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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

November 2012

Peter May- The Chessmen (Lewis Trilogy 3)

THE NEW START.  Fin Macleod, now head of security on a privately owned Lewis estate, is charged with investigating a spate of illegal game-hunting taking place on the island.  THE OLD FRIEND. This mission reunites him with Whistler Macaskill – a local poacher, Fin’s teenage intimate, and possessor of a long-buried secret. THE FINAL CHAPTER. But when this reunion takes a violent, sinister turn and Fin puts together the fractured pieces of the past, he realizes that revealing the truth could destroy the future…

The third instalment of the Lewis trilogy preceeded by ‘The Blackhouse’ and ‘The Lewis Man’ and to my mind, the most enjoyable of the series. Ex Edinburgh DI Fin MacLeod has severed ties from the mainland and his former life, and taken up permanent residence on the Isle of Lewis, working as head of security for a private estate. After the discovery of a plane and body in a drained loch, and an illegal spate of poaching, Fin is thrust into an uneasy relationship with his friend Whistler Macaskill as the secrets of their shared past resonates into the present, culminating in suspicion and murder.

 Although essentially a murder mystery I think this actually plays second fiddle to May’s adroit mapping of human relationships and the study of old friendships and enmities that colour the central investigation. The book moves effortlessly between past and present, charting Fin’s experiences as a younger man employed as a roadie for a local band, finding himself enmeshed in the central creative and personal tensions of his friends and bandmates. With the disappearance of one of them in a suspected plane crash, we discover that all is not as it seems and these relationships all have a part to play in the central mystery and impact strongly on the present set aspect of the novel. The most important friendship is that of Fin and Whistler and in the depiction of their relationship May introduces moments of extreme poignancy, particularly as Fin’s aunt, who raises Fin after his parent’s death, takes Whistler and his alcoholic bully of a father to task over Whistler’s upbringing thus sealing the strength of Fin and Whistler’s friendship for years to come. The mercurial Whistler is revealed throughout the book as a volatile character who causes no end of grief to Fin, and plays an integral part to the central plot that at times pulls on the heartstrings, particularly in Whistler’s  relationship with his feisty estranged  teenage daughter. As a number of Fin’s professional and personal relationships are woven into the plot with the dark secrets of the past coming to light, this adds layers of interest to the story and makes us wonder exactly who Fin can trust and where his future lies.

 As in the other two books, the natural and, at times, harsh beauty of the Outer Hebrides is perfectly captured throughout, drawing on the history of the island and the way of life of its inhabitants, coloured by its staunchly religious traditions. The portrayal of landscape takes on the mantle of another character in the book and the textures and hues of this largely unspoilt wilderness is beautifully portrayed. Having previously enjoyed  May’s China based thrillers featuring detective Li Yan,  I’m also a firm fan of this trilogy and would certainly encourage other readers to seek them out, as May is a phenomenally good thriller writer with an innate skill in plotting, characterisation and sense of place. A great read.

 ‘The Chessmen’ is available as a Kindle edition now will be published in hardback 3rd January 2013 (Quercus)

 Visit the author’s website here: http://maypeter.com/

Peter May on the Outer Hebrides: http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/blog/2012/01/12/peter-may-on-the-outer-hebrides/

Read Petrona’s reviews The Blackhouse by Peter May and The Lewis Man by Peter May

(With thanks to Quercus for the advance reading copy)

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Fuminori Nakamura- The Thief

Nishimura is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves through the crowded Tokyo streets, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes even he doesn’t remember the snatch. To him, people are just nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims; he has no family, no friends, no connections . . . But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when his old partner-in-crime reappears and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It should have been easy: break into an apartment, tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of his safe, no-one gets hurt. But the day after the job, Nishimura learns that the old man was a prominent politician – and that he has been brutally murdered. Suddenly, Nishimura finds himself caught in a tangle so tight that even he might not be able to escape.
I must admit to having read very little Japanese crime fiction, but drawn by a cover quote from Natsuo Kirino, the author of the remarkable ‘Out’, I was immediately hooked by this bijou slice of Japanese noir. Centred on the criminal activities of pickpocket, Nishimura, this is a at times shocking, but poignant tale of the seedy underbelly of Tokyo. Nishimura spends his days targeting prosperous looking individuals with his deft pickpocketing skills but then finds himself coerced by a fellow friend and member of the criminal fraternity into a seemingly straightforward house invasion that leads to murder. Manipulated by an enigmatic and philosophical crime boss, Kizaki, he finds himself in a desperate situation and is forced to take part in another job that leads himself into great peril. Running alongside this we also see a tentative friendship develop between Nishimura and a young boy who is falling into criminal ways due to the instability of his home life, and this relationship is beautifully captured as Nishimura, himself a criminal, attempts to liberate his protege from a life of crime.

This book is wonderful example of less being so much more with its brevity of narrative style and the compact nature of its prose. Despite its sparseness of style it captures all the salient details of location and atmosphere of everyday life in Tokyo, and the grim human experiences that lurk beneath this quintessentially modern metropolis. The characterisation is pitch perfect as Nishimura is raised from the status of common thief to an all to human protagonist, attempting to rescue the young boy and also by the references to Saeko, a former lover, whose absence impacts strongly on Nishimura’s psyche. The crime boss, Kizaki, is a debonair yet utterly ruthless man, who thinks nothing of using others as sacrificial pawns and using a high degree of reason and intelligence to achieve his aims.

 A slim but ultimately satisfying read that rises above a simple tag of crime thriller into an altogether more literary exploration of the criminal mind that challenges the reader’s assumptions at every turn. A tale of morality and redemption in equal measure. and an author that I will certainly return to in the future.

 Fuminori Nakamura was born in 1977 and graduated from Fukushima University in 2000. In 2002, he won the prestigious Noma Literary Prize for New Writers for his first novel, A Gun, and in 2005 he won the Akutagawa prize for The Boy in the Earth. The Thief, winner of the 2010 Oe Prize, Japan’s most important literary award, is his first novel to be published in English.

Read a review at Eurocrime here: eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/The_Thief.html

(With thanks to Constable Robinson for the advance reading copy)

Max Decharne- Capital Crimes

Capital Crimes tells the shifting story of crime and punishment in London through vivid re-creations of a series of murders that stretches from the killing of Roger Legett, a notorious ‘questmonger’, during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, through to the hanging of Styllou Christofi in 1954. Some of the murderers, such as the political assassin John Bellingham, are still remembered. Others, are largely forgotten. But all their lives and fates have much to tell us – about London’s changing underworld, about the slow evolution of policing in the capital, and about the sometimes strange workings of the law. Above all, they provide a fascinating sideways view of London over the centuries – from the crime-ridden alleyways of the Georgian capital to the supposedly respectable suburbs of Finchley, where the notorious ‘baby-farmers’ Amelia Sach and Annie Walters operated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This month has been fuelled by a mixture of scheming monks, psychopathic serial killers and gung-ho thrillers so decided to put on my sensible head and immerse myself in a world of true crime. If, like me, you have a keen interest in historical crime accounts and the development of crime investigation techniques, it is well worth seeking out ‘Capital Crimes’ by Max Decharne – a fascinating insight into the history of crime over seven centuries in London. Carefully blending a mixture of known and lesser known criminal cases from 1381-1954, Decharne charts the growth of the metropolis and the crime within it with meticulous attention to original documents. Obviously there are well known references to figures such as John Davis, the infamous highwayman, the assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the murder of Thomas Briggs, but peppered throughout are less familiar but equally as gripping tales of crimes perpetrated over the seven centuries of London life and the punishments meted out to these villains. Decharne is particularly effective at identifying those cases which ran in parallel time periods to the more well known, which gives the whole book a more original touch.

What I particularly liked about this book was the way that Decharne skilfully melded in the sociological aspects of the strata of London society, whilst simultaneously charting the major developments in everyday life such as politics, transport, and so on as London exploded in size and  in population. The crimes themselves are set within the context of these developments throughout the book so adding different layers to what could be a dry topic. The birth of the modern police force as we know it is documented here, along with the developments in forensic investigation and how the barbaric punishments of the past have been eschewed as the legal system came to the fore with its own decrees on the punishment fitting the crime. There are references to famous figures in the development of crime fiction in the guise of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens and a study of the influence of crime in the world of theatre and the arts generally. Decharne also adds some moments of light relief, drawing on some clever contemporary references which adds to the richness of the overall text, with some bringing a knowing smile to the modern reader.

Overall, I found this an insightful and multi-layered depiction of crime in London in a similar vein to Judith Flanders’ ‘The Invention of Murder’ or Kate Colquhoun’s ‘Mr Briggs’ Hat’ with the historical depth of Peter Ackroyd. If you like the more salacious accounts of true crime this probably isn’t for you but if you’re looking for a great blend of crime, history, psycho-geography and sociology it’s equally perfect for reading from cover to cover, or just dipping into random time periods as the mood takes you…

 

Max Décharné is a writer and musician. He has written about music regularly for Mojo magazine since 1998, where he is their chief authority on the subject of rockabilly music, which he has followed and played since the 1970s. His work has also appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine, the TLS and Bizarre, among others. He is the author of six books, including King’s Road – The Rise & Fall of the Hippest Street in the World, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in November 2005. A Rocket in my Pocket is his acclaimed history of rockabilly music.

 

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

 

 

An Interview With Simon Toyne

Simon ToyneSimon Toyne was born in the North East of England in 1968. After nearly twenty years working in commercial television he quit his job and took seven months off to write a novel. It took two and a half years to finish it. Fortunately SANCTUS got picked up by an agent and then by lots of publishers all over the world. He has no idea what would have happened if it hadn’t. He is now regularly compared, both favourably and unfavourably, to Dan Brown, even though he does not possess a tweed jacket.

You can find out more at: http://www.simontoyne.net/ and read my reviews of  Simon’s books here:  Sanctus/The Key.

A big thanks to Simon taking time out from finishing the third book in the Sancti trilogy to answer my questions…

Sanctus

Simon Toyne The Key

What do you think it is about religious conspiracies and evil, scheming monks that grips our imagination so, particularly in terms of the success of this fiction genre?

 Religion is endlessly fascinating, it deals with all the big questions of who we are, where we’re from, where we’re going to. It’s also very mysterious and mystical. And monks are just weird and scary on some primordial, instinctive level. They’re unnatural somehow, like clowns.

 I keep picturing Gabriel as a Sir Lancelot type figure in true Arthurian tradition. I think there is very much a feel of the traditional ‘quest’ form about the books and the struggle between good vs evil. Was this an influence at all?

 Not a direct influence but I was definitely going for an old-fashioned, mythical feel to these books – even though the setting is modern. And good vs evil is the foundation stone of all thrillers.

One very positive of the book was your success at writing strong, credible female characters particularly Liv Adamsen, without resorting to cliche. Her characterisation seemed effortless but how easy was it?

 Thank you. It certainly wasn’t effortless but I’m very glad it ended up seeming that way. I wanted Liv to be a hero in the Clarice Starling/Jodie Foster way, in that she’s strong but vulnerable and succeeds by using her qualities as a woman and a person, not by turning into some sort of proto-male who kicks ass and asks questions later. It was her vulnerability and bravery that made her the best person to tell the story and for me everything grows out of the needs of the story.

 How far into the writing process did the idea of a possible trilogy take root or did you know from the outset?

 It started suggesting itself about three quarters of the way through writing ‘Sanctus’ when I was nearing the end and thinking ‘how the hell am I going to wrap all this up?’. I knew what the ending was in terms of the identity of the Sacrament, but by then I had set up all these characters and situations that I knew wouldn’t just shut up and go away when the secret was revealed. The first draft had a very unsatisfactory ‘one year later’ style whistle stop tour of all the main characters and a kind of reader’s digest summary of what happened after the Sacrament was revealed. I never really liked it and when I sold the book about the first thing my publisher asked was ‘what are you going to write next?’ and ‘I’m not so keen on the ending’. So we talked about it and that hurried ending has now turned into two other books.

 As I said in my review your attention to historical, textual and geographical detail is superb throughout both books and your research must be incredibly thorough. I recently read a prizewinning thriller where the writer’s level of research had a real sense of ‘look how clever I am’ to the detriment of the plot- a flaw that you skilfully avoided. How do you approach the research process and how hard is it to balance the fiction with the fact without one obscuring the other?

 I don’t actually do that much research at the outset. I’ll do some that I know I’ll need to know, like how monasteries work, but the rest I make up as I go along and anything I need to check I WRITE IN CAPITALS so as not to interrupt the flow of the story then look it up later. It’s amazing how many times my guess is pretty close to the truth anyway. Other times the truth is too dull so I go with my version. I also have a Tom Stoppard quote taped to the side of my screen which says “Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s interesting.”

Apologies for this old chestnut of a question but have you any writing influences or simply writers that you gain the most pleasure from reading or re-reading?

 I think if you’re a writer you are influenced by everything you read, good and bad, and it’s one of the great requirements of the job that you should read widely and often.

 And just for fun….

 What is your worst habit? I have a tendency to not finish senten…

 If you could do any other job in the world…Daniel Craig

 Favourite fictional villain? Dr Chilton in…

 Any book you wish you had written?  ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

 Glass half full or half empty? I have a glass?

 Dad dancing or Strictly Come Dancing? I manage to pull off both at the same time (it’s a skill)

 Catch up with Simon at:

www.simontoyne.net

www.facebook.com/simon.toyne.writer

https://twitter.com/sjtoyne

 

Luke Preston- Dark City Blue

If there’s one thing worse than a crooked cop on your heels then it’s a whole unit of them. A fistful of people are murdered, fifteen million dollars is stolen and detective Tom Bishop is stuck in the middle. When he hits the street, every clue points in the same direction – his colleagues in a police department demoralised by cutbacks and scandals. Hunted, alone and with no place left to turn, Bishop embarks on a hellish journey down into the gutters where right and wrong quickly become twisted and problems are solved with gunfire and bloodshed. Over the next two days, Tom Bishop will be cornered. He will be beaten. He will bust into prison. He will shoot at police. He will team up with violent criminals. He will become one of them. He will break every rule in the book, chasing a lead nobody else will go near down a rabbit hole of corruption, murder and buried secrets. Will Bishop become the very monster he set out to destroy?

A gripping slice of Aussie noir from debut author Luke Preston, that will have you hooked from the first page. Violent and action-packed, the pace is as swift as the writing is sparse, in a true homage to the hardboiled crime tradition, and the short snappy chapters carry you quickly through this tale of police corruption, paedophiles, and armed robbery. Tom Bishop, our erstwhile hero, is a cop on a mission seeking to expose a very dark conspiracy involving his fellow police officers who are as a bent as a boomerang and ever so nasty with it. Bishop is an old school cop, who has little time for official procedures and a very flexible attitude to extigent circumstances, regularly bowling in where others fear to tread and dispensing with bad guys left, right and centre. He gets the job done and is largely left to his own devices by his senior officers until he starts treading on the wrong toes, as he starts to uncover and investigate the pernicious actions of a corrupt group of police colleagues, or ‘Justice’, as they are known, leading to some very hairy moments for Bishop. Shot at, beaten, locked up and generally physically abused, Bishop, and those closest to him, cannot escape the wrath of ‘Justice’ and it soon becomes clear that there are few people that Bishop can trust, giving rise to a suspicion of everybody a very bloody trail of bodies along the way.

 This book runs on pure adrenaline as the pacing is exceptionally fast, and I would definitely concur with other reviewers that once you’re hooked in, it is tremendously difficult to put down. The action sequences are deftly realised and genuinely edge of the seat, as very much in the manner of cinema action thrillers, there is a brilliant sense of each bloody shoot-out being maybe one too far for our cop hero and will he really make it to the end of the book? Aha..that would be telling! In terms of characterisation, Bishop is one of those guys that has you rooting for him from the start, having a good moral compass despite his own tough upbringing. He experiences a genuine sense of wounded pride that his fellow officers can act in such a despicable manner, fethering their own nests, and displaying dishonour to the credo of protect and serve. There is a nicely emotive side story involving him and his newly discovered teenage daughter, Alice, which also impacts on his single minded determination to avenge the death of another teenage girl, forced into sexual slavery. He’s a genuine tough guy with a slightly melty centre, and definitely not a man to be trifled with as many find out to their cost throughout the course of the book.

 So to sum up, a nifty little debut with a good central storyline, a natty use of dialogue, an engaging protagonist and more than enough action to keep those pages a-turning. Would thoroughly recommend this blood and bullets debut if you think you’re hard enough to handle it…

 Check out the trailer for ‘Dark City Blue’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ql7xCeh6Dw8

Visit the author’s website here: http://lukeprestonwords.com/

‘Dark City Blue’ is available now in e-book format

 (Thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for my PDF advance reading copy)

 

Ethan Cross- The Shepherd/The Prophet

 
Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. He must embrace the monster within himself. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante’s beautiful daughter – a woman with whom he’s quickly falling in love – Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the must cunning and ruthless killers in the world…
 

Francis Ackerman is America’s most terrifying serial killer. Brutal and cunning, he is ready to take his evil games to a new level. Special Agent Marcus Williams cannot shake Ackerman from his mind. Yet now he must focus on catching the Anarchist, a new killer who abducts women before burning them alive. The Anarchist will strike again soon. And Ackerman is still free. But even worse than this is a mysterious figure, unknown to the authorities – and his plans are more terrible than anyone imagines…

I confess to being quite the fan of a good meaty serial-killer thriller and the dark visceral explorations of the human mind, as evinced by writers such as Chris Carter, Jack Kerley and Richard Montanari, so I approached both of these with a palpable sense of excitement. Obviously, any debut writer within this genre cannot help being compared to the afore-mentioned luminaries, and of course the bar was set high early on by the wonderful Thomas Harris, so Ethan Cross finds himself treading in some pretty weighty footsteps with mixed success.

Embarking on ‘The Shepherd’ my response was quite positive, with an initially intriguing plot revolving around a disgraced ex-cop, Marcus Williams, whose path crosses that of serial killer Francis Ackerman Jr, and charts the mind games that arise between them. Marcus finds himself manipulated and tested, not only by Ackerman, but by the head of the local law enforcement, and it quickly becomes evident that all is not as it seems in this small town, as Marcus finds himself torn between two masters, so to speak, with an ever increasing body count. I don’t know if it’s due to the sheer amount of crime that I read, but I was disappointed by how seemingly obvious the plot twists were signposted throughout, and unfortunately the great reveal toward the end of the book, setting the scene for the next in the series, came as no great surprise. I was incredibly suspicious from the outset as characters were bumped off willy-nilly that I thought had been fleshed out too much to merely perish by the wayside, so maybe this is why the ending was a bit of a damp squib for me personally. What I would say though in defence of this book is that the characterisation of Ackerman was incredibly well-realised and achieved the perfect balance between a certain charismatic charm in conflict with his dark impulses, ingrained in him from childhood from having been manipulated and nurtured as a killer by his father. In fact, I was quite disturbed how much I took to him, finding at times that my empathy was aroused, due to the slow unveiling of his background and the inherent charm and intelligence he displays throughout both books. Indeed, to be fair, the characterisation was the strength of this book and as we discover who survives to fight another day, I felt that there was great promise shown for the next book, despite my minor quibbles with the plot flaws, and I was interested to see how these characters would be further developed.

 In the follow up ‘The Prophet’ the characters of Marcus and Ackerman are front and centre as, in a Starling/Lector symbiosis, Ackerman inveigles himself into the capturing of another serial killer, ‘The Anarchist’, manipulating Marcus’ course of actions and tightening the screws on their relationship. Early alarm bells sounded for me again that all was not as it appeared, and that there was definitely another connection between the two which sadly was again a bit too obvious. Generally, I found ‘The Prophet’ the weaker of the two books for a few reasons, not least because there was such a concentration on the characters of Marcus and Ackerman that the other protagonists seemed almost superflous and the female characters in particular were merely plot devices and lacked definition. The more rounded characterisation evident in ‘The Shepherd’ was not built upon, as the emphasis seemed to shift solely to Marcus and Ackerman, to the detriment of others. I also felt that the book was in need of closer editing, as stretching beyond 500 pages, defied the generally held theory that crime thrillers are much more effective in a shorter pagination, and my attention was waning by the end. Some writers can achieve a consistency over a longer stretch (I would cite the Scandinavian genre) but for a book of this nature and to keep the ‘shock’ value I think the adage ‘less is more’ definitely applies. Throughout the second book there were sections that did lend themselves to being cut I felt, and there was also a greater evidence of unnecessary detail that was distracting and didn’t really add anything to the central plot. The whole book had a very cinematic feel about it and would translate easily to film, which is all well and good in the clamour for movie rights, but not at the expense of Cross’ firm grasp of characterisation in evidence in ‘The Shepherd’ but sadly not so evident in this second instalment.

 So to sum up, ‘The Shepherd’ was I felt a much more compelling read overall than ‘The Prophet’ which maybe found itself subject to the well known publishing curse of the difficult second book and could have been more tightly edited, so cannot attribute any blame to Cross himself for this. Despite my concerns I would read another in a series and would certainly recommend ‘The Shepherd’ for fans of a good visceral serial killer thriller, if just for the wholly entrancing character of Francis Ackerman Jr…

 Visit the author’s website here: http://www.ethancross.com/

 (I bought ‘The Shepherd’ as a Kindle e-book and thanks to Random House for the ARC of ‘The Prophet’)

 

 

 

Simon Toyne- Sanctus/The Key

The certainties of the modern world are about to be blown apart by a three thousand year-old conspiracy nurtured by blood and lies. A man throws himself to his death from the oldest inhabited place on the face of the earth, a mountainous citadel in the historic Turkish city of Ruin. This is no ordinary suicide but a symbolic act. And thanks to the media, it is witnessed by the entire world. But few understand it. For charity worker Kathryn Mann and a handful of others in the know, it is what they have been waiting for. The cowled and secretive fanatics that live in the Citadel suspect it could mean the end of everything they have built – and they will kill, torture and break every law to stop that. For Liv Adamsen, New York crime reporter, it begins the next stage of a journey into the heart of her own identity. And at that journey’s end lies a discovery that will change everything…

Hounded. Haunted. Hunted. She is the most important person in the world. She is The Key. In the ancient Turkish city of Ruin, American journalist Liv Adamsen lies in an isolation ward staring at walls as blank as her memory. She knows she entered the monumental Citadel at the heart of Ruin but can remember only darkness. Something strange is stirring within her, whispering that she is ‘the key’. But the key to what? For the Ghost, a mercenary operating in the Syrian Desert, Liv could unlock one of mankind’s most potent secrets. For the brotherhood in the Citadel – now cursed by a terrible plague – her return is the only way to ensure their survival. And for a powerful faction in Rome, she threatens the very future of the Catholic Church. Hunted across continents and caught up in events that defy explanation, Liv turns to the only person she trusts – a charity worker named Gabriel Mann. Together their paths lead to a shocking discovery – one that will tear them apart and change the world forever…

 The first two books in Toyne’s apocalyptic conspiracy thriller trilogy, and I have to admit that despite not being a fan of the religious conspiracy genre in general, I thoroughly enjoyed both of these. I think my problem with this genre comes from early exposure to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in proof form, which resulted in me ripping it up whilst declaring that it wouldn’t amount to anything…hmmm…shows what I know. I dabbled with a couple of other writers in the wake of DB but they really didn’t hit the spot so thanks to Toyne for shedding the scales from my eyes and here’s why…

 I am reluctant to go into too much detail regarding the plots of these as the events of the first book ‘Sanctus’ reverberate through and impact strongly on the second ‘The Key’ so I’ll avoid spoilers. In a nutshell, the central plots revolve around an ancient religious sacrament protected by the inhabitants of a religious order housed within the Citadel, an architecturally breathtaking fortress that holds many secrets in the historic Turkish town of Ruin . Liv Adamson, a young American journalist finds herself drawn to this sacred site following the suspicious death of her brother, a former member of this cloistered community, and she begins to unveil the beginnings of a conspiracy which could lead to the fall of mankind. Joining her are mother and son, Kathryn and Gabriel Mann, who have their own intensely personal reasons for thwarting this dangerous conspiracy from those who seek to conceal it and channel its power for their own devious ends. The characterisation is strong throughout and the plot is infused with a real sense of good vs evil in the central protagonists, even more so in ‘The Key’ as more figures enter the fray with the action moving between America, Ruin , the Vatican City and Iraq, and those who should be held as beyond reproof are actually the most scheming and duplicitous.

 I think what really struck me about both books is Toyne’s exceptional descriptive powers throughout, so every scene and location is utterly visual and assaults the senses. This is a skill that few writers in any genre acquire and Toyne’s seamless descriptions of something as innocuous as a half burnt candle in a labyrinthine tunnel to the sheer grandiose architectural detail of the Citadel and from the bustling back streets of Ruin to the unrelenting surrounds of the Iraqi desert are a joy to read. This visual quality coupled with the fast moving plot, aided by the clever use of short snappy chapters that have the reader thinking just one more and then just one more again, leads to both books holding the reader’s attention throughout. There are also more than a few genuinely surprising twists and turns along the way and I would certainly recommend those, like me, who are a more than a little suspicious of this genre to seek them out- you won’t be disappointed.

 Visit the author’s website here: http:http://www.simontoyne.net/

Product DetailsComing 11:4: 2013: THE TOWER- Sancti 3 (Harpercollins)

A cyber-attack on NASA’s deep space search for the origins of the universe destroys the program and delivers a grave warning: mankind must look no further. Rookie FBI Agent Joseph Shepherd has the unique skills needed to investigate the breach. But he’s also hiding a secret of his own. Former New York crime reporter Liv Adamsen’s life has led her from the Turkish city of Ruin to an abandoned oil field in the Syrian Desert. An oasis grows around her new home but the desert is a hostile place, and danger draws ever closer. Charity worker Gabriel Mann abandoned Liv to protect her from the disease that is killing him. But this terrible plague, born in Ruin’s ancient Citadel, has already started to spread. Across the globe, strange weather phenomena and mass migrations are a sign that some great event is upon us. Revelation is coming: but will it be a new beginning or the End of Days?

(I bought a copy of ‘Sanctus’ and thanks to Harpercollins for the ARC of ‘The Key’)

Miles Corwin- Midnight Alley/The Killing Season

Ash Levine, the top detective in the LAPD’s elite Felony Special Squad, is called out to solve the murder of two young black men found shot to death in a Venice alley. The case is a high priority because one of the victims is the son of City Councilman Isaac Pinkney, a frequent critic of the LAPD. Searching for the killer throws Levine into the world of Los Angeles’s Russian Mafia, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and Middle Eastern archeologists. Ash’s history as a child of a Holocaust survivor gives him a unique perspective on murder, redemption, and justice. His background as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, and his relentless, single-minded focus on his investigations make him a thoroughly absorbing character. As Ash closes in on the killer, the investigation becomes increasingly complex – and personal. Ash soon discovers that he is not just an investigator, but a target…

The second Ash Levine investigation (following ‘ Kind of Blue’) from former LA Times reporter Miles Corwin and a gripping police procedural packed with action from the outset. I’m a long time fan of Michael Connelly, Joseph Wambaugh and Elmore Leonard, so delighted that there is a new kid on the block, in terms of Los Angeles based crime fiction, and on the evidence of this, I think Corwin could be a worthy addition to these luminaries of American crime fiction.

 This is a multi-stranded plot with a seamless transition between the every day grind of the LA police department, to a tale involving sex trafficking, the smuggling of a stolen Iraqi relic and a conspiracy involving the US military. The plotting and pace is superb throughout but what really impressed me about the novel was the depth of characterisation particularly in relation to the main character of Ash Levine. Levine is a breath of fresh air in terms of the depiction of the average American detective, being both Jewish and having served as a paratrooper with the Israeli Army, balancing his army training with the necessary demands of being an LAPD detective, sometimes to the chagrin of his immediate superiors. He is a dogged and determined character who will stop at nothing, despite having an Internal Investigation, hanging over him, to solve the case. Strongly influenced by his Jewish heritage, he has a high sense of morality influenced by the teachings of the Torah, but is equally at home in the day to day physicality of his detective role with a nifty grasp of Krav Maga. This is particularly evident in the storyline dealing with sex trafficking, and his determination to free a young Russian girl from her incarceration at the hands of the Russia Mafia. The scenes with Levine and his family at Hannukah, and particularly the overbearing attentions of his mother, are a joy, perfectly capturing the verbal sparring and tensions that occur in the average family during the holiday period. In a good little side line to the central plot, as is common in most crime novels, Levine has a broken marriage and his ex Robin, a successful lawyer, drifts in and out of the plot adding to his consternation and his hopes for a reconciliation, and of course his family have plenty to say about this too!

 Having only previously read Corwin’s non-fiction book ‘The Killing Season’ (see review below) he is definitely a writer I will return to on the strength of this novel, and will not hesitate to recommend fans of American police procedurals. I will definitely be seeking out a copy of ‘Kind of Blue’, the first novel featuring Ash Levine, and am looking forward to following this series in the long term if ‘Midnight Alley’ is indicative of Corwin’s fictional prowess. A good find.

 Visit the author’s website here: http://www.milescorwin.com/

 ‘Midnight Alley’ is published by Oceanview Publishing

 Downloaded digital galley from NetGalley: http://www.netgalley.com/

 

The Killing SeasonMeet Pete Razanskas, 22-year veteran homicide cop and Marcella Winn, a rookie detective who grew up in the ‘hood. They’re an unlikely partnership whose job it is to attempt to close some of the hundreds of murder cases that happen every year in the gang-infested streets of South-Central LA. Crime reporter Miles Corwin gained unprecedented access to shadow them for the usual hot summer of endless homicide. We meet the cops, the victims and the murders (Crips and Bloods, drug dealers, psychopaths and even killer kids), witness their incredible daily lives and hear their stories in intimate detail.The Killing Season’ is a raw, shocking and riveting story of an extreme place not far from the ordinary world where war rages on the streets and life has little value.

After becoming hooked on the brilliant Southland– a Los Angeles cop drama, it was only natural that this book would appeal. Miles Corwin expertly documents the world of the LAPD detective and the senseless killings that define the South-Central area of Los Angeles. Following a veteran detective- the wonderful Pete Razanskas- and his feisty new partner Marcella Winn- we gain a real insight into the crippling hours, an severely under-funded police department and the physical and emotional effects of this environment, not only on the police officers but also on the the victims of crime and the perpetrators themselves. A truly powerful slice of social commentary but replete with mordant wit and an essential humanity.
 
‘The Killing Season’  is published by Ebury Press.
 
(I bought this copy)

October 2012 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

October has been a very enjoyable month on the reading front, and has taken me far and wide and is probably the first month where I have read no Scandinavian crime fiction- gadzooks!  So, travelling from Glasgow to Canada with a detour to the Arctic Circle, USA, Russia, Iraq and France this month’s blog has been a feast of delights…

Malcolm Mackay’s compelling depiction of the Glasgow underworld,  The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter – the first of a trilogy. Stalwart of the American crime scene Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch thriller,  The Black Box. M.J McGrath’s  White Heat and  The Boy In The Snow featuring Edie Kiglatuk, investigating murder in some pretty inhospitable terrain. A powerful debut action thriller from Will Jordan, Redemption , who was also kind enough to answer my questions (Interview ) A compelling follow-up to ‘The Survivor’ from Canadian author Sean Slater Snakes and Ladders. One of the most remarkable crime thrillers I have ever read and one of the highlights of crime publishing next year I am sure is Pierre LeMaitre’s Alex,  and to get me in the mood for Halloween, Debbie Viguie’s  The 13th Sacrifice.

I have also read S. J Bolton’s latest ‘Dead Scared’ and a crime debut from Mark Roberts ‘The Sixth Soul’.  On the fiction front I thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Power’s thought-provoking  novel ‘The Yellow Birds’  and  a strange little Finnish tale ‘The Human Part’ from Kari Hotakainen. Just one non-fiction this month with Sarah Manguso’s touching memoir of a friend ‘The Guardians- An Elegy’.

I am actually torn between two titles as my Book of the Month, so award a tie between the remarkable French thriller Alex by Pierre LeMaitre and…

Malcolm Mackay’s wonderfully gritty   The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter– both to be published 2013 so make a note…

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