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!