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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

March 2013

March 2013 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

March has been an exciting and fulsome month in the world of Raven Crime Reads, and I’ve travelled far and wide in my reading. I’ve also had the opportunity to host a couple of cracking Q&As with thriller writers Mo Hayder- Poppet and Tom Bale- The Catch which is always fun and a good excuse to throw some curveball questions at these unsuspecting authors- they both did marvellously well!

So this month I read, in addition to Mo Hayder-Poppet and Tom Bale-The Catch the following criminal treats…

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Andrew Pyper– The Demonologist

Cath Staincliffe- Bleed Like Me (Scott & Bailey 2)

Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman– Tower

Alexander Soderberg– The Andalucian Friend

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Outsiders- Six Italian Stories

Kevin Sampson– The Killing Pool

Ace Atkins– The Ranger (Quinn Colson 1)

Kevin Wignall- For The Dogs

Product DetailsIn addition to these I also read Johan Theorin- The Asylum which as a stand alone and a diversion from his main series worked well enough for me, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. It was overall however, a dark exploration of psychological disorders in a suitably sinister setting with a nice mix of some truly tormented characters so not a bad read by any means.

 

Product DetailsI also continued in my mission to read more ‘indie’ authors and read two this month.  Garry Rodger’s No Witnesses To Nothing based on a true story and travels between the wilds of the Canadian Yukon to Australia to Colombia. I thought this was an excellent read overall with some  good characterisation particularly in relation to the female protagonists of the piece. The story was fascinating, particularly as it was based on real events, tapping into the realm of urban legend and worked well with this combination of the criminal and the supernatural. With Rodger’s own background in law enforcement, the book is steeped in authentic detail and although sometimes a little heavy in terms of factual description, it was good to read a book backed up by the true experiences of the author. Would certainly recommend this.

Product DetailsHarry Dunn’s Smile of the Viper sees a missing husbandfinding himself at the whim of his involvement with a drug syndicate, and being tracked down by a dogged PI working on behalf of his wife. The plotting was excellent throughout and was genuinely gripping, but I felt the characterisation was a little patchy and I found it a tad difficult to really relate to the characters as I felt I didn’t really engage with them. However, this would not impede me reading any further books in the series as the actual storytelling was thoroughly enjoyable with some good twists to hook the reader.

March also marked the announcement of a new annual award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction- the Petrona Award– in honour of the wonderful Maxine Clarke who gave many of us pleasure with her insightful and honest reviews via her blog. Read more about the award here and those in contention in this fitting tribute to a much missed member of our crime reading community www.booktrade.info. Also why not visit http://petronaremembered.com/  a site that offers a resource which those who already love crime fiction can use to discover new gems and those new to the genre can use as a jumping off point for their own adventures….

So all that remains is for me to say thank you to all those who have popped by my blog as I have just hit 15 000 visitors- and if you could all continue to pop by, that would be marvellous as well! Thank you all…

Oh- and that book of the month? See you thought I’d forgotten…it’s got to be…drum roll…this one…

KEVIN SAMPSON-THE KILLING POOL

Product DetailsI’m backing a Brit this month with this gritty, and downright earthy police procedural based in Liverpool.

Introducing a great protagonist in the form of DCI Billy McCartney, a clever use of three equally accomplished timelines, and a killer soundtrack that taps into your soul.

Sound.

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An Interview With Mo Hayder- Poppet

 To mark the release of Poppet, the sixth Jack Caffrey thriller, Mo has stopped by Raven Crime Reads as part of her blog tour, and was kind enough to answer my questions about her new book, her inner astronaut and mutilating dolls….

Mo Hayder's new novel Poppet featuring Jack Caffrey

Tell us about the new book and how you came up with the original story for Poppet…

I was watching Slingblade written by Billy Bob Thornton, and the early scenes – in a mental institution for violent offenders- really engrossed me. Especially the way some of the patients relished reliving their crimes. I ran up a couple of character sketches, just as an exercise to see if the idea had legs, and suddenly I realised that a mentally ill character in fiction can believe all manner of extraordinary things (the character of Monster Mother for example), and the reader has to decide which of the stories are a product of the psychosis and which are grounded in reality.

I loved the use of the poppets as a motif throughout the book. Indeed, I remember as a small child hating dolls, but after using an up and over garage door to mutilate my Tiny Tears making her cross-eyed I wouldn’t be parted from her! What was the inspiration for these ominous little figures in the book?

I had a doll called Rachel and I accidentally melted her next to an electric fire. Like you I thought she was much cuter afterwards. But the idea from the book probably came from too much time in New Orleans amongst the voodoo tourist shops.

The relationship between Jack and Flea is central to every fictionalised investigation. How much do you love toying with the reader in terms of their near misses with each other and can you give us any clues to further developments between them?

Oooh – I’d hate to give the game away. But in the next of the series, Wolf (coming 2014) things between them do move along. Can’t say more than that – sorry!

I always feel that location becomes like another character in your books from the well-heeled and genteel streets of Bath, to the natural setting of rural communities and then with more earthy urban locale of Bristol. How useful and freeing is it you as a writer to encompass these widely differing locations within your books?

Maybe because I’m a bit of a gypsy and I love travelling, I very often prefer the sense of ‘place’ in fiction to the characters themselves. In my own work my favourite writing is description of place (I usually overwrite those sections). However, with the exception of Tokyo (Devil of Nanking), I don’t choose the location ahead of the story. The story always comes first, the setting is secondary.

You always come across as a well- adjusted and perfectly pleasant person, but beneath that attractive exterior lurks a dark, and I would say, twisted imagination! How much fun is it as a writer tapping into your positively Jekyll and Hyde character?

Crikey, what a compliment. Now maybe you could convince my family I’m well adjusted and pleasant? Not sure they’d agree. But seriously, I guess we are all made up of dark and light and if I can exorcise the dark parts of my nature by writing, then it’s probably a good thing.

Were you always destined to be a writer? And what’s the best advice you could give to a fledgling author?

I certainly didn’t set out to be a writer – not at all. I read loads as a child (my mother was an English teacher) but the author thing just sort of bubbled up out of nowhere in my late thirties. However in retrospect I see that I was probably always totally suited for this job (bit of a dreamer, bit of a loner and a desperate need to control) My best advice to a fledgling author is: if you think it will be fun and easy to make a living writing then you are really kidding yourself. You have no idea what hard work it is. Most people give up when they work out how tough it is.

What books or authors have influenced you or have been central to your own development as a writer, and which books or genres do you like to pick up for your own entertainment as a reader?

I have lost track of the wonderful books that have inspired me – I could honestly say that there is no book not worth reading. Even the terrible, flawed books teach you something (if only how not to do it).

And just for fun….

Your favourite fictional killer?

I really enjoyed the recent Ch 4 series Utopia. The killer Arby played by Neil Maskell is just awesome.

If I wasn’t a writer I would like to be…..

Ranulph Fiennes

Where do you like to read?

In bed – my bed is mission control, everything happens there.

 A trip around the world or a trip to the moon?

Moon. I’ve been around the world and my family were involved in the Apollo missions so I’ve grown up being fascinated by the moon.

 Cats or dogs?

Cats. Some people say they are unfaithful, I consider them ’emotionally flexible’.

Mo Hayder has written some of the most terrifying crime thrillers you will ever read.  Her first novel, Birdman, was hailed as a ‘first-class shocker’ by the Guardian and her follow-up, The Treatment was voted by the Times one of ‘the top ten most scary thrillers ever written’. Mo’s books are 100% authentic, drawing on her long research association with several UK police forces and on her personal encounters with criminals and prostitutes.  She left school at 15 and has worked as a barmaid, security guard, English teacher, and even a hostess in a Tokyo club. She has an MA in film making from the American University in Washington DC and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University. She now lives in England’s West Country and is a full-time writer: http://www.mohayder.net/

 Raven’s review – Poppet

Product DetailsThe Maude is outside. It wants to come in.

It wants to sit on your chest.

The mentally ill patients in Amberly Secure Unit are highly suggestible. An 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…

Ever since the publicaton of Birdman, still in the top 10 list of my favourite crime reads ever, I  always await the next Mo Hayder title with bated breath. Poppet is the latest in the the DI Jack Caffrey series and fear not if you have not dipped into these before as there is a cogent covering of back story for the new reader. In this new book, Caffrey is drawn into a series of mysterious deaths at a pyschiatric unit, but are lives being lost by human or supernatural hand? Are the patients and staff being manipulated by the supernatural figure of the Maude said to walk the corriders of the hospital, or is there the more frightening possibility that they are meeting their demise from one of their own number? There is the normal assured ratcheting up of terrifying tension that Hayder is renowned for, and by employing the motif of the sinister little dolls called poppets, and the legend of the Maude, there are more than enough shocks to get even the bravest amongst you checking under the bed before lights out.

The characterisation is superb as always as the continuing tensions between Caffrey and his police colleague Flea Marley ebb and flow through the course of the book, with their personal and professional loyalties continuing to be tested as an old investigation, and their actions in conjunction with this, comes back to haunt them. Aside from our two familiar friends, Hayder introduces a wide spectrum of other characters as the setting of the psychiatric unit allows her to present to us the very different mental rationales of those existing within it. Her portrayal of the patients including the brilliant Monster Mother and Isaac Handel, delve deep into the effects of mental illness on the human psyche, and this is counterbalanced extremely well with the mental effects on the staff themselves who seek to treat and care for them. AJ LeGrande is a stand out character in this regard, as his position as a Senior Nursing Coordinator within the unit allows us to see the demands of the profession on him as an incredibly likeable man who becomes deeply affected by the strange goings-on, with serious repercussions in his life outside his work. I would also highlight Patience, AJ’s aunt who is an absolute gem of a character who does not suffer fools gladly, but has an absolute devotion to him despite her brash exterior. The synergy between all these characters, be they police, patients or mental health workers, make for an interesting, and at times, disturbing read with the issues and demands of mental illness handled in a sympathetic and compassionate way throughout, whilst not detracting from the central murder plot.

If you’re a long standing fan of the Jack Caffrey series you will not be disappointed as this is another accomplished instalment, and likewise if I’ve tempted you enough for this to be your first Mo Hayder, I think you will enjoy your first foray into Caffrey’s world. An excellent character driven thriller that will keep you hooked…but beware the Maude- she may be coming to get you…

The Jack Caffrey series in reading order:

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Other books by Mo Hayder:

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(With thanks to September Withers and to Transworld for the ARC)

Kevin Wignall- For The Dogs

Product DetailsWith the news that ‘For The Dogs’ is now making its way to the big screen after a long hiatus since the film rights were picked up, I thought I would take the opportunity to post a quick review of this excellent thriller. Before his current success as a YA writer in the guise of K.J. Wignall (the vampire Mercian Trilogy: Blood, Alchemy and Death), Wignall was a pretty damn nifty crime writer, and is still a regular participant at UK crime festivals. Personally speaking, I think that ‘For The Dogs’ is one of his best in which we see a young woman, Ella, seeking revenge for the seemingly needless slaughter of her family in what looks a traditional gangland hit. Enlisting the help of the mysterious enforcer Lewis, who has been tasked by her late father to protect her, we follow Ella’s descent into her own personal hell as her thirst for revenge utterly consumes her. Lewis is battling with demons of his own, having been estranged from his former partner and daughter through the demands of being an ice-cold killer. He undergoes a metamorphosis during the course of the novel as he reassesses the brutality of his former actions and where he is in his life now, yet when he is needed most seeks to support Ella in her mission. In terms of characterisation it cannot be faulted as Wignall injects an equal amount of sympathy for both Ella and Lewis, whilst revealing the more unpleasant aspects of their ‘true’ natures. The novel has a very ‘European’ feel to it not only in terms of the locations used, but in the overall tone and pace of the story. More is said almost by what is left unsaid and the whole pace and emotion of the narrative lends itself more to a niche foreign language film, so will be interested to see how it emerges at the hands of a big screen production. I would definitely recommend reading the original (although a little difficult to source at the moment- I bought my copy from the US) before seeing the film, as the book would be hugely enjoyable for fans of the ‘European’ crime noir.

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

Other crime titles by Kevin Wignall:

Who Is Conrad Hirst?People Die

Sam Worthington has  signed on to star in the upcoming thriller For the Dogs, it has been  announced.
The 36-year-old star will play an assassin hired by a college  girl to target the murderers of her family.

Sam Worthington photographed in June 2012

© Rex Features / Alan Pryke / Newspix

The film,  written by The Messenger writer Oren Moverman, will be directed by Salt‘s Phillip Noyce and is based on the novel by Kevin Wignall.
Worthington will also be producing the  film in collaboration with FilmEngine and Full Clip Productions.

Ace Atkins- The Ranger (Quinn Colson 1)

Product DetailsNortheast Mississippi is hill country, rugged and notorious for outlaws since the Civil War, where killings are as commonplace as they were in the Old West. To Quinn Colson, just back from a tour of Afghanistan, it’s home. But home has changed. Quinn returns to a place overrun by corruption. His uncle, the county sheriff, is dead – officially it was suicide, but others whisper murder. In the days that follow, it will be up to Colson, now an Army Ranger, to discover the truth – not only about his uncle, but also about his family, friends, hometown and himself. But once the truth is uncovered, there is no turning back.

Being a steadfast fan of the wonderful Ace Atkins for many years, I always relish a new book from this gifted and compelling crime writer. I am pleased to report that ‘The Ranger’ does not disappoint and, in my ever so humble opinion, marks the start of what I believe will be a superlative series featuring Quinn Colson, a man who would be more than capable of giving Jack Reacher a good old run for his money!

When the book opens Colson has returned from Afghanistan and is at a crossroads in his Army career, so along with attending his uncle’s funeral is using the time back home to reassess his future career. It becomes evident that there is a lot more to his uncle’s apparent suicide, drawing Colson into the crosshairs of a community with more than one secret lurking beneath the surface. What Atkins does so well is draw together aspects of Colson’s upbringing within this community, and how the loyalties of the past must inevitably fall by the wayside in his search for the truth. Colson’s immediate family is put under the microscope what with the reckless and selfish actions of his errant sister, and the gradual unveiling of his uncle’s troubles with the most powerful members of this community. This is world of trailer parks and meth labs, and another reviewer tags this book as ‘redneck noir’. Entering into the fray are a small violent band of typical backwoods criminals, highly reminiscent of the criminal fraternity in ‘Justified’, who also have Colson in their sights, but it soon becomes clear that the last thing you should do is underestimate this tough and uncompromising soldier. The plot is gripping and action packed throughout and although largely unsentimental in tone is, at times, punctuated with some more emotional scenes as Colson uncovers betrayal from some unexpected quarters, which adds a good balance to the overall story arc. It isn’t just simply a thriller as you will discover for yourselves…

The characterisation is absolutely pitch perfect as Colson is an archetypal tough guy who through his Army training is well-honed and resourceful in his defence of those he seeks to protect, and is no stranger to physical violence. He exudes an air of morality and is not adverse to expressing his finer feelings, and with this combination of traits makes him an extremely attractive character to male and female readers alike. He is supported by a perfectly drawn cast of characters from his brilliant sidekick Boom, to local deputy Lillie Virgil and the rapport and interaction between these three in particular engages throughout. Likewise, Atkins surrounds them with a  cast of typical Mississippi folk, no strangers to violence, but also just trying to get along the best they can. The baddies are great- inbred and for the most part stupid- and whenever they enter the story I heard a distant echo of duelling banjos as they are continually thwarted by Colson’s actions and his dogged determination to bring them to book. The dialogue is taut and slick, with many an interaction suffused with the natural sassy wit of this region’s inhabitants, and the natural intonation of the South sings from every page.

As I made reference to at the beginning, ‘The Ranger’ marks the start of a series and I’ve heard from other bloggers that the second in the series, ‘The Lost Ones’ is even better than the first. Yes, there is much to be recommended here for fans of the earlier books of  Lee Child, but for my money, Atkins outreaches Reacher (sorry couldn’t resist) with his superior grasp of character and location. Also once you discover Atkins, there is another world of adventure in store for you with his eclectic back catalogue, mainly set in the South, a combination of the fictional and at times cleverly drawing on the factual, but all imbued with the assured hand of one of the best crime writers you will encounter.

Find out more about Ace Atkins here:http://www.aceatkins.com/

[‘The Ranger’ is published by Corsair and ‘The Lost Ones’ (Quinn Colson 2) will be published in the UK July 2013]

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(With thanks to Corsair for the ARC)

Kevin Sampson- The Killing Pool

Product DetailsDetective 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. Each revelation plunges McCartney back into the dark heart of an unsolved drug crime that weighs heavy on his soul. He wants to catch the Rozakis – badly – but he wants the shadowy men behind their drug empire even more. The closer McCartney gets to Kalan’s killer, the closer he comes to facing down a lifetime’s torment.

 The mean streets of Liverpool loom large in this, the first, of a projected  series featuring Kevin Sampson’s newest creation DCI Billy McCartney- a veritable conundrum of a character that you are guaranteed to love or loathe in equal measure. Opening with the discovery of a mutilated body exhibiting all the hallmarks of a gangland hit, the reader is instantly transported into a dark and gritty read that makes you feel positively grubby, but in such a good way…

The action unfolds across three timelines- 1984, 1997 and 2012- with each period reflecting not only the socio-economic changes of Liverpool, but also the city’s increasing role at the centre of the UK drugs trade. The book reads as a twisted love letter to Liverpool with Sampson incorporating the very best and worst aspects of the city as a frame for the central plot. While I was reading the book, a stanza from Liverpool Poems by the acclaimed poet Adrian Henri kept coming to mind:

And a Polish gunman young beautiful dark glasses
combatjacket/staggers down Little St Bride St blood
dripping moaning clutches/collapses down a back jigger
coughing/falls in a wilderness of Dazwhite washing        

as this to me perfectly reflected Sampson’s depiction of a city courting the desire to establish itself as pulsing centre of cultural modernity and respectability ‘a groovy bohemian melting pot’, but unable to diminsh the sordid underbelly that lurks beneath the face of the inner city. In a recent interview Sampson refers to the underworld noirish settings of ‘The Wire’ and cites the depiction of Jo Nesbo’s Oslo as points of reference for his Liverpool backdrop, and I think that he captures perfectly this pervading feeling of darkness and brutality in the shadowy world of criminality beneath the veneer. McCartney makes reference to the ‘mongrel cesspits’ of other port cities, and has no qualms in including Liverpool in this description, but I feel his derision is underlined by an equal measure of affection for a city at the mercy of change if not always for the better.

The differing timelines work exceptionally well from the plunging of a young female detective into the latent racism, sexism and violence of the 80‘s storyline depicting the growth of the drugs trade with shades of ‘Trainspotting, to the 90‘s with the widespread use of cocaine as a recreational drug, and a focus on the sheer wealth and power of the drug cartels thereby solidifying McCartney’s intent both at home and abroad to foil the men behind this deadly trade. A personal vendetta with one such man fuels McCartney’s intent throughout the  90‘s and 2000‘s with the contemporary storyline in particular seeing McCartney assuming the role of an avenging angel following the death of a young informant, at great personal risk to himself. The overlaps between decades and characters are an extremely effective plot contrivance, and Sampson captures the detail of each period assuredly, so each timeline feels genuine and reflective of the spirit of that particular age.

The characterisation is rock solid throughout with Sampson capturing perfectly the figures within this world of cops, snitches and criminals. DCI Billy McCartney is a man of extreme contradictions, exhibiting a steely determination as he makes his way up the ranks, solidifying his professional reputation through some high profile drug busts and fuelled with an underlying desire to bring to book a taunting nemesis.As an anomaly to his police role, he is not adverse to a chemical pick-me-up, gaining an almost Holmesian effect from this on both his mental processes and his physical stamina. His actions are not always entirely moral but remain true to his own codes of morality, and by and large get results, but he has an unknowability and hard edge to his character which is difficult to like.However, his love of music softens the edges of his character and  Sampson references McCartney’s musical tastes throughout- C&W, Americana punctuated by a little bit of Satie- and interestingly despite his general disconnectedness from the world of personal relationships, McCartney derives pleasure from his attendance at a country and western music night when time allows,  harbouring a small crush on the delectable Dolly Parton a-like, Kylene. He is truly a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma, and was at the very core of my enjoyment of the book. Also on the theme of character, I would highlight Evan Portius Kavangh Esquire aka Shakespeare, a foppish West Indian small time criminal (who according to Sampson bears similarities fashion wise to Chris Eubank) with a nice line in philosophy and an inherent need to rescue a damsel in distress- a shining star in McCartney’s surrounding cast who would surely merit a whole book of his own!

With its sparsity of prose and pitch perfect characterisation, Sampson has established a great foundation for further titles in this series, which I’ve read will take McCartney far and wide in his pursuance of the drug cartels. It’s violent and earthy, and by no means a comfortable read with its uncompromising plot and dialogue, reflecting the deprivation and bleakness of its inner city locale. It packs a punch which I’m more than happy to endure- oh- and did I mention the  killer ending? Marvellous.

Kevin Sampson is the author of eight novels – Awaydays, Powder, Leisure, Outlaws, Clubland, Freshers, Stars are Stars and The Killing Pool – and a work of non-fiction, Extra Time. The Killing Pool will be published 21 March 2013 by Jonathan Cape. See the The Killing Pool book trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch

Interview with Kevin Sampson at Low Down magazine www.thelowdownmagazine.com/Thrilling_Time

Discover more about the music of The Killing Pool from Peter Guy’s interview –http://www.peterguy.merseyblogs.co.uk

The Killing Pool is also reviewed at the excellent Crime Fiction Lover: www.crimefictionlover.com/2013/03/thekillingpool/

Raven’s recommends:

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(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

Outsiders- Six Italian Stories

Just wanted to feature this powerful collection of Italian short stories that would be of interest to crime readers and non-crime readers alike. These stories first came to the attention of Italian readers as part of a wider series of twice weekly supplements sold with the national daily Corriere della Sera. In 2010, the publisher Einaudi brought the stories together under the title of Sei fuori posto– broadly translated as ‘you’re out of place’, with the Italian for ‘you’re’ also interpretable as the number six, with perhaps a subtle nod to Luigi  Pirandello’s influential play Six Characters In Search of an Author. ‘Outsiders’ is a fascinating collection exploring huge themes within the compact short story form.

All the stories centre on feelings of dislocation and isolation, with the central protagonists charged with prising open and confronting the tensions of the world they inhabit. They are loners and misfits with each story cleverly tapping into the feelings we all experience at one time or another as feeling slightly out of step with the world, and  how we deal with isolation whether self-imposed or as a result of our interaction with society and those we encounter along the paths of our lives. What we see in microcosm within these stories is an exploration of what it means to be out of place, in a collection that encapsulates how the very nature of Italian socio-economic life fuels the theme of being an outsider.

Roberto Saviano- The Other Side of Death

Through the eyes of Maria, Saviano depicts the impoverished region surrounding Naples and reveals the impact of Italy’s participation in wars in Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Roberto Saviano writes for La Repubblica and L’Espresso amongst other publications and is the author of Gomorrah also adapted as a film winning the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2008, and a collection of essays published as Beauty and the Inferno.

Carlo Lucarelli- Ferengi

A maid, caring for her bedridden colonial master and subject to the control of his conniving daughter-in-law, proves to be the undoing of this exploitative colonial family, in a story laying bare the face of oppression in Italian-occupied Eritrea.

Carlo Lucarelli is a crime writer, television presenter and magazine editor. His first crime novels formed the Commissario de Luca trilogy, followed by the Ispettore Grazia Negro mysteries and Lucarelli has also written numerous radio plays and screenplays.

Valeria Parella- The Prize

A peasant girl embarks on a journey to earn her place in Italian society bearing witness to the dictates of the class system in southern Italy post World War II.

Valeria Parella is a theatre actor and short story writer. Her  collection of stories Mosca piu balena was awarded the Premio Campiello in 2004. Her next collection Per grazia ricevuta was published in English as For Grace Received. Her most recent book is Antigone.

Piero Colaprico- Stairway C

The cycle of poverty and drug-dealing in 1980‘s Milan is explored when the residents of this grim world of run-down social housing find themselves under suspicion of murdering a schoolteacher.

Piero Colaprico is a special correspondent for La Repubblica on crime-related issues. As well as publishing several high-profile works of journalism, Colaprico is an established crime author co-writing a series of books with Pietro Valpreda featuring Maresciallo Binda and which he has continued to write alone since Valpreda’s death.

Wu Ming- American Parmesan

An Italian cheese-maker Adalberto Rizzo, attempts to recreate the perfect conditions for producing Parmesan in East Coast America, seeking to also assimilate himself into American culture, putting him at odds with his fellow  Italians bent on retaining the supremacy of the Italian Parmesan brand.

The Wu Ming Foundation describes itself as ‘a mysterious collective of guerilla novelists from Italy’. The writer’s collective was formed in 2000 out of the Luther Blissett Project, an existing group of hundreds of artists and social activists across Europe. Together they are the authors of more than fifteen novels of which Q, 54 and Manituana are available in English.

Simona Vinci- Another Kind of Solitude

An essay on isolation and loneliness that focuses on the need to isolate oneself deliberately from the world using historical examples from psychology and literature. Vinci also examines the stress on the modern-day individual, using very contemporary examples, where feelings of isolation can develop in a fast-moving but increasingly alienating world.

Simona Vinci was awarded the Premio Elsa Morante for her first novel Dei bambini non si sa niente-controversial for its depiction of sexuality amongst a group of younger and older children-  published in English to wide critical acclaim as A Game We Play.

Outsiders-Six Italian Stories with an introduction by Ben Faccini is published by MacLehose Press.

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(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

An Interview With Tom Bale- The Catch

Product DetailsHow 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…

Image of Tom BaleDavid Harrison aka Tom Bale, author of ‘Sins of the Father’, ‘Skin and Bones’, ‘Terror’s Reach’ and ‘Blood Falls’ was kind enough to take time out  to answer my probing questions about his career as a thriller writer and the temptation to (a) be Jack Reacher or (b) unleash his inner geography teacher…

Visit his website at: www.tombale.net follow him on Facebook, or on Twitter: @t0mbale (zero instead of “o”). My review of ‘The Catch’,  out now, follows the Q&A.

If people are new to your books as I am, tell us a bit about yourself and your background and as a now full time writer, do your previous jobs play a part in your books?

I’ve had various jobs over the years, including a half-hearted career in the heady world of insurance claims and a few years as a project manager, not to mention a far more demanding spell as a house-husband with two pre-school children. I wouldn’t say the work informed my writing to any great extent, although I did use my knowledge of fraud investigation in my first published book, which came out under my real name, David Harrison (Tom Bale is a pseudonym, introduced because I discovered various other writers share that name).

Tell us about ‘The Catch’ and how the idea for this book originated?

The idea grew out of another, abandoned novel a few years back. What I took from it were my main characters, Dan and Robbie, and the issue of a long friendship gone sour. Although they were best mates at school, as adults Dan and Robbie have little in common, but they won’t acknowledge that they don’t really like each other anymore. The friendship endures out of habit, and as a result they’re forced to work together and share the secret that could destroy them both.

Although I love to read police procedurals, in my own work I prefer to focus on ordinary people whose lives are thrown into turmoil. In The Catch, Dan and Robbie make one terrible mistake, which is compounded by their attempt to cover it up, setting off a chain of events that gradually puts them and their families in mortal danger.

I found the plot was very character driven which was refreshing for a thriller where usually the needs of the plot overtake the characterisation. How fully formed were the characters in your mind to start with, and how important was it that none of the characters appear to be all good or all bad?

Generally I prepare a few background notes for the main characters – in this case Dan, Robbie and Robbie’s sister, Cate. Mostly, though, I just get down to work and hope they come alive as I write about them. Usually they do, but sometimes I have to go back during the rewrite and make some major changes. Weirdly, it’s the minor characters that often materialise, fully formed, from their very first line of dialogue.

It’s very important to me that the characters are well-rounded, though in the past my editor has commented that I can be too sympathetic to my bad guys. My feeling is that most people, however unpleasant, have some kind of redeeming feature. Those who commit terrible acts have usually found a way to justify that behaviour in their own minds, and so I try to represent the characters as they would see themselves. I’d say that Stemper, in this book, is one of the least sympathetic characters I’ve ever created, although that made him great fun to write.

I loved the very contemporary feel of the book with its references to popular culture and music. What are your musical preferences and do these aid your writing process?

I’m afraid my musical preferences were formed in the 1970s and haven’t changed a lot since. The media player on my computer goes all the way from Abba to Yes! I have a particular devotion to Bruce Springsteen, who for me has assumed a godlike status. If I’m writing at home I’ll usually put music on, if only to block out more distracting noises, but it has to be something very familiar. Anything new and I’m likely to stop work to listen.

What do you love most about writing thrillers?

The momentum of the storytelling. My first drafts tend to be large and unwieldy, and in subsequent drafts I cut a lot away, until I can feel the sense of urgency that (hopefully) drives the reader to turn the pages. I also try to avoid planning more than a few chapters ahead, so that the story and its twists remain as much a surprise to me as to the reader. Mind you, that way of working has got me in a terrible mess on more than one occasion.

What or who are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

Enid Blyton was the first important inspiration – I can remember devouring her books, particularly the fantasy stories like The Enchanted Wood and The Wishing Chair. In my teens, when I started writing with serious intent, Stephen King was a huge influence. What marked him out from his peers was his ability to create such believable and sympathetic characters, and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate ever since. Once crime fiction became my main interest, John Sandford was a big influence. His prose is so clean and economical, with a great rhythm, and he’s a master at creating tension, even when you’ve been introduced to the killer on page one. It’s a scandal that he doesn’t outsell James Patterson!

How long does it take for a book to take shape from the initial germ of the idea and do you adhere to a strict writing schedule?

The first draft takes around six or seven months, with another four or five months of rewriting. The adjustment to writing full time turned out to be quite a struggle. All too often I spent my days watching property shows and surfing the internet, then writing in a mad panic in the evenings. A couple of years ago I embarked on a new routine where I walk or cycle to a cafe and try to stay there until I’ve done at least a thousand words. In the evening I do paperwork (and waste time online) and then I often write again from about 11 p.m. till 1 or 2 a.m.

What’s next?

I’m working on two books at the moment, though whether either of them will see the light of day I have no idea, since I appear to have mislaid my publisher. I’m revising the first draft of a YA fantasy novel, influenced (in tone at least) by the John Wyndham classic, The Midwich Cuckoos, and a wartime film called Went The Day Well. I wrote it purely as a labour of love and it was a dream to write: 130,000 words in less than four months, with no wrong turns whatsoever.

My other project is a more conventional standalone thriller, about a third of it complete, with an opening that’s inspired by a common fear of mine. I’m a very light sleeper, and I can’t begin to count the nights I’ve been woken by a noise outside, then strained to listen for what might be the sound of a break-in. This novel begins with a young man startled awake in the middle of the night. His wife is asleep beside him, and their new baby is in a cot by the bed. It takes him a minute to realise that there is an intruder – not just in the house, but there in the bedroom – and he wants something from them…

I’m going flat out to get both of those finished by the summer, with the intention of writing another book in the autumn – and maybe, just maybe, I’ll still be a writer this time next year.

And just for fun…

If you could be any fictional character….

Jack Reacher, for all the obvious reasons, though I’m tempted to cheat and nominate a real character instead. I’m currently reading Sylvie Simmons’s excellent biography of Leonard Cohen and wow, has he had an interesting life!

Any books you re-read?

There are lots of books that I intend to re-read, but I struggle just to keep up with the new books I’m always buying. The only exceptions are Graham Greene, who is probably the writer I admire most, and John Sandford, because if I’m ever struggling with my own writing and need reminding how it’s done, I’ll pick up a Lucas Davenport novel.

Your favourite film(s)?

In recent years nothing has impressed me more than The Dark Knight. It has a few flaws, but as a big budget blockbuster movie it’s in a class of its own. The story is so complex and well constructed, with far more sub-plots than most films would dare to attempt: to my mind it’s more like a novel than a movie – and more of a crime story than a superhero one. The only downside is that I haven’t really enjoyed a big action movie since – including, sadly, The Dark Knight Rises.

Your idea of a perfect day….

A drive with my family through beautiful Sussex countryside, a wander around a pleasant town that must include at least one bookshop. Buy a couple of books, then lunch and a pint or two in a country pub, and back home to read and eat chocolate. Bliss.

Bathroom crooner or karaoke?

Sadly my singing voice is far too appalling for either. Driving alone on a motorway is about the only safe venue.

Corduroy or denim?

Despite being at an age when I could acceptably indulge my inner geography teacher, I don’t actually own any cords, so denim it is.

Product DetailsRaven’s review of ‘The Catch’:

As I say at the beginning of Tom’s Q&A,  I am new to his writing and reading ‘The Catch’ which is a stand alone novel was an excellent introduction to this author. I found this story fairly zipped along, as we become embroiled in the life of Robbie Compton, whose one moment of intense stupidity has serious repercussions for those closest to him.

Robbie is an arrogant, irresponsible and headstrong individual whose greed and foolhardy actions, not to mention a  dangerous liaison with a gangster’s wife, draws him into the sights of not only a couple bent on revenge, but also into the path of a ruthless henchman. As the story unfolds, the bonds of friendship and loyalty become fragile with Dan and Cate, in particular, navigating the fallout of Robbie’s actions and both paying a personal cost, stretching the boundaries of their relationship with the charming yet scheming Robbie. The characterisation of all three is spot on as Bale bestows Dan and Cate with complicated and emotional personal lives that become all the more difficult due to Robbie’s actions, and as Tom references in his Q&A just how strong are these friendships in the present, as they all seem to have grown away from their younger selves and are clinging to the loyalties of the past. Bale’s firm grip on the characterisation resonates though other figures in the central plot who veer from seedy, to stupid, to calculating and scheming, and I would highlight in particular Patricia and Gordon Blake, who are after Robbie’s blood and whose motives in this form an interesting diametric in the plot. Are they really as bad as we think they are? They are assisted by Jerry, one of the most inept right hand heavies ever, and the brilliant Stemper, a self contained and utterly ruthless troubleshooter and a mass of contradictions that plays with the reader’s perception of him to some degree.

The plot is well-paced enough, but does rely at times on questionable coincidences that overall were forgiveable as the story arc did draw you in and hold you there. A good level of violence and bloodshed throughout, and some genuinely unexpected moments that catch the reader offguard.  There are quite entertaining touches including Stemper’s initial introduction to the book, the bumbling haplessness of Jerry, and Robbie’s fledgling career as a bored housewife’s gigolo in order to acquire an alibi, that add a nice humour to the book and peppered throughout with genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Indeed, Robbie is a very effective comedic foil to the teeth gnashing and exasperation of the dull and intense Dan, and Robbie’s confused sister Cate.

So, all in all, a good, well-executed, distinctly British thriller, that is certainly worth checking out, and having already purchased a copy of ‘Skin and Bones’ on the strength of this one,  I’m glad to have discovered a new author…

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(With thanks to Arwen at Random House for the ARC and as intermediary for my Q&A with Tom! )

Alexander 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.

 I usually judge how good a book is by the amount of time it takes to me to read the first 100 pages. Often I become distracted, wander off for coffee or snack raids to the kitchen or decide that yes, my apartment is a tip and needs tidying, leaving my book to one side to be picked up again later. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking, like me, that on initial inspection ‘The Andalucian Friend’ would be a Scandinavian crime novel very much like any other Scandinavian crime novel but you would be wrong…so wrong… So the fact that I read this in pretty much one sitting- all 446 pages- completely immersed in its myriad characters and beautifully interwoven plotting, bears testament to how good this book truly is.

I was instantly drawn into this tale of organised crime- a sordid world of  drug trafficking, gun-running and police corruption where any sense of morality can change in a heartbeat. This is a world dominated by money and power, with opposing criminal gangs jostling for control and the story flows effortlessly back and forth across Europe, as each tries to usurp the other leading to bloodshed and betrayal. The ‘bad guys’ are pitch perfect in their characterisation veering from the ruthlessness and wily intelligence of the really quite charming Hector Guzman, to the scheming and unflinching coldness of the Hankes heading up their German crime syndicate, and in direct competition with Guzman and his cohorts. Throw into the mix some truly psychopathic and coldblooded Russians and  Jens Vall, a Swedish gun-runner who falls foul of the said Russians, which reluctantly leads him into Guzman’s web and let the mayhem commence. There are shoot-outs, dismemberments in restaurant kitchens and double crossings at every turn which would be more than enough for any reader, but Soderberg has more strings to his bow, so read on to discover how he  rises above the bog standard organised crime yarn…

Into this mix comes Sophie Brinkmann and Lars Vinge, two  brilliantly conceived characters who add a depth and richness to the overall plot and whose experience in this sordid world fundamentally change them in ways they could not have imagined. Sophie is a nurse, a widow and a mother, just a normal fundamentally good woman, who becomes more and more tainted by her involvement with Hector Guzman, but who grows exponentially in character and strength as the plot progresses, through her immersion in this dangerous and violent world. Lars Vinge is a Swedish police officer, tasked with surveilling Sophie, whose moral and physical decline becomes such a potent part of the novel, as his obsession with her and his building distrust of his colleagues, draw him down into a world of addiction and bleakness that at times is truly heartwrenching. His suspicions are in no way groundless, thus unveiling the morally bankrupt and corrupt world of those tasked to catch and punish kingpins like Guzman, and whose greed and moral bankruptcy knows no bounds. Sophie and Lars completely held my interest throughout the novel, experiencing the highs, but generally more numerous lows, of their differing involvement in the violent power struggles of the warring criminals at great personal cost to them both.

 As I said in my introduction, this is unlike any other Scandinavian crime novel I’ve read as in all truthfulness this does not read as a Swedish crime novel per se, but more as a strongly all encompassing European style in characterisation, dialogue and atmosphere. Soderberg captures perfectly the subtle nuances in his characterisation of the differing European protagonists, but also writes with a lyrical style more prevalent in French crime fiction and the emotional intensity of an Italian crime novel, whilst interweaving the bleak psychological darkness of his Scandinavian counterparts. Interestingly his depiction of violence feels distinctly American, and there is one altercation that brings to mind a Tarantino-esque movie scene where no one could possible escape unscathed. The translation by Neil Smith, beautifully allows these contrasting styles to be self evident to the reader, and to my mind certainly, supports the effortless flow of the narrative.  Soderberg is supremely confident in linking these different styles together, and with a fairly large cast of dramatis personae to introduce,  ensures from the outset that the reader can easily navigate their relationships to one another as the story unfolds and their connections and conflicts are revealed. I am delighted that this is part one of a projected trilogy of books, because purely on the strength of this one this could be one of the most powerful trilogies ever produced in the crime genre. A remarkable debut novel that only bodes well for further books by this author.

‘The Andalucian Friend’ will be published 14 March 2013 by Harvill Secker

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

Introducing The Petrona, A New Annual Award For Scandinavian Crime Fiction

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