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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

May 2013

Will Jordan- Redemption/Sacrifice (Ryan Drake 1 & 2)

Product DetailsRyan Drake is a man who finds people who don’t want to be found. Once a soldier in the British Army, he now works for the CIA, leading an elite investigation team that tracks down missing agents. But his latest mission – to free a prisoner codenamed Maras and bring her back onto US soil within forty-eight hours – is more dangerous than anything his team has attempted before. Despite the risks, the team successfully completes their mission, but for Drake the real danger has only just begun. Faced with a terrible threat, he is forced to go on the run with Maras – a veteran agent scarred by years of brutal imprisonment.  Hunted by his former comrades and those willing to do anything to protect a deadly secret, Drake is left with no choice but to trust a dangerous woman he barely knows. For he has only one chance to save those he loves and time is running out…

A high-octane and fast paced tale of derring-do set in the world of elite investigation and black-ops that had me hooked throughout. The hero of the piece is Ryan Drake, a wonderful amalgamation of thriller favourites, Geordie Sharp, Nick Stone and ‘Spider’ Shepherd but with a slightly softer centre as he finds himself at the whim of his immediate superiors and with an additional threat to his nearest and dearest. Tasked with liberating a former CIA agent, Maras, from a harsh prison in the snowy wastes of Siberia, Drake and his team come to realise that this mission is not all that it first appears to be and forces Drake on the run with Maras as the depth of this conspiracy becomes clear.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is Jordan’s grasp of characterisation as Drake is a compelling and empathetic protagonist  with a strong moral sense but who seeks to retain his professionalism as a soldier. Maras, named after the goddess of war, also proves to be an intriguing and exceptionally well-drawn character and is probably the finest kick-derriere heroine of the thriller genre I have read. She is incredibly driven, consumed with a thirst for revenge and not above using her feminine wiles to manipulate Drake to achieve this. Likewise, the characterisation of members of Drake’s disparate team and his oily superiors is equally balanced and I particularly liked Drake’s nemesis Dietrich who Drake reluctantly adds to his team and the way their rocky history comes to light.

The plot moves quickly through a series of unforgiving terrains as Drake and Maras go on the run for reasons that I will not reveal as this would totally spoil this read but needless to say Jordan’s depiction of  these locations is utterly authentic and I particularly enjoyed the Siberian section getting a real sense of the isolated and brutal confines of a frankly despicable place of incarceration. Jordan has said that having undergone a military bootcamp in the past, igniting his passion for military hardware and history, that he has undertaken much research in the US and Europe becoming something of an arms expert and this is self-evident throughout the plot. There is a meticulous attention to weaponry and military procedures throughout, which is not only informative, but reveals much of this secret world of military warfare.

Overall a very creditable debut and bodes well for a long running series featuring this new action-hero on the block  and perfect for readers looking for something to supplement the works of other established writers in the military thriller genre…

Read Adrian Magson’s review at SHOTS here

WILL JORDAN- SACRIFICE (RYAN DRAKE 2)

Product DetailsAfghanistan, 2008. A Black Hawk helicopter carrying a senior CIA operative is shot down by a surface-to-air missile, its lone passenger taken hostage by a fanatical new insurgent group. Knowing this man holds information vital to the on going conflict, the CIA bring in Ryan Drake and his elite Shepherd team to find and rescue their lost operative. But nothing is what it seems, and within hours of arriving in the war-torn country, Drake and his team find themselves caught in a deadly conflict between a brutal terrorist warlord and the ruthless leader of a private military company. And lurking in the shadows is a woman from Drake’s past determined to settle old scores.

Sacrifice sees the return to action of Ryan Drake- our tough guy hero with the soft centre- in another fast-paced adventure  to satisfy any fan of the military or conspiracy thriller. Opening with the spectacular shooting down of a helicopter in war torn Afghanistan, ferrying a particularly important American operative,  Drake and his team are despatched to deal with the aftermath and to track down the missing agent kidnapped from the crash site. It soon becomes clear to Drake and his team that shady forces are at work and that this mission is nowhere near as straightforward as it seems, leading to some pretty impressive altercations and an adrenaline fuelled race for the truth…

Once again, Jordan thrusts the reader straight into the harsh terrain and bleak surroundings of an active war-zone, perfectly capturing the heat and starkness of Afghanistan. As in Redemption, Jordan never allows the reader to lose sight of the location and atmosphere which underpins the action throughout. Likewise, the same level of detail regarding the  actions of the Army and Black-Ops outfits is absolutely perfect, and Jordan’s inherent knowledge of military hardware pepper the story educating the reader but without becoming too know-it-all, while other writers in this genre find this a difficult balance to achieve. As regards plotting, the story unfolds at a pace and I liked the setting up of Drake against a former nemesis and also the reappearance of a rather striking character from the first book that unsettles our hero. Although the plot plays out in a rather similar way to the first book, this didn’t overly concern me as having read many McNabs and Ryans, there is a distinct similarity generally in this genre, but Jordan has an added weapon in his arsenal…

I think what sets Jordan apart from his military thriller counterparts, is that not only does he have a charismatic but utterly focused professional soldier as his central character, who is appealing to both genders, but that once again there is a brilliant balance with female characters who pack a punch, but do not become overly stereotyped. There are three such characters in this book, who not only provide a good foil to their macho counterparts, but are well drawn enough that their characters are balanced between their professional or rogue roles, while still retaining their essential sense of femininity alongside their kick-ass doggedness. In my wide reading of this genre, I have not encountered a male author yet with such convincing female characters who does not resort to stereotypes, so thumbs up for Jordan on that one!

Another assured book in this compelling series then, with thrills, spills and skulduggery at the highest levels of the US security departments. Packed with high-octane action scenes and perfectly placed militaristic detail there is much to entertain any reader of this genre. Only question is- what will Ryan Drake become embroiled in next?

Will Jordan was born in Fife, Scotland in 1983. After graduating high school he moved on to university, gaining an honours degree in Information Technology. To support himself during his degree he worked a number of part time jobs, one of which was as an extra in television and feature films. Cast as a World War Two soldier, he was put through military boot camp in preparation for the role. The experience piqued his interest in military history, and encouraged him to learn more about conflicts past and present. Having always enjoyed writing, he used this research as the basis for his first thriller, Redemption. He was able to supplement this with visits to weapon ranges in America and Eastern Europe, as well as visiting some of the locations described in this book : www.willjordanbooks.com

Follow this link to read my  Interview with Will Jordan

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(With thanks to Arwen at Random House for the ARCs)

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William Ryan- The Twelfth Department

Product DetailsMoscow, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer. It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power. When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professor’s dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD. And then his son Yuri goes missing . . .

 There are few pleasures in life akin to immersing yourself in a great read, and after the brilliant series opener The Holy Thief, followed by the equally compelling The Bloody Meadow (seek them out if you haven’t already), I settled down for another trip to the claustrophobic and suspicious world of Stalinist Russia. So how did The Twelfth Department measure up to its predecessors?

Building on the strength of this already established series, Ryan not only gives the reader the requisite amount of tension and skulduggery that we have come to expect from this excellent series, as Korolev finds himself at the bidding of two masters investigating a dastardly plot involving the brainwashing of dispossessed youths, but also skillfully interweaves an altogether more personal and introspective strand to Korolev himself. The central plot displays its usual strength, as the main theme addresses the necessity for the mind control of the average Soviet citizen to adhere to the rules and constraints of the totalitarian regime. Building on the palpable tension and inherent suspicion of others that such a society produces, Ryan constructs a world where every statement made and action taken must be in accordance with being a model citizen and woe betide those who speak or act of turn. Finding himself at the behest of the feared NKVD, Korolev must endeavour not only not to displease his masters, but also retain his essential humanity in what unfolds as a particularly unsettling investigation that strikes close to his heart and home.

What makes this a different read to the first two books is the addition of Korolev’s son Yuri to the mix, on a long overdue visit to his father, and this enables Ryan to expose the more personal fragility of Korolev, which had only been addressed previously in his tentative relationship with Valentina (who shares his apartment with her young daughter). As Korolev refamiliarises himself with his son, aspects of Yuri’s schooling weigh heavily on him, again drawing on the mind control theme of the central plot, and their relationship seems stilted at first before the layers of tension begin to break down. Ryan balances their strangeness to each other beautifully, and we begin to see the softness that lays beneath both their veneers. As Yuri becomes a pawn in the plot, Korolev must balance his natural role as protector and father with the needs of his professional demeanour to uncover the truth behind a series of deaths in the scientific community, and the disappearance of other young boys. Likewise, the father/son theme has an impact on another character at the heart of these books, as Count Kolya (the leader of the criminal gang The Thieves) also turns to Korolev when his own son disappears, demonstrating for both men the intrinsic value of family aside from their public personas as detective or criminal. As Ryan unfolds these other layers to Korolev and Kolya, the book illustrates the depth and control of Ryan’s characterisation, supported by a whole host of other equally well-defined protagonists connected to both Korolev and the murder victims.

So with exceptional plotting, the assured building of atmosphere and the seamless interweaving of historical detail, supported by a more introspective feel to the characterisation, Ryan has once again produced a superlative read. As I say in the introduction this is a series that deserves attention, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading these yet you are in for a treat…

William Ryan is an Irish writer living in London. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and the University of St Andrews and worked as a lawyer before taking up writing full-time. His first novel, THE HOLY THIEF, was shortlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, The CWA John Creasy New Blood Dagger and a Barry Award. His second novel, THE BLOODY MEADOW, was shortlisted for the Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Visit William’s website here: www.william-ryan.com 

Read Sarah Ward’s review here: http://crimepieces.wordpress.com and by Rob Kitchin at: http://theviewfromthebluehouse.blogspot

With huge thanks to William for the sneak peek of The Twelfth Department during its development- it was an honour- and also a special mention to Katie at Macmillan…

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Sean Lynch- Wounded Prey

Product DetailsIt’s time to finish what he started… A young girl is snatched in broad daylight from outside her school and later found brutally murdered and hanging from a tree. When recently retired San Francisco Police Inspector, Bob Farrell, sees this on the news, he realises his worst nightmare has just come true. The same brutal killer a government agency stopped him from putting away twenty years before is once more on the loose. As the killer wreaks a trail of blood and destruction across North America, Bob Farrell sets out to track him down. But Farrell is not playing by the rules any more than the killer is, and soon the FBI have both of them in their sights…

Knowing my predeliction for reading crime books written by those who have experienced this world at first hand, Sean Lynch was an absolute find for me! With not only experience as an Infantryman in the US Army and a long career in law enforcement, Lynch is perfectly placed to imbue this novel, a brutal and bloody tale of the pursuit of a psychopathic killer, with a frighteningly accurate depiction of the essential natures of both killer and pursuer- and yes, this is definitely not one for the more nervous nellies among you, so be warned. Personally, I couldn’t fault this visceral, violent and completely enthralling thriller and here’s why…

Opening with the abduction of a young girl, resulting in the death of her teacher, and bringing the abductor into an altercation with an off-duty rookie cop, Kevin Kearns, Lynch instantly immerses us into a world of sickening violence, compounded by the later discovery of the child’s body in horrific circumstances. Kearns finds himself villified by his colleagues and the media with his failure to stop the initial abduction, setting him against the buttoned up and eminently dislikeable FBI agents who become involved in the case. Kearns is a great character, a subtle balance of naivity and grit, with an overwhelming compunction to nail this killer, who has bruised him mentally and physically. Throw into the mix,  Bob Farrell, a grizzled retired police inspector and without a doubt one of my favourite characters of recent years, who recognising the traits of a killer who had slipped through his hands some years previously, takes Kearns on a road trip he will never forget in pursuit of one Vernon Slocum- abductor, murderer and psychopath supreme. Each member of this distinctly unholy trinity is brilliantly drawn and the interplay between Kearns and Farrell is particularly engaging, as eager beaver Kearns is constantly shown up by the cunning wiles of his older compatriot. Farrell is the archetypal ex-cop, a borderline alcoholic who smokes too much and has little personal life to speak of, but who possesses a great line in bare-faced cheek, thinking nothing of impersonating others and embarking on  underhanded courses of action in a bid to apprehend Slocum. Equally our interpid duo’s prey, the wonderfully evil Slocum, is a great creation, utterly reprehensible, perverted and no stranger to the more creative punishments one human being can inflict on another. Cracking!

As the plot moves our three pawns in the story from one state to another, the pace is unrelenting and you will find yourself all too reluctant to draw away as this was one of those books that cries out ‘go on- one more chapter- you know you want to’. It definitely induces in the reader a slightly queasy fascination with a killer’s mind, whilst causing a quandary in us into the cause of nature vs nurture in the formulation of this particular killer’s psyche. Easily comparable in style and pace to writers like Chris Carter, Daniel Blake and Jack Kerley, Lynch is another welcome addition to the world of the serial killer thriller, and I for one can’t wait for the next bout of darkness and depravity hitting our shores next year!

Just like Bob Farrell, the main character in WOUNDED PREY, Sean Lynch is a real life recently-retired cop. He was born and raised in Iowa and migrated to Northern California s San Francisco Bay Area, where he served for nearly three decades as a municipal police officer. During his Law Enforcement career, Sean served as a Sector Patrol Officer, Foot Patrol Officer, Motorcycle Officer, Field Training Officer, S.W.A.T. Team Officer, Firearms Instructor, S.W.A.T. Team Sniper, Defensive Tactics Instructor, Juvenile/Sexual Assault Detective, and Homicide Detective. He concluded his career at the rank of Lieutenant and as Commander of the Detective Division. Find out more about Sean Lynch- and the more light-hearted aspects of his bio here: http://www.seanlynchbooks.com

Wounded Prey is published in the UK by Exhibit A Books 6.6.13

(I received Wounded Prey in Kindle-format courtesy of Exhibit A Books via www.netgalley.com )

Michael Clarke- All Day Every Day

Product DetailsDetective Inspector Pete Kennedy is still celebrating his latest successful case when he’s pulled out of the pub and back onto the toughest streets in London. A teenager has been shot dead and all the signs are it’s gang-related. Kennedy’s beat is the nightmare world of north London housing estates where boys kill and are killed for coming from the wrong postcode. Soon he has a prime suspect in his sights but the gang he is up against won’t give up without a fight – even if that means taking the battle to a police officer’s own family. As Kennedy tries to build a case in the face of a wall of silence, he encounters the next generation of street criminals – not yet in their teens, but already preparing to follow their older brothers on the road to riches, prison or death. And as the war between two gangs escalates, Kennedy is drawn into confrontations that take him way beyond the police rule book, and leave him confronting the toughest choices a policeman – or any man – can face.

Following my resolution to read more ‘indie’ authors. and currently only being available in ebook format, ‘All Day Every Day’, was definitely a smarter than average crime read that holds promise in reaching a wider readership. Drawing on his experiences as a seasoned crime reporter, Clarke has skilfully constructed a portrait of both modern London  and the demands that the insidious rise of gang culture places on the Metropolitan police force. Charting the interactions between an investigating team and a group of black youths firmly esconsed in gang life, Clarke brings to life a world of threat and violence that despite the bounds of fiction, is a world we all know to be shockingly real.

Opening with a lively and self-congratulory celebration of a successful court case, DI Kennedy and his team have little time to enjoy themselves, being drawn back onto the streets to investigate a gang-related shooting. What unfolds is a dual-layered storyline, which brings both the police and the gang members into sharp focus, as Clarke adroitly portrays the professional life of Kennedy, a determined police officer whose personal life is invaded by his involvement in the case, causing him to flout the rules of his profession, in counterbalance with the day-to-day lives of the gang members he pursues. In relation to the latter, Clarke offers an inherently sympathetic portrayal of young men and boys, having been sucked into a world of violence, hemmed in by their home environments and the pressure of their peers. Clarke balances the violence and immorality of their everyday existence with the underlying theme of lives wasted as some characters have the propensity for a life well lived, but unable or unwilling to fulfil their potential, having become  trapped within the confines of their everyday existence. The characterisation depicting both sides of the fence therefore is extremely well-defined, and more importantly believable, adding a real strength to the narrative as a whole.

The first third of the book in terms of pace and dialogue is extremely taut as the police embark on their pursuit of the murderers of a black youth, bringing them into the familial and social circles of those they pursue. I did feel that the book lost a little of its vitality in the middle section of the book as there was a little too much focus on the more mundane activities of the gang memebers, and that the intitial tautness was lost a little, but nothing that could not be remedied by some tighter editing, and a slightly reduced page count. This is in no way a criticism of the standard of writing in the book as a whole, as in terms of location, plot development and characterisation there is much to recommend it, and the tension of the central investigation is palpable and carried successfully throughout. Consequently, I was impressed with this debut novel, and would have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

Michael Clarke was born and brought up in north London, where after university he became a journalist, working for news agencies, magazines, newspapers and the BBC. He covered crime giving him a fascination with the police and the criminal fraternity. All Day Every Day draws on Michael Clarke’s experience as a crime reporter for Police Review, the BBC and the Daily Mail, to create a chillingly authentic picture of life on the front line in 21st century London.  He is a fan of classic crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy – and a wide range of other books, along with TV crime shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Killing. The only literary prize he has won is the Brent Libraries Short Story Competition (Under 10s category) for his work ‘The Time Machine’. It has yet to find a publisher…

(I was sent an e-book of  All Day Every Day by the author to read and review)

New Irish Crime Fiction- Mark O’Sullivan/Crocodile Tears & Matt McGuire/Dark Dawn

I’m always delighted on discovering some cracking new Irish crime fiction and neither of these disappointed. Covering both Northern Ireland and Eire between them, I’m sure any fan of this genre will enjoy either or both. So read on…

 MARK O’SULLIVAN- CROCODILE TEARS

Product DetailsIn the freezing winter of 2010, with the Irish recession in full flow, property tycoon Dermot Brennan is found dead at his Dublin home. Leading the murder investigation is fifty-six-year-old Detective Inspector Leo Woods, an embittered former UN peacekeeper with a drug habit, a penchant for collecting masks and a face disfigured by Bell’s Palsy. DI Woods meets his match in Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, a bright and ambitious but impetuous young policewoman with a troubled family. A host of suspects quickly emerge – Brennan’s estranged son; two of the dead man’s former business associates with grudges against him; a young man whose life was ruined after his house, built by Brennan, was flooded; an arrogant sculptor who may or may not have been having an affair with Anna Brennan (and with their neighbour); and an ex-pat American gardener. Together, Woods and Troy weave their way through this tangled web to get to the shocking truth.

I was incredibly impressed with this inaugural crime offering from Mark O’ Sullivan (perhaps better known as a children’s fiction writer and author of Enright– a fiction novel) and aside from a couple of breaks for coffee, this was pretty much one of those read in one sitting books. Veering more towards literary crime fiction, O’Sullivan’s creation , DI Leo Woods is an absolute gem of a character. Afflicted by a condition known as Bell’s Palsy, Woods is both self-deprecating and a shrewd judge of human nature, accrued through his study of people’s reactions to this perplexing condition. I know crime authors always strive to imbue their detectives with an original quirk to their character, and yes, I did raise an eyebrow at this one, but it works magnificently well in the make-up of Woods’ moral and physical character. Woods is also imbued with a positively Ken Bruen-esque wit, that had me chortling out loud throughout the book, helping to relieve the perfectly wrought tension of the central murder investigation- a murder investigation that is well played out and convincing within the narrative. Woods is a truly multi-layered character, not only shaped by his physical condition but also by previous events from his service in the Balkans and what he witnessed there and a real strength of the book is watching the interplay with him and his colleagues, along with those he investigates. An exceptionally good crime novel all round and I am very much looking forward to encountering DI Woods again.

Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.

MATT MCGUIRE- DARK DAWN (DS O’NEILL 1)

Product DetailsBelfast. January 2005. Acting Detective Sergeant John O’Neill stands over the body of a dead teenager. The corpse was discovered on the building site of a luxury development overlooking the River Lagan. Kneecapped then killed, the body bears the hallmarks of a punishment beating. But this is the new Northern Ireland – the Celtic Tiger purrs, the Troubles are over, the paramilitaries are gone. So who is the boy? Why was he killed?  O’Neill quickly realises that no one cares who the kid is – his colleagues, the politicians, the press – making this case one of the toughest yet. And he needs to crack this one, his first job as Principle Investigator, or he risks ending up back in uniform. Disliked by the Chief Inspector and with his current rank yet to be ratified, O’Neill is in a precarious position.

Matt McGuire’s debut crime thriller is definitely worth seeking out, particularly if you like authors such as Stuart Neville or the style of Brian McGilloway. The focus of this tale is Belfast, as McGuire skilfully depicts a city playing catch-up in its regeneration (in comparison to say Liverpool or Newcastle), but just below the surface there lurks the shadow of the Troubles and the less salubrious world of drug dealers, financial corruption and vigilantism. From the opening image of a young man’s body lying on a desolate piece of wasteland, you know from the outset that this will be a grim tale of the sordid underbelly of a city dying to reinvent itself and McGuire captures this perfectly throughout. His central detective Acting DS John O’Neill is both credible and intriguing, as he is in the unenviable position of being saddled with a difficult murder investigation in order to prove his worth to his superiors, who have a derogatory view of him personally. As the investigation branches out, O’Neill finds himself in deeper trouble, threatening both him and the possibility of progressing in his career. I found little to fault in terms of location, characterisation and, most importantly, plotting and Dark Dawn held my attention throughout revealing itself as a solid police procedural that truly reflected the problems of Belfast society and the danger of disaffected youths looking to make a less than honest living, whilst always retaining a look backwards as to how these problems have developed. A great debut and an author to watch…

Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.

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(With thanks to Transworld Ireland and Constable Robinson for the ARCs)

Dan Brown- Inferno

Product Details‘Seek and ye shall find.’ With these words echoing in his head, eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no recollection of where he is or how he got there. Nor can he explain the origin of the macabre object that is found hidden in his belongings. A threat to his life will propel him and a young doctor, Sienna Brooks, into a breakneck chase across the city of Florence. Only Langdon’s knowledge of hidden passageways and ancient secrets that lie behind its historic facade can save them from the clutches of their unknown pursuers. With only a few lines from Dante’s dark and epic masterpiece, The Inferno, to guide them, they must decipher a sequence of codes buried deep within some of the most celebrated artefacts of the Renaissance – sculptures, paintings, buildings – to find the answers to a puzzle which may, or may not, help them save the world from a terrifying threat.

So it’s now three days post-publication of Dan Brown’s new blockbuster, and having seen the plethora of publicity, reviews and comments across the media and the web, with varying degrees of vitriol, Mr Brown is stirring up as much controversy as ever. As a fledgling bookseller, I found myself in possession of a proof of a book called The Da Vinci Code which I read, found it poorly written and declared that it wouldn’t come to anything. With millions of copies sold across the globe and a successful movie franchise later, these words have surely come back to bite me on the derriere, and so this is my first foray back into the world of Dan Brown since then…

In one of my favourite quotes from an Amazon reviewer ever, they said that their reading experience of a book was very much like being tied to a chair with things being thrown at their head, and Inferno did produce in me a very similar feeling. Throughout the course of the book you are constantly assailed with factual information, covering everything from Florentine architecture, Venetian history, the science behind population control and of course every nuance of Dante’s great work itself. Thus, in certain passages, particularly those set in Italy, the control of the tension of the narrative is lost when trying to process all this information. For example, during what should be tense and nail-biting ‘chase’ scenes, the story rather assumes the pace of the protagonists taking a recalcitrant dog for a walk, insisting at stopping at every lamp post and bush, to gather the information contained there. Likewise, much of the description of location and history could be garnered from a good travel guide or history book and merely serves to slow down the plot or as I would tentatively suggest, border on the realms of showing off how much research Brown has done. As the ‘action’ moved from one location to another I trembled with dread at another slide show or lecture about Langdon’s surrounds, bringing back memories of tedious schoolroom days. I feel as a reader, that if half of this information had been edited out, there would have been the makings of maybe quite a compelling thriller and narrative arc that would hold the reader’s interest much more effectively.

We all know that Dan Brown isn’t a particularly good writer, that rather undoes the inclusion on his CV of being a lecturer of English and Creative Writing, so characterisation and believable plotting is rather thin on the ground here. Sometimes this doesn’t matter too much in thriller writing, but labouring under the weight of the factual information as previously mentioned, I feel that these two aspects of the story needed to be much more compelling to underpin the factional quality of the book. Langdon and his obligatory female cohort haul themselves around every location under the threat of perilous danger, but neither character is particularly well-realised and the apparent quirks in each persona feel awfully forced and more to the point unbelievable, and I found my empathy with both was in short supply. Every ‘baddie’ in the plot is straight out of central casting and with the stunningly obvious reveals at the end it all feels a bit contrived. To give Brown some credit the central premise of the book directed by the worrying plight of the ever increasing population growth across the globe, is a great starting point for a conspiracy thriller, but unfortunately it unveils itself with a preachy tone and the final denouement is frankly ludicrous into how a virus would react on a general population.

So what I have learned from my return to the fiction of Dan Brown? Well, first of all that in the realms of conspiracy thriller writing there are far better authors out there writing fast-paced, credible and well-characterised books. However, I do know now in some intricate detail every landmark, statue and artwork within the boundaries of Florence and Venice. I am now fully cognisant of the most important passages of Dante’s masterpiece, and how we are all doomed, Mr Mainwaring, doomed if our population growth isn’t reined in somehow. But most importantly I have learned that, however much I didn’t like this book, there will be hundreds, nay millions of readers that will positively lap it up and pour oodles of money not only into Mr Brown’s expansive pockets but, more importantly, into the publishing business thus ensuring the funds of supporting other better writers, so it’s not all bad is it?

Download an extract.

Visit the Dan Brown website to find out where you can buy Inferno all over the world.

   

Fancy meeting Dan Brown?

Dan Brown at the 2013 Dublin Writers Festival, Ireland Don’t miss Dan’s first event in Europe to promote Inferno on Monday, 20th May at 8.00 pm. Book your ticket now.

Dan Brown at the Masonic Hall, London – in association with Waterstones Waterstones is proud to present an exclusive evening with Dan Brown on Tuesday, 21st May at 7.00 pm. Book your ticket now.

WIN a signed copy of The Lost Symbol! Know someone who isn’t signed up to the Dan Brown newsletter? Tell them to register before June 30th 2013 for the chance to win one of 20 SIGNED hardback editions of The Lost Symbol. Sign up now on the Dan Brown website.

THE ROBERT LANGDON SERIES:

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(With thanks to Transworld for the reading copy)

Anya Lipska- Where The Devil Can’t Go

Product DetailsA naked girl has washed up on the banks of the River Thames. The only clue to her identity is a heart-shaped tattoo encircling two foreign names. Who is she – and why did she die? Life’s already complicated enough for Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ for East London’s Polish community: his priest has asked him to track down a young waitress who has gone missing; a builder on the Olympics site owes him a pile of money; and he’s falling for married Kasia, Soho’s most strait-laced stripper. But when Janusz finds himself accused of murder by an ambitious young detective, Natalie Kershaw, and pursued by drug dealing gang members, he is forced to take an unscheduled trip back to Poland to find the real killer. In the mist-wreathed streets of his hometown of Gdansk, Janusz must confront painful memories from the Soviet past if he is to uncover the conspiracy – and with it, a decades-old betrayal.

Fantasyczny! That would be my resounding verdict on this gripping debut by Anya Lipska, set both in the Polish community of East London with a interesting sojourn back to Poland itself. This is one read that definitely rises above the simple classification of police procedural in Lipska’s capable hands, and proves itself to be a multi-layered and culturally interesting reading experience as well.

I think what I liked most about the book was the unveiling of a culture and way of life that I had very little knowledge of. Unafraid to confront the less savoury aspects of Polish society, but illustrating the parallel affection and respect for Polish culture, Lipska lays bare the traditions and mindset of an immigrant community where its inherent traditions are strongly adhered to, but not at the expense of adapting to life in its adopted city. The book is peppered with references to the intrinsic qualities of Polish culture, politics and history and what I loved is that although its evident how much Lipska knows about Polish life  she didn’t fall into the writer’s trap of crowbarring in too much factual detail, or give an air of ‘showing off’ how much she knows, and personally I felt the balance between fact and fiction was perfectly weighted. From the smattering of original Polish words, to food, to religion and so on,  and a greater exploration of Poland’s tempestuous political history, I found this insight into Polish life significantly enhanced my enjoyment of the book, when juxtaposed with the central murder mystery itself.

Janusz Kiska is a powerfully constructed character, reflecting perfectly the duality of the immigrant experience being tied to the needs and demands of his community, but also acutely aware of the concessions that need to be made residing in a foreign city. When tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young Polish waitress, Janusz proves himself to be a man of great honour with a terrier-like determination to track her down. In the course of his unofficial investigation, Janusz finds that painful memories of his pre-London life are reawakened, and an ill-fated trip back to Poland immerses him in a political conspiracy amongst the highest echelons of power. Janusz is an extremely empathetic character despite his gruffness,  and a man that you would absolutely want on your side in times of trouble.  I liked the way that Lipska used the character of the jocular and verbose Oskar as a foil to the natural solemnity of Janusz’s demeanour. Oskar is hilarious, foul-mouthed and a total liability, lifting the whole mood of the book whenever he and Janusz cross paths and I enjoyed their robust verbal sparring which proved an indicator of the depth of the friendship. Likewise, Janusz also comes to the attention of an eager young detective, Natalie Kershaw, investigating the death of a young girl. Kershaw again is a well-realised character, with a perfect balance of intuition and naivety, desperate to prove her credentials as a police officer, but at times subject to impulsive and dangerous actions that annoy her superiors. At first she has an inherent distrust of the charming Janusz, with the development of their relationship over the course of the book being nicely handled, and more importantly has an air of credibility, reflecting the differing constraints of their roles as civilian/police. I liked the way that Kershaw is subject to the demands of proving herself as a female detective in an extremely male-dominated workplace, and the occasional exposure of chinks in her armour exposing her tendency to doubt herself in matters of the personal.

So absolutely no qualms from me about recommending this as a good read with a perfectly weighted balance between fact and fiction, raising the stakes of this debut police procedural. You will not be disappointed…

Image of Anya LipskaAnya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit www.wherethedevilcantgo.com  and Anya writes an occasional blog on The Literary Platform:  www.theliteraryplatform.com/tag/anya-lipska You can also follow Anya Lipska on Twitter @AnyaLipska

(With thanks to Anya and HarperCollins for the ARC)

 

Quentin Bates- Chilled To The Bone (Gunnhildur Mystery 3)

Product DetailsWhen a shipowner is found dead, tied to a bed in one of Reykjavik’s smartest hotels, sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir of the city police force sees no evidence of foul play but still suspects things are not as cut and dried as they seem. And as she investigates the shipowner’s untimely – and embarrassing – demise, she stumbles across a discreet bondage society whose members are being systematically exploited and blackmailed. But how does all this connect to a local gangster recently returned to Iceland after many years abroad, and the unfortunate loss of a government laptop containing sensitive data about various members of the ruling party? What begins as a straightforward case for Gunnhildur soon explodes into a dangerous investigation, uncovering secrets that ruthless men are ready to go to violent extremes to keep.

Chilled To The Bone is the third instalment of this gem of a series by Quentin Bates. Although not a native Scandinavian, Bates’ experiences of living in Iceland, and his absorption of the history and culture illuminate his carefully constructed and utterly compelling Icelandic thrillers. As a reader I have thoroughly enjoyed the books to date, and Bates is also something of a godsend for booksellers as an equally comparable recommendation for fans of Yrsa Sigurdardottir or Arnaldur Indridason, so I’m quite the fan!

I was hooked quite early on this series with Frozen Out which introduced us to the marvellous character of Police Sergeant Gunnhildur Gisladottir- a no-nonsense, witty and intelligent woman always juggling the demands of her professional and personal life. I have always been impressed by Bates’ characterisation of her as he seems to have an intrinsic feel for the quirks of the female gender, and find her character consistently convincing.  She is defined by her professionalism and absolute determination to get to the heart of the investigation, but carries an aura of calmness and self-deprecation which instils confidence in her colleagues and victims alike. Throughout this case, Gunnhildur once again draws on her inherent ability to detect a crime below the surface of the ordinary, and to adopt a terrier-like tenacity in the face of some powerful and influential individuals. As for Gunnhildur’s private life, I particularly liked the more personal slant of this book as she is greeted with the prospect of ‘double’ grandmotherhood through the sexual shennanigans of her son, Gisli, who has conveniently buggered off back to sea, leaving his mother to deal with his expectant women! As with Bates’ previous books, there is a wonderful unforced humour throughout, giving the book a lighter feel than some of its Scandinavian counterparts, but achieving an effective balance with the gripping murder investigation.

Opening with a really quite amusing death by bondage and a thieving dominatrix, Bates then allows the story to ripple out to expose some serious weaknesses and ineptitude within government departments as a laptop containing politically sensitive material disappears. Gunnhildur is tasked with the investigation of both, but as the case unfolds some very nasty secrets come to light, and she discovers she is not alone in her quest,  as a shady and threatening individual is equally keen to get his hands on the errant laptop. What unfolds is a well-paced and consistently engaging story that travels nicely along with no irritating inconceivable plot twists or coincidences giving rise to a entirely satisfying police procedural. A good recommendation if you like a slice of Scandi crime with a good plot, a twist of wry humour and an engaging and plausible detective.

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

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

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

April has been a busy month with a host of great new  releases for us ardent crime fiction fans- so much so that I couldn’t squeeze them all in, so expect some more April books to be reviewed in May. Along with the quantity of books, this has been a month of many 5* reads and it has been tremendously difficult to settle on one favourite!

Books reviewed on Raven Crime Reads:

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Luke Delaney- Cold Killing

Russ Litten- Swear Down

David Mark- Original Skin

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Paula Daly– Just What Kind of Mother Are You?

Sabine Durrant- Under Your Skin

Sarah Pinborough- Mayhem

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Hakan Nesser– The Weeping Girl

Simon Toyne-The Tower

Lauren Beukes- The Shining Girls

And so to the grand envelope-opening moment to decree that Raven’s Book of the Month for April is hereby awarded to:

RUSS LITTEN-Swear Down

Product DetailsFor pure writing style and the beautiful balance of two narratives, defined by their utter plausibility and evocation of ‘voice’ in the reader’s experience, this just had to be my book of the month. Litten’s grasp of character, and his control of pace and plotting is breathtaking, and this is one of those books that budding authors should read as a master class in how to write. A superb read- I can say no more…

And to close April I also read:

Jolene Babyak- Breaking The Rock: The Great Escape From Alcatraz:

Product DetailsAt 15, Jolene Babyak (Eyewitness on Alcatraz) was living on Alcatraz with her warden father when four prisoners famously attempted escape in 1962, digging through walls and disappearing forever on a homemade raft all except Allen West, who was caught, and to whom Babyak attributes the initial plan.  Babyak recounts factors that made the attempt possible including crumbling facilities (due in part to salt-water toilets, whose leaking pipes eroded the concrete walls), new four-man dining tables (providing the escapees with privacy), a closed-down armed-guard tower and endless, painstaking planning by the prisoners. Numerous interviews with inmates and guards who knew the escapees, extensive investigation and Babyak’s personal interest in and access to the events distinguish this account.

A thoroughly readable and well-researched account of one of the most famous and to this day mystifying jailbreak in history. There are some nice  moments where Babyak succeeds in portraying to the reader the characters of the escapees gained from her experience living on Alcatraz, and which serves to heighten the seeming impossibility and danger of their escape plot. A good account of an endlessly studied truly great escape, infused with an insider’s attention to detail and sense of location.

Keith Nixon- The Fix

Product DetailsIt’s pre-crash 2007 and financial investment banker Josh Dedman’s life is unravelling fast. He’s fired after £20 million goes missing from the bank. His long-time girlfriend cheats on him, then dumps him. His only friends are a Russian tramp who claims to be ex-KGB and a really irritating bloke he’s just met on the train. His waking hours are a nightmare and his dreams are haunted by a mystery blonde. And to cap it all, he lives in Margate. Just when Josh thinks things can’t get any worse his sociopathic boss — Hershey Valentine — winds up murdered and he finds himself the number one suspect. As the net closes in Josh discovers that no one is quite what they seem, including him, and that sometimes help comes from the most unlikely sources…

A strange read this one as I’m still unsure whether I actually enjoyed it or not! There are undoubtedly some good laugh out loud moments, and this is definitely an original and quirky crime caper, but I found that I had to keep giving the author the benefit of the doubt in his portrayal of the male characters with their rather unconstructed views on women. I like to think that they were so deliberately dislikeable that Nixon was merely drawing on artistic licence, but because of their inherent nastiness I found it difficult to care or empathise with any of them. Equally, the main female protagonist was just as risible and slow-witted as her male counterparts, so at least in this way there was a continuity in the characterisation. I did, however, love the ex-KGB Russian tramp who has turned mugging into one of the easiest career choices ever,  and he pretty much drove me on to see how his role developed within the story. Personally for me a bit of an unbalanced read, but with enough sparks of enjoyment to hold my interest.

An altogether interesting and varied month of reading across the globe and through very different historical time periods- a good month indeed!

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