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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

February 2013

March New Releases- Raven’s Top Picks

Product DetailsGraham Masterton- White Bones One wet November morning, a field on Meagher’s Farm gives up the dismembered bones of eleven women. In this part of Ireland, unmarked graves are common. But these bones date to 1915, long before the Troubles. What’s more, these bones bear the marks of a meticulous executioner. These women were almost certainly skinned alive. Detective Katie Maguire, of the Cork Garda, is used to dead bodies. But this is wholesale butchery. Her team think these long-dead women are a waste of police time. Katie is determined to give them justice. And then a young American tourist goes missing, and her bones, carefully stripped of flesh, are discovered on the same farm. With the crimes of the past echoing in the present, Katie must solve a decades-old ritualistic murder before this terrifying killer strikes again. (1 March Head of Zeus)

Product DetailsAndrew Pyper- The Demonologist Professor David Ullman is among the world’s leading authorities on demonic literature. Not that he’s a believer. He sees what he teaches as a branch of the imagination and nothing more. So when offered a luxury trip to Venice to consult on a ‘phenomenon’, he accepts, taking his 11-year-old daughter Tess with him. Amidst the decadent splendour of the city, David makes his way to the address he’s been asked to visit. What he witnesses in the tiny attic room shakes him to the core: a man restrained in a chair, clearly insane. But what David hears the man say is worse. The voice of his father, dead for 30 years, repeating the last words he ever spoke to his son. Words that have left scars – and a mystery – behind. Terrified, David is determined to leave with Tess as quickly as possible. But he can’t shake the feeling that something is following him. And then, before his eyes on the roof of their hotel, Tess disappears. But before she falls into the Grand Canal’s waters, she utters a plea: Find me. (5 March Orion) SEE MY REVIEW: Andrew Pyper- The Demonologist.

 

Product DetailsTom Bale- The Catch  How far do you go for a friendship? That’s the question Daniel Wade is forced to ask when a simple favour has fatal consequences. For the sake of his old schoolmate, Robbie – and more importantly for Robbie’s sister, Cate – Dan agrees to go along with a lie. But soon he’s sucked into a conspiracy that threatens to consume them all. How hard do you fight for a fortune? For Gordon and Patricia Blake, the dead man held the key to a glorious future. Now that future has been ripped from their grasp, and the Blakes want to know why. Then they want revenge. How can you hope to survive? With a ruthless predator on their trail, Dan realises that evading justice is the least of their worries. All that matters now is staying alive… (7 March Preface) SEE MY REVIEW & Q&A WITH TOM BALE HERE: An Interview With Tom Bale- The Catch.

Product DetailsDoug Johnstone- Gone Again. As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son. Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry. With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery… (7 March Faber & Faber) SEE MY REVIEW: Doug Johnstone- Gone Again

Product DetailsAlex Gray- The Swedish Girl  Eighteen-year-old Kirsty Wilson can’t believe her luck when she lands a room in a luxury Glasgow flat owned by the beautiful Eva Magnusson, a wealthy fellow student from Stockholm. But her initial delight turns to terror when Kirsty finds the Swedish girl lying dead in their home and their male flatmate accused of her murder. Kirsty refuses to accept that he is guilty and, inspired by family friend Detective Super-intendent Lorimer, sets out to clear his name. Meanwhile, Lorimer calls on his trusted colleague, psychologist Solly Brightman, to help unravel the truth behind the enigmatic Eva’s life and death. But it is not long until another woman, bearing a marked resemblance to Eva, is brutally murdered in Glasgow. Horrified, Lorimer and his team realise that Kirsty could be right. Is it possible that Glasgow’s finest detective has put the wrong man behind bars? And is there a cold-blooded killer out there orchestrating the death of their next innocent victim? (7 March Sphere)

Product DetailsJohan Theorin- The Asylum  An underground passage leads from the Dell nursery to St Patricia’s asylum. Only the children enter, leaving their minders behind. On the other side, heavily guarded and closely watched, are their parents – some of the most dangerous people in the country. Jan has just started working at the nursery. He is a loner with many secrets and one goal. He must get inside the asylum.What is his connection with one of the inmates, a famous singer? What really happened when a boy in his care went missing nine years ago? Who can we trust when everyone has something to hide? (14 March Doubleday)

Product DetailsAlexander Soderberg- The Andalucian Friend  Living a quiet life in the suburbs, Sophie Brinkmann is captivated by the handsome and sophisticated Hector Guzman. She has no idea that beneath Hector’s charm lies something far more dangerous. Hector is the head of an international crime syndicate. He is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants now is the total annihilation of his rivals. Before she can fully grasp the extent of Hector’s world, Sophie is trapped within it. Her house is under surveillance, her family is at risk. Hector is at war – with Russian hit men, South American drug traffickers, German gangsters – and now Sophie is too. But who can she trust when even the people who have sworn to uphold the law are as dangerous as those dedicated to breaking it? If Sophie is to get out alive, and with her integrity intact, she will have to summon everything within her to navigate this intricate web of moral ambiguity, deadly obsession and ruthless killers. (14 March Harvill Secker) SEE MY REVIEW:Alexander Soderberg- The Andalucian Friend.

Product DetailsCath Staincliffe- Bleed Like Me The Journey’s Inn, Lark’s Estate, Manchester. Three bodies have been found, stabbed to death in their beds. The husband and father of two of the victims has fled. The police are in a race against time to find him – especially when they discover his two young sons are also missing. Having survived a near-fatal attack, DC Janet Scott is quietly falling apart. And her best friend and colleague DC Rachel Bailey is reeling from a love affair gone bad. DCI Gill Murray is trying to keep the team on track, but her own family problems are threatening tip her over the edge. Finding the desperate man is their top priority. But none of them knows where he is going or what he intends to do next. Or what will they have to do to stop him… (14 March Bantam Press) SEE MY REVIEW: Cath Staincliffe- Bleed Like Me (Scott & Bailey 2

Product DetailsOutsiders- Italian Stories These stories are linked by common themes of belonging, dislocation and identity, and together they take the pulse of a country in turmoil. In ‘The Opposite of Death’ Roberto Saviano writes about a town in southern Italy haunted by the war in Afghanistan, where one by one its sons are dying. Carlo Lucarelli (‘Ferengi’) explores the colonial war in Eritrea through the eyes of a maid working for a sick man who begs her to end his suffering. Piero Colaprico’s ‘Grade C’ is a breathless Milanese crime thriller in miniature, while Valeria Parrella’s ‘The Prize’, set during World War II, reminds us that revenge is a dish best served cold. Contains stories by Roberto Saviano, Carlo Lucarelli, Valeria Parrella, Piero Colaprico, Wu Ming, and Simona Vinci. (14 March MacLehose Press) SEE MY FEATURE HERE: Outsiders- Six Italian Stories.

Product DetailsPhilip Kerr- A Man Without Breath It is winter, 1943. Bernie Gunther has left the Criminal Police and is working for the German War Crimes Bureau based in Berlin. Reports have been circulating of a mass grave hidden in a wood near Smolensk. The grave’s whereabouts are uncertain until, deep in the Katyn Forest, a wolf digs up some human remains. Rumour has it that the grave is full of Polish officers murdered by the Russians – a war crime that is perfect propaganda for Germany. But it needs a detective of subtle skill to investigate this horrific discovery. Cue Bernie Gunther…(14 March Quercus)

Product DetailsCamilla Lackberg- The Lost Boy  On a late summer’s night, a young woman jumps in her car, her hands slippery with blood on the steering wheel. Taking her five-year-old son, Nathalie flees to the only safe haven she knows: the island of Gråskär off the coast of Fjällbacka. Meanwhile, Detective Patrik Hedström has barely stepped foot inside his office following a lengthy sick leave before he catches a murder investigation. A man has been murdered in his home: the victim, Mats Sverin, was the council’s financial director, heading up a regeneration project worth millions. But when Patrik and his team start digging into the dead man’s life, all they can uncover is unanswered questions. Why was Mats in such a rush to return to his home town of Fjällbacka after years in Gothenburg? And is it pure coincidence that Mats’s childhood sweetheart Nathalie has also suddenly returned to the area? Mats visited Nathalie on Gråskär before his death. The locals call the island ‘The Ghost Isle’ they say that it’s haunted, and that the dead have something to tell the living. But will anyone get close enough to uncover the dark secrets that lurk there? (14 March HarperCollins)

Product DetailsOwen Laukkanen- Criminal Enterprise From the outside, Carter Tomlin’s life looked perfect: a big house, pretty wife, two kids—a St. Paul success story. But Tomlin has a secret. He’s lost his job, the bills are mounting, and that perfect life is hanging by a thread. Desperate, he robs a bank. Then he robs another. As the red flags start to go up, FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere homes in on Tomlin from one direction, while Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens picks up the trail from another. The two cops haven’t talked since their first case together, but that’s all going to change very quickly. Because Carter Tomlin’s decided he likes robbing banks. And it’s not because of the money, not anymore. Tomlin has guns and a new taste for violence. And he’s not quitting anytime soon. (21 March Putnam)

Product DetailsKevin Sampson- The Killing Pool  Detective Chief Inspector Billy McCartney discovers a headless corpse in the scrubland close to Liverpool docks. The slaying carries all the hallmarks of a gangland hit – a message from the underworld to snitches, cops and rival gangs. One mile away, a girl staggers into a run-down bar, dazed and confused. The bar’s owner, a career criminal called Shakespeare, cannot get a word out of her.  DCI McCartney is all too well aware that the clock is ticking. The body was one Kalan Rozaki, youngest brother of a notorious crime family – except Kalan is no criminal. For almost a year his brothers have been under full-time Drug Squad surveillance as McCartney slowly closed the net on their heroin trafficking. McCartney’s chief informant on the case is someone with insider knowledge of the Rozaki clan’s operation…their newly deceased baby brother, Kalan. McCartney’s investigation into Kalan’s murder peels back layer after layer of a decades-long dynasty of drug smuggling. (21 March Jonathan Cape) SEE MY REVIEW HERE: Kevin Sampson- The Killing Pool

Product DetailsRoberto Constantini- The Deliverance of Evil  On 11 July 1982, Elisa Sordi was beautiful. Commissario Michele Balistreri was fearless. Italy was victorious. A killer was waiting…On 9 July 2006, with Sordi’s case twenty-four years cold, and Balistreri haunted by guilt and regret, Italian victory returned. And so did Sordi’s killer. But this time Michele Balistreri would be ready. This time he would fear no evil. (28 March Quercus)

Product DetailsMo Hayder- Poppet The mentally ill patients in Amberly Secure Unit are highly suggestible. A hallucination can spread like a virus. When unexplained power cuts lead to a series of horrifying incidents, fear spreads from the inmates to the staff. Amidst the growing hysteria, AJ, a senior psychiatric nurse, is desperate to protect his charges. Detective Inspector Jack Caffery is looking for the corpse of a missing woman. He knows all too well how it feels to fail to find a loved one’s body. When AJ seeks Caffery’s help in investigating the trouble at Amberly, each man must face a bitter truth in his own life. Before staring pure evil in the eye. (28 March Bantam Press)

 

Product DetailsLuke Delaney- Cold Killing  DI Sean Corrigan is not like other detectives. The terrible abuse he suffered in childhood hasn’t stopped him enjoying family life with his wife and two daughters, or pursuing an impressive career with South London’s Murder Investigation Unit. But it has left him with an uncanny ability to identify the darkness in others – a darkness he recognises still exists deep within his own psyche and battles to keep buried there. Now Sean’s on the trail of the most dangerous killer he’s ever encountered. The perpetrator has no recognisable MO, leaves no forensic evidence and his victims have nothing in common. But Sean knows they were all murdered by the same man. Now all he has to do is find the evidence, convince his bosses and stop the killing before his adversary gets too close to home… (28 March HarperCollins)

 

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Helene Tursten- The Golden Calf

Product DetailsIn his opulent ocean-view home near Goteborg, Sweden, wealthy restaurant magnate Kjell B:son Ceder is discovered dead by his wife Sanna. When Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her partner Tommy Persson start investigating, their suspicions keep turning to Sanna. After news of a double homicide in a nearby town, in which both victims died in the same way as Kjell- two shots to the head- what once looked like an isolated domestic crime now looks like deliberate execution. Not only that, one of the victims was once business partners with Sanna in a high-stakes investment scheme worth millions. Tensions rise when Irene and Tommy realize the third founder of the company has been missing for three years,  presumed dead. Is Sanna the centre of a web of murders or the last target of a shadowy killer?

Despite my passion for Scandinavian crime fiction I am ashamed to admit that Helene Tursten is an author I have not read before, and on reading this, the fifth in the series, I will certainly be catching up on the other four! With all the essential ingredients of a compelling Scandi crime thriller, but with an altogether lighter feel than some of the other established authors, Tursten weaves a finely crafted police procedural with the incredibly likeable DI Huss at the centre. Huss has a great balance of intelligence and dogged determination suffused with a ready wit and a natural empathy with those she encounters in her professional life. The rapport with herself and her police partner Tommy adds a nice touch to the book, as this investigation proves to be a thorny and emotional one with more than one damaged victim along the way. The characterisation throughout is good and I particularly liked that the central suspect, Sanna, was so completely infuriating and annoying, that I relished every harsh interrogation of her at the hands of Irene and Tommy. I found the storyline involving Annika Hermansson, interviewed by Irene in conjunction with the investigation, particularly heartfelt arousing my sympathy for her and the tragic nature of her life. The plot is quite convulated with the overlapping murder investigations, and for me, a more than necessary amount of the workings and dark shennanigans of the business world which does become a little tedious in its factual detail as Huss herself struggles with the intricacies of the financial world. However, in the overall scheme of the book this is just a minor irritation as the plot moves along at a steady pace with the story pivoting between Europe and America. As I said at the beginning despite the violence of the central murders, there is a natural humour to the book, lightening the mood and I found this to be refreshingly different from other authors within the Scandinavian crime genre and definitely an author to catch up on…

‘The Golden Calf’ is published by Soho Crime

The Irene Huss series:

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 (With thanks to Soho Crime for the ARC)

Charlotte Williams- The House On The Cliff

Product DetailsActor Gwydion Morgan’s dramatic appearance at Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy practice coincides with a turbulent time in her own life – her husband has just revealed that he’s spent the night with a much younger woman. Gwydion, son of the famous Evan Morgan, is good looking and talented but mentally fragile, tormented by an intriguing phobia. Jessica is determined to trace the cause of his distress. So when his mother phones to say he is suicidal, Jessica decides to make a house call. The Morgans live in a grand cliff-top mansion overlooking a rocky bay with its own private jetty. It’s a remote and somewhat sinister place. On her visit, Jessica finds out that an au pair who looked after Gwydion as a child drowned in the bay in mysterious circumstances. Could it be that Gwydion witnessed her death? In her quest to help her client, Jessica finds herself becoming embroiled in the Morgans’ poisonous family dynamic. At the same time, she has to deal with the demands of her own domestic life: her struggle to keep her marriage intact, as well as her older daughter’s increasingly defiant behaviour. And then, of course, there is the growing attraction she feels towards her new client . . .

This assured debut from Charlotte Williams is perfect for fans of the psychological thriller very much on a par with Erin Kelly, Sophie Hannah et al. Focusing on the professional and personal life of psychologist Jessica Mayhew, balancing the demands of a difficult family including a wilful teenage daughter and a snake-in-the-grass husband, Jessica’s life is further complicated by the arrival of a troubled new patient, Gwydion Morgan. Morgan places many demands on Mayhew emotionally and professionally, as events from his childhood reveal a dark tale of jealousy and murder.

Williams skilfully interweaves these two disparate areas of Jessica’s life into a fluid and engaging narrative, and although for me personally, the guilty party was quite evident in the murder plot, I was carried along quite nicely by the dilemmas facing Jessica. There was a good intergration within the book of psychological detail and the professional treatment of psychological disorders which made for an interesting curve in the central plot as Jessica’s professional life plays such a central role. Her family life, focusing on the demands of a difficult teenage daughter and the rebuilding of trust with her husband after his sexual indiscretion, also had an extremely authentic feel leading the reader to feel great empathy with Jessica’s woes. Her relationship with Gwydion Morgan also makes for an interesting dynamic, professionally and personally and likewise her interaction with other members of the Morgan clan, a family steeped in jealousy and untruths. One aspect of the book I felt was particularly good was William’s depiction of place and atmosphere especially in relation to the central setting of the rugged west coast of Wales. She captured perfectly the wild beauty of the area, and there was also a nice little sojourn in Sweden as Jessica attempts to untangle the complicated threads of Morgan’s troubled family history. All in all a good thriller and certainly an author I would read again.

Charlotte Williams studied philosophy at university, and afterwards worked as a journalist, writing for magazines and making documentaries for the BBC. She later trained as a psychotherapist. She is married with two sons, lives in Cardiff, and is currently working on her second novel featuring Jessica Mayhew. Read a Q&A with Charlotte Williams here: http://www.panmacmillan.com/book/charlottewilliams/thehouseonthecliff

Charlotte Williams, author of The House on the Cliff, will be appearing at The Laugharne Weekend Festival in West Wales on the weekend of 5th-7th April 2013.

 ‘The House On The Cliff’ is published 28 February 2013 -Pan Macmillan

 (With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Kerry Wilkinson- Locked In (DS Jessica Daniel 1)

Product DetailsWhen a body is found in a locked house, Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel is left to not only find the killer but discover how they got in and out. With little in the way of leads and a journalist that seems to know more about the case than she does, Jessica is already feeling the pressure – and that’s before a second body shows up in identical circumstances to the first. How can a murderer get to victims in seemingly impossible situations and what, if anything, links the bodies?
I feel that I may have joined the Kerry Wilkinson party a little late, looking at the phenomenal success he has enjoyed from self publishing to major book deal, but better late than never! I fair raced through ‘Locked In’ the first DS Jessica Daniel investigation, an engaging police procedural set on the mean streets of Manchester and setting the scene for a series worthy of attention.

 I think what I liked most about the book was the character of Jessica herself, as unlike many other crime authors, Wilkinson has made her wholly believable. She has no weird obsessions, no strange sexual attraction to her older boss, no addictive habits and apart from her, at times, hilarious angry outbursts as she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and is portrayed as a decent, focused and determined, detective. Wilkinson seems to have a knack for identifying those elements of modern life that rankle the most, and through Jessica gets a chance to vent his spleen so to speak, through her blunt turn of phrase and tendency towards sarcasm. I really liked her interaction and sense of playfulness with her police colleague DC Dave Rowlands and nerdy reporter Garry Ashford (yes, the unconventional spelling and tweed jacket annoyed me as well!) and her steadfast refusal to conform to certain expectations of her in terms of wardrobe and updating her old and loved car, which is widely ridiculed amongst her colleagues. The characterisation of both Jessica and the other central players generally felt very natural, and the dialogue flowed easily throughout the book engaging us further with the characters.

 The setting of inner city Manchester is well realised and the locations come across as authentic, highlighting the social and economic disparities of any large British city, rotating between the deprivation of some areas and the comfort of suburban communities. In terms of plot and narrative this was a steady enough police procedural,  with the intriguing central premise of seemingly random murder victims discovered in completely locked abodes, leading to the utterly imaginative dubbing of the killer by the press as the ‘Houdini Srangler’. I thought that Wilkinson did as much as he could to conceal the killer’s identity for as long as physically possible given the natural revelations of the investigation, but for me alarm bells were ringing early and alas I was proved right with my Holmesian skills of detection- ha! But joking aside, if there was a slight blip in the plotting for me, I have in no way been deterred as I have since read the second book ‘Vigilante’ (which I also enjoyed) and am halfway through the third ‘The Woman In Black’ which is distinctly darker in tone, thus establishing the fact that I’m really quite keen on this series already. ‘Think of the Children’ is the latest addition and no doubt I will seek this one out as well. A good find, and a perfect series for those looking for a new take on the British police procedural.

Kerry Wilkinson is a British author and sports journalist born in Bath, North Somerset and is one of the United Kingdom’s most-successful self-published authors. In the final quarter of 2011, Amazon UK announced he was their top-selling author for their Amazon Kindle chart – and that he had sold over 250,000 ebooks. His first novel, Locked In, went to number one on the Amazon Kindle chart and Apple’s iTunes crime books chart. He signed a six-book deal with Pan Macmillan in February 2012 to publish his Jessica Daniel series of novels. In September 2012, Pan Macmillan announced they had acquired a “fantasy trilogy for young adults”, the Silver Blackthorn series, to be released from autumn 2013. In February 2013, the fourth Jessica Daniel book, Think of the Children, became Amazon UK’s no.1 Kindle pre-order.

Find out more here: http://www.kerrywilkinson.com 

 (With thanks to Pan Macmillan for the ARC)

Pascal Garnier- The A26

Product DetailsThe future is on its way to Picardy with the construction of a huge motorway. But nearby is a house where nothing has changed since 1945. Traumatised by events that year, Yolande hasn’t left her home since. And life has not been kinder to Bernard, her brother, who is now in the final months of a terminal illness. Realizing that he has so little time left, Bernard’s gloom suddenly lifts. With no longer anything to lose, he be-comes reckless and murderous…

I must confess to having a bit of a penchant for what I dub ‘bijou but perfect’ reads- books that come in at less than 150 pages, invariably foreign fiction in translation and that reveal a whole world of human experience in such a condensed form. The late, great Pascal Garnier is one of my particular favourites with his amoral novelettes that plunge the depths of human sadness and frustration, and ‘The A26‘ is another perfect example of this.

Defying a straightforward classification of genre, I would loosely term this as a noir-esque thriller, but as the plot unfolds, I think maybe this is too simple a defintion. Ostensibly the plot is straightforward with Bernard, a man of mature years employed by the local railway coming to terms with the terminal illness eating away at him. Bernard comes to cope his own impending death by embarking on a murderous course of action. He lives with his sister Yolande, who not to put too fine a point on it is seriously mentally disturbed, having not left the house they share since 1945 when she was exposed as a Nazi collaborator and punished by the local villagers, whilst also trapped in the belief that the war is still on. She observes the world through a peephole, in the clutter and jumble of their ramshackle home, spending her days embarking on nonsensical flights of fancy, and venomous tirades about her persecutors with violent results. Her existence mentally in the past is made even more tangible when juxtaposed with the central motif of progress embodied in the building of the new road, marking the march of modernisation, and the sense of the world moving on without her.Through the murderous intentions of  Bernard and the highly confused world of his sister Yolande, the reader is immersed into a dark tale encompassing death, isolation, suspicion and retribution. The violence when it comes is swift and brutal, but underpinning the book are moments of extreme poignancy which helps the story retain a core of decency in its examination of human relationships. Bernard, for example, has a deep-seated platonic relationship with a local woman called Jacqueline, who is married to a violent and boorish man and their lasting friendship is filled with the premise of opportunities lost and the wrong paths taken. Despite Bernard’s less desirable actions his character, certainly for me, illicits an empathy in the reader, that here is a man who through loyalty to his sister has missed out on living to such an extent that his whole character is now defined by the prospect of dying.

Garnier’s books are marked by their integration of strange characters into their French provincial settings as evinced by ‘The Panda Theory’ and ‘How’s The Pain?’ and always retain at their heart a sense of human frailty, despite the blackness of the humour and at times horrific events. Combining the style of Simenon with the visual imagination and humour of the Coen Brothers, there is much to recommend these novellas. They are small works of literary genius, and I would urge you to discover them for yourselves.

Pascal Garnier in his own words at www.booknoir.co.uk : http://tinyurl.com/bxpwglz

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(With thanks to Emma Draude at http://edpr.co.uk for the ARC)

Pierre Lemaitre- Alex

In kidnapping cases, the first few hours are crucial. After that, the chances of being found alive go from slim to nearly none. Alex Prévost – beautiful, resourceful, tough – may be no ordinary victim, but her time is running out. Commandant Camille Verhoeven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries…

Every so often a crime thriller comes along that leaves you breathless and takes you on a disturbing journey into the darkest recesses of human experience- ‘Alex’ is one such book and you are guaranteed a tale of the unexpected from start to finish. Don’t expect any spoilers or dwelling on the plot from me, as I want you all to be as surprised by this twisty tale as I was, but all I will say is, you are in for more than one shock or two along the way. Intriguing huh?

The book opens innocuously enough with the kidnapping of a young woman, the eponymous Alex, but as the grim details of her incarceration unfold, and quite frankly, will probably haunt your dreams, she finds herself having to draw on every ounce of her own resource-fulness to survive and seek her escape. With the police seemingly at a loss to identify her and, to more importantly track her and her kidnapper down, what is it about this woman that eludes their detection and has forced a man to take such serious measures as to patiently stalk her, and then seek to watch her die in a pretty damn barbarous way? Well, I’m not telling, but suffice to say when the true nature of Alex’s character and her ruthless sense of retribution are slowly revealed, you will be completely caught up in, and engaged with the expose of this remarkably determined and dangerous young woman- a woman who admittedly makes Lisbeth Salander look like Mary Poppins. But, and here’s the clever bit, you will be wrongfooted at every turn in your emotional responses to her and this is where the genius of this dark tale lies.

Outside of the sterling characterisation of the truly hypnotic Alex herself, Lemaitre proves he is no slouch at creating other compelling characters, as an integral part of the whole. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven, who reluctantly discovers himself in charge of this initially mystifying case is a wonderful creation. Struggling with his own mental torment following the relatively recent kidnapping and murder of his wife, Verhoeven, a diminutive man in stature, but with the investigatory tenacity of a small terrier, takes a firm hold on the case, challenging those who seek to interupt his path of detection with a steely determination and a nice line in putdowns. As small as he is physically, his character looms large within the piece and his interplay with his colleagues Louis, intelligent and rich who drapes himself in designer clothing, and Armand, a scruffy individual who has taken cadging to a whole other level, is so plausible and engaging, that as the action pivots between Alex herself and the police investigation, there was to me a perfect mix of drama, poignancy and humour ingrained in Verhoeven and his close cohorts throughout. There are also by turns, some truly hapless and repellent characters who all play a strong part in the novel,  both in conjunction with Alex’s actions, and in those who seek to undermine Verhoeven’s grip on the case, despite the sense of urgency and professionalism he brings to the investigation. Quite simply,  Lemaitre provides a masterclass in characterisation throughout, and you will be appalled and delighted by his protagonists at every turn.

Last, but by no means least, I would like to offer a special mention, to the translator Frank Wynne, who has not only peppered the book with some lovely- as we say in English- turns of phrase (sorry, this is a nod to a character- you’ll understand it when you read the book) including ‘narked’, references to ‘muppets’ and even a ‘noggin’, that injects the book with another level of humour, but has also produced a distinctly fluid translation that, to me, retains the nuances of Lemaitre’s accomplished plot and characterisation, and elevates the enjoyment of this novel even more.

An absolute gem of a crime novel that is wonderfully dark, scary,  mad, bad and dangerous to know, but just far too good to miss…

Pierre Lemaitre worked for many years as a teacher of literature. His novels to date have earned him exceptional critical and public acclaim as a master of both the crime novel and the thriller, and have won him the Prix du Premier roman de Cognac 2006, the Prix du Meilleur polar francophone 2009 and the Prix du Polar europeen du Point 2010. ‘Alex’ is his first to be translated into English and is published by MacLehose Press.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Ken Bruen- ‘The Guards’- Jack Taylor – Channel 5

Thursday 21st February- C5- 9PM marks the start of a series of  TV dramatisations based on Bruen’s superb series of book featuring the wonderful private investigator, Jack Taylor. Taylor is an alcoholic loner, thrown out of the Irish police force for punching a government minister. Volatile and at time s violent, Taylor is, however an essentially moral man who despises injustice.

Filmed in Galway, directed by Stuart Orme, and starring Iain Glen (pictured left) as the incorrigable Taylor, C5 are broadcasting ‘ The Guards’ , ‘The Magdalen Martyrs’ and ‘The Pikemen’ (based on ‘The Killing of the Tinkers’). ‘The Dramatists’ has also been filmed with broadcast date tbc. (Scroll down for info on DVD release)

 

 

The Guards‘THE GUARDS’- The first title in the acclaimed and bestselling crime series featuring Jack Taylor, a disgraced former police detective from Galway. Mourning the death of his father, Jack is slowly drinking himself into oblivion when he is asked to investigate a teenage suicide. Plunged into a dangerous confrontation with a powerful business-man and with the Irish police – The Guards – who have an unhealthy interest in Jack’s past, he finds that all is not as simple as it at first seemed and a dark conspiracy unfolds…

The Killing of the Tinkers‘THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS’: Jack’s back in Galway a year later with a new leather jacket on his back, a pack of smokes in his pocket, a few grams of coke in his waistband, and a pint of Guinness on his mind. So much for new beginnings. Before long he’s sunk into his old patterns, lifting his head from the bar only every few days, appraising his surroundings for mere minutes and then descending deep into the alcoholic, drug-induced fugue he prefers to the real world. But a big gypsy walks into the bar one day during a moment of Jack’s clarity and changes all that with a simple request. Jack knows the look in this man’s eyes, a look of hopelessness mixed with resolve topped off with a quietly simmering rage; he’s seen it in the mirror. Recognizing a kindred soul, Jack agrees to help him, knowing but not admitting that getting involved is going to lead to more bad than good. But in Jack Taylor’s world bad and good are part and parcel of the same lost cause, and besides, no one ever accused Jack of having good sense…

The Magdalen Martyrs‘THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS’: Jack Taylor is walking the delicate edge of a sobriety he doesn’t trust when his phone rings. He’s in debt to a Galway tough named Bill Cassell, what the locals call a “hard man.” Bill did Jack a big favor a while back; the trouble is, he never lets a favor go unreturned. Jack is amazed when Cassell simply asks him to track down a woman, now either dead or very old, who long ago helped his mother escape from the notorious Magdalen laundry, where young wayward girls were imprisoned and abused. Jack doesn’t like the odds of finding the woman, but counts himself lucky that the task is at least on the right side of the law. Until he spends a few days spinning his wheels and is dragged in front of Cassell for a quick reminder of his priorites. Bill’s goons do a little spinning of their own, playing a game of Russian roulette a little too close to the back of Jack’s head. It’s only blind luck and the mercy of a god he no longer trusts that land Jack back on the street rather than face down in a cellar with a bullet in his skull. He’s got one chance to stay alive: find this woman. Unfortunately, he can’t escape his own curiosity, and an unnerving hunch quickly turns into a solid fact: just who Jack’s looking for, and why, aren’t nearly what they seem…

March 4th 2013- Jack Taylor Series 1 released on DVD in UK

Product DetailsCollection of made-for-TV dramas based on the novels by Ken Bruen and starring Iain Glen as an Irish ex-cop who now works as a private investigator. ‘The Pikemen’ (2011) sees Jack return to Galway, newly sober and determined to stay out of trouble. Will he succeed? In ‘The Magdalen Martyrs’ (2011) Jack is asked to track down an ex-nun who is said to have tortured girls in her care but soon
finds himself subject to intimidation. Finally, ‘The Guards’ (2010) finds Jack in his early days as a private investigator. Needless to say, it doesn’t take him long to get involved in a dangerous case.

Derek B. Miller- Norwegian By Night

Product DetailsEighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband. An ex-Marine, he talks often to the ghosts of his past – the friends he lost in the Pacific and the son who followed him into the US Army, and to his death in Vietnam. When Sheldon witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment complex, he rescues her six-year-old son and decides to run. Pursued by both the Balkan gang responsible for the murder, and the Norwegian police, he has to rely on training from over half a century before to try and keep the boy safe. Against a strange and foreign landscape, this unlikely couple, who can’t speak the same language, start to form a bond that may just save them both.

I must admit to having a slight crisis of confidence in writing this review, questioning whether I could do justice to just how marvellous this book is. From the first few pages, I was totally immersed in the life of Sheldon Horowitz, our curmudgeonly hero of the piece: a man haunted by the ghosts of his former life and coping with the daily frustrations of growing old. From the synopsis, it is impossible to harness all the themes and subtlety of prose that this book conveys to the reader. On one level, not only does the book contain all the quintessential elements of a Scandinavian crime novel, it also encompasses the Korean, Vietnam and Balkan conflicts, and on a more emotional level, presents a poignant and meditative examination of aging and regret, that unusually for this cynical reader, really touched me, engaging me even more with the characters and the multi-faceted plot.

 As the book opens we get our first encounter with the beautifully realised character of Sheldon Horowitz, uprooted from his native America following the death of his wife, to live in Norway with his granddaughter Rhea and her husband Lars, and the dynamics of this relationship quickly become clear. Indeed, Sheldon’s first response to Rhea urging him to move to Norway is to tell her to get stuffed, feeling his independence is under threat and resenting her assertion that he is in any way senile. He is stubborn and headstrong, but ingrained with a mordant sense of wit and a deep compassionate humanity, particularly evident in his utter determination to protect the life of the young boy he goes on the run with, and his seemingly testy, but ultimately loving relationship with Rhea. What we recognise at the core of his character is a wiliness and a steely determination tempered by the tragedies he has experienced in the past, in particular the loss of his comrades in Korea and the death of his son Saul (Rhea’s father) in Vietnam. Throughout the book, Miller carefully incorporates touching vignettes of Sheldon’s past life experiences, that convey how a man must rise above tragedy to hold onto his sanity and compassion, and how this dicates Sheldon’s actions, that seem foolhardy at first, to keep those closest to him safe from harm. He is without a doubt one of the most perfectly conceived and constructed characters that I have ever read, and one that will stay with me for a long time.

 The plot is completely engaging, constructed as a powerful story of flight and the will for survival. Following a brutal murder in Sheldon’s apartment he, without hesitation, goes on the run with the murder victim’s young son, quickly realising that the boy’s life is under threat. Hampered by the barrier of language, Sheldon and his charge pick their way through the beautifully portrayed backwoods of Norway, pursued not only by the boy’s sinister father and his cronies, but by the Norwegian police. Every protagonist in this scenario is utterly convincing, and with the poignant relationship developing between Sheldon and the boy, stirring up an evocation of Sheldon’s own relationship with his dead son, Saul, the plot is multi-layered and compelling from start to finish. The motif of war runs strongly throughout the book, not only in Sheldon’s reminiscences, but in his reliance on the skills he gained in Korea to outwit those who pursue him and the boy, leading to a dramatic and heartfelt denouement which threatens all involved.

I can only say in closing that I would urge everyone to read this exceptional debut with its powerful and emotive themes, but this is also a book that retains all the tension of a totally authentic Scandinavian crime thriller. I cannot praise it highly enough and on this showing ‘Norwegian By Night’ could well be one of my top crime reads this year. An outstanding read.

Derek B. Miller is the director of The Policy Lab and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. He has a PHD in international relations from the University of Geneva, and an MA in national security studies from Georgetown University, in cooperation with St Catherine’s College, Oxford. He lives in Oslo with his wife and children. ‘Norwegian By Night’ is published by Faber & Faber.
(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)

Doug Johnstone- Gone Again

Product DetailsAs Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son. Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry. With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery…

A pitch perfect examination of familial relationships are at the fore of this compelling new thriller by Doug Johnstone. As the synopsis states, the reader is drawn into the tale through a series of reveals, that allow us to bear witness to the deep, dark secrets that exist within families, and yet, by the same token, illustrates the ability to bring forth forgiveness for the sins of the past.

 Mark Douglas’ life is turned upside down by the suspicious disappearance of his wife Lauren, leaving himself and his six year old son, Nathan, in a state of turmoil. Lauren has disappeared before suffering the effects of post-natal depression in the wake of Nathan’s birth, and with Mark’s knowledge that his wife is pregnant again he fears that these events may well be repeating themselves. However, as the plot unfolds and Mark receives some devastating news, it becomes clear that with the police dragging their heels, there are darker motives at work in relation to her disappearance than at first thought, leading Mark and his son into extreme danger.

 As events unfold we discover Mark’s previous propensity for violence, admittedly in defence of his wife Lauren initially, but enough to cause the police some suspicion as to how much of a part it plays in his wife’s disappearance. As Mark struggles to keep mind and body together for the sake of his son, Johnstone builds the air of tension and frustration, that Mark experiences and more crucially how this dark corner of Mark’s personality rises again as he labours to discover the truth. We see a man quick to anger under pressure, but is he as guilty as the police suspect? I’m not telling…

His relationship with his son is perfectly portrayed, showing the mantle of parenthood is no easy one with Mark experiencing all the normal peaks and troughs of becoming a sole parent to a lively six year old boy, confused by sudden the absence of his mother. As events spiral out of control and Mark embarks on his own personal crusade to uncover the truth, his anger levels ratchet up, until he questions his own sense of control even in relation to his son, and this provides another interesting facet to the overall story. There is also a poignant theme of familial reconciliation built into the plot, as bridges are rebuilt between Mark and Lauren’s mother, following a violent altercation some years previously, centring on Lauren’s relationship with her father. This works well within the plot, and adds a solidity to the portrayal of human relationships, which I think is the stand out feature of the novel.

As the reasons for Lauren’s disappearance come to light and the story denigrated into some fairly unbelievable confrontations, I must admit by not being truly convinced by the whole set-up and the central premise. However, as I have already identified the strength of the characterisation and the development of relationships as the main hook for this novel, any weaknesses in the playing out of the plot are easily ignored, as Johnstone so readily engages us with his heartfelt portrayal of Mark and Nathan and the minutiae of their relationship, reeling from the loss of their wife and mother respectively.

Doug Johnstone is a writer, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. His most recent novel, Hit & Run, was published by Faber and Faber in March 2012 and was an Amazon #1 bestseller. His previous novels are Smokeheads (2011), The Ossians (2008) and Tombstoning (2006). His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin. Read more at Doug’s blog here: http://dougjohnstone.wordpress.com/

Read another review at Rush Hour Reads: http://rushhourreads.blogspot.co.uk/

‘Gone Again’ due to be published 7 March 2013- Faber & Faber)

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(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)

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