delights it is as you find yourself, in the words of Irvine Welsh, “trampling through a moral minefield.”

Donnie Miller leads an unassuming life in a remote area of Canada in an absolutely beautiful house, with his upwardly mobile and loaded wife, his young son and whiles away his time as a film reviewer for the local newspaper, fortuitously part of the empire of his father-in -law. The only signs of strain in Donnie’s life is fitting into the influential circles his wife moves in but this is a minor problem as Donnie’s past will come back to haunt him with devastating consequences for himself and his family. By carefully interweaving the events of Donnie’s youth growing up in the relative poverty and social deprivation of Scotland, the story is punctuated throughout by positively Irvine Welsh-esque interludes depicting his cruel actions as a member of a gang intent on bullying and victimising a boy who epitomises everything they are not. Written in vernacular and in a blunt, brutal but ultimately quite affecting style, these interludes put the character of Donnie at odds with his portrayal now as a family man and this, for me, works perfectly within the structure of the book. There is also a very poignant portrayal of his would-be attacker as their world has been shattered by the events of this childhood and we bear witness to them rebuilding their life, plotting and scheming to avenge the crimes of the past. It becomes obvious to the reader that Donnie’s peace will be shattered and yes, you do have to suspend your disbelief somewhat at this point, as the past violently catches up with him in an explosion of revenge and hatred from a very unlikely aggressor and you find your whole perception of Donnie as a good guy challenged at every turn. I liked the way that by depicting Donnie as a film reviewer, Niven then sets out to make the denouement of the novel descend into the most brilliant and unbelievable violence mirroring the ‘schlock horror’ of some of the best straight to DVD films, so that as a reader you are metaphorically looking through your fingers as the violence is ramped up further but remains as compulsive as it is unbelievable.

 Therein lies my warning to the more sensitive reader that this is not one for the faint-hearted and if Danny Boyle is looking for a new film project after his Olympic shennanigans I think that he and Niven could have a great collaborative effort bringing this to the big-screen. Despite its slight faults this was a totally enjoyable although blood-soaked read and with the promise of another thriller or two appearing in the next couple of years I can’t wait to see what Niven comes up with next…

 Check out this interview with John J. Niven at Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine with L. J .Hurst

 http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/interview_view.aspx?interview_id=241

 (Thanks to Alun at Random House for supplying a reading copy)

Brian McGilloway- The Rising/The Nameless Dead

When Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin is summoned to a burning barn, he finds inside the charred remains of a man who is quickly identified as a local drug dealer, Martin Kielty. It soon becomes clear that Kielty’s death was no accident, and suspicion falls on a local vigilante group. Former para-militaries, the men call themselves The Rising. Meanwhile, a former colleague’s teenage son has gone missing during a seaside camping trip. Devlin is relieved when the boy’s mother, Caroline Williams, receives a text message from her son’s phone, and so when a body is reported, washed up on a nearby beach, the inspector is baffled. When another drug dealer is killed, Devlin realises that the spate of deaths is more complex than mere vigilantism. But just as it seems he is close to understanding the case, a personal crisis will strike at the heart of Ben’s own family, and he will be forced to confront the compromises his career has forced upon him…

I had originally set out to review the latest book from Brian McGilloway, ‘The Nameless Dead’ but to my delight (slightly tinged with shame) realised that somehow I had missed out on reading ‘The Rising’ despite having devoured the other books in the series, so two reviews for the price of one…

Ostensibly the plot revolves around a community action group ‘The Rising’ who are seeking to eradicate the stranglehold on their neighbourhood of local drug dealers. However, this group is led by a small band of men who have less than savoury pasts and who are actually seeking to strengthen the grip of one major drug dealer, the outwardly respectable businessman Vincent Morrison, by disposing of the competition. Morrison is a nemesis to our moral yet maverick detective Devlin, who soon gets to the root of this conspiracy but also finds himself embroiled on a personal level with Morrison due to the growing relationship between Morrison’s son John and Devlin’s daughter Penny. Penny is approaching the devilish teenage years apace and all the seeds of rebellion are wonderfully sown as Devlin comes into conflict with his daughter over this youthful dalliance ultimately leading to a gripping emotional drama at the conclusion of the book putting Devlin’s familial relationships at the very heart of this novel.

This book also sees the reappearance of Devlin’s former colleague Caroline Williams who has always had a special place in Devlin’s heart in the previous will they, won’t they plot lines. There is heartbreak for Caroline with the senseless death of her teenage son Peter and through the actions of Caroline’s ex-husband we see her pushed to her emotional limits and Devlin has no other option but to become more involved. This story line is particularly well realised and really tugs on the reader’s heartstrings as Caroline is such an empathetic character and depicts the loyalty that Devlin has to those closest to him outside of his police role.

Brian McGilloway’s books are always a wonderful combination of fictional drama blended with an adherence to factual history but I felt this book in particular marked a slight departure in style from the author. Indeed, what struck me most about the book was how emotionally fraught it was in comparison to the rest of the series and how, through the interlinking plot lines, the theme of family was so prevalent, amongst the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ characters which made this book resonate with the reader on a much deeper level. A great read.

 

‘You can’t investigate the baby, Inspector. It’s the law.’ Declan Cleary’s body has never been found, but everyone believes he was killed for informing on a friend over thirty years ago. Now the Commission for Location of Victims’ Remains is following a tip-off that he was buried on the small isle of Islandmore, in the middle of the River Foyle. Instead, the dig uncovers a baby’s skeleton, and it doesn’t look like death by natural causes. But evidence revealed by the Commission’s activities cannot lead to prosecution. Inspector Devlin is torn. He has no desire to resurrect the violent divisions of the recent past. Neither can he let a suspected murderer go unpunished. Now the secret is out, more deaths follow. Devlin must trust his conscience – even when that puts those closest to him at terrible risk . . .

‘The Nameless Dead’ opens with the continuing search for ‘The Disappeared’ ( the undiscovered bodies of those informers etc who have died during ‘The Troubles’) on a small island midway between the North and South and formerly associated with cross border smuggling. Whilst the search revolves around uncovering the body of a certain Declan Cleary, a number of corpses are found linked to a former mother and baby home on the mainland, all displaying signs of physical deformities and having appeared to have died in suspicious circumstances. The story then spirals out further into an investigation of an illegal baby smuggling operation and the link between all these strands to a seemingly respectable property developer whose father had carried out drug trials at the aforementioned mother and baby home with disastrous consequences. One of the major strengths of McGilloway’s writing is his vice-like grip on plot development as all the disparate threads are wound together into a seamless whole, so at no point as a reader are you led to false and unbelievable plot turns. McGilloway always stealthily avoids the over-reliance of some crime writers on the frankly lazy plot device of coincidence, so in conjunction with his strong factual detail and research the plots are always plausible and I always seem to learn something new about Irish history with every book which is an added bonus.

Following on from ‘The Rising’ we are also witness to the trials and tribulations of Devlin’s personal life as Penny continues to wreak havoc with Devlin’s position as a cop and his son Shane starts to show the first signs of rebellion that his daughter is becoming so accomplished at. I really enjoy these very natural portrayals of the family unit which always seem to impact in some way on the central plot but feel unforced and add another level to the novel.

Married to this we again have a good solid depiction of Devlin as a marvellous combination of the moral yet maverick detective getting himself into scrapes again and as one of his colleagues drily remarks, “ He’s not a good cop. He’s a walking disaster. I only hang around with him to see what he’ll do next.” which perfectly sums up Devlin’s uncanny knack to not only always be involved in the thick of it but to also manage to annoy his superiors at every possible turn. However, contrary to his colleague’s tongue in cheek comment, Devlin is a good cop and McGilloway makes us realise this through the skill of his writing and by his solid characterisation of Devlin. A good series that just gets better and better….

Visit Brian McGilloway’s website here: http://www.brianmcgilloway.com/

Petrona’s  review of ‘The Nameless Dead’ can be found here:

  Book review: The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway.

(Thanks to Macmillan for supplying a reading copy of ‘The Nameless Dead’)

 

 

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