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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

June 2013

Suzanne Rindell- The Other Typist

Product DetailsNew York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin. Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid. But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession. But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?

Although not strictly speaking falling under the mantle of crime fiction, I think that The Other Typist has more than enough touches of the criminal for inclusion here.  Charting the day to day existence of the Rose Baker, a typist within a police precinct on the lower East Side in the 1920‘s, and the effects of her friendship with the gregarious Odalie- the other typist of the title- what unfolds is a tale of betrayal and murder with more than a twist or two along the way….

What I really liked about this book was the way that Rose’s dull, sepia-tinged life merely pivoting between the intensity and masculine world of the police department, and her down-at- heel lodgings with a war widow and bitchy room mate, is suddenly infused with colour and excitement. Her, at first, tentative friendship with the sparkling Odalie, is hampered by Rose’s very stiff and prudish attitudes to the world in general which leaves those who interact with her as perceiving her as something of a cold fish. However, as she gets sucked in deeper to Odalie’s less than legal after hours pursuits, and finds herself immersed in a world of parties and gaiety, it soon becomes obvious to us just why Odalie is so eager to court Rose’s friendship- despite their very obvious differences- and that Rose may have a very different side to her character after all…

From the outset this novel is incredibly engaging, plunging the reader headfirst into the very contrary environments in which Rose and Odalie’s friendship begins to take root. I found the depiction of their work life in the police department- taking notes and observing police interviews to type in endless reports- especially well-realised, stressing that they may only be lowly typists, but that their experience of the world within these confines was so exceptionally different to most women’s lives in this period.  There is at the beginning, a tangible atmosphere of trust between themselves and the central male figures in the police department- the Sergeant and the Lieutenant Detective- although Rose remains startling blind to her physical effect on the latter and treats him with utter disdain, as gradually the symbiotic relationship between police officer, typist and suspect is put under the microscope. As we discover by some of Rose’s actions later in the book, this relationship can be manipulated in many ways, and not everyone is beyond reproach, or as good at reading the other’s motives as they should in fact be, leading to a powerful denouement between the central characters.

As Rose and Odalie’s friendship blooms, Rindell unfurls a world of speakeasies and lavish parties, set against this time of Prohibition, that captures the sense of time and place perfectly. As Rindell acknowledges her writing is undoubtedly influenced by Fitzgerald, and one scene in particular at a weekend house party, smacks of Gatsby, but with the assured touch of an author assuming the style but not directly copying it. Particularly within the backdrop of this world, largely alien to Rose, the diametrics of her friendship with Odalie become incredibly interesting, as Odalie manipulates and courts the affections of Rose, inveigling her in a world of excess, frocks and louche behaviour that ends in murder. But all is not as it appears, and there is more to both women than meets the eye. I loved the characterisation of both women, who are fundamentally opposite, but linked in an insidious and ultimately destructive way. The increasingly unreliable narrative of Rose, lends a deeper sense of mystery to the whole affair, that cleverly  plays with the empathy of the reader as your loyalties switch constantly between them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of twisted loyalty resulting in murderous betrayal. From the perfect capturing of the period, to the locations, to the characterisation and the wonderfully placed reveals, this was a deeply satisfying read and I have no hesitation in recommending this to any reader who appreciates well written and sophisticated fiction, with a dark sting in the tale…

Suzanne Rindell is a doctoral student in American modernist literature at Rice University. The Other Typist is her first novel. She lives in New York City and is currently working on a second novel. http://suzannerindell.com/

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

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Thomas Mogford- Shadow of the Rock/Sign of the Cross (Spike Sanguinetti 1&2)

Product DetailsOne humid summer night in Gibraltar, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep. Solomon is on the run, accused of a brutal murder in Tangiers. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back. Spike travels to Tangiers to try to delay Solomon’s extradition, and there meets a beautiful Bedouin girl. Zahra is investigating the disappearance of her father, a trail which leads mysteriously back to Solomon. Questioning how well he really knows his friend, Spike finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of secrets, corruption and murderous lies.

I think the first thing that needs to be said is big respect to Mogford to managing to make a tax lawyer slick, sexy and dangerous- no mean feat and one he accomplishes with aplomb! Spike Sanguinetti is a truly compelling character from the outset with a terrier-like determination that leads him into dangerous territory defending his long time friend Solomon Hassan, who is facing a charge of murder. Despite his initial unwillingness to embroil himself in his friend’s trouble, but soon proves himself a stalwart defender as Hassan as a Jew faces trial in the religious cauldron of Tangiers, that would not ensure him a fair trial. As the action moves from Sanguetti’s home of Gibraltar to the sinister and dangerous environs of North Africa, an exploitative corporation, Dunetech, bent on raping the natural resources of a native desert region, proves itself a formidable foe to Sanguinetti’s investigation. As the layers of this corporation’s deceit is revealed, Sanguinetti must draw on his natural wiles and assured sense of morality, that reveals some uncomfortable truths in the faith of his friendship with Hassan. I could not help drawing comparisons with Michael Dibden’s creation Aurelio Zen in terms of Sanguinetti’s inherent charm and moral fibre, but Sanguinetti’s closest personal relationships with his ailing father and the mysterious Bedouin woman, Zahra added different layers to his character, showing his difficulties at the more emotionally complex aspects of the human experience. An interesting and multi-faceted character that carried the central thrust of the book with ease, and more importantly with a sense of believability.

Mogford’s writing is superb and what struck me most was the wonderfully compressed descriptions of people that spoke volumes about the person without overblown description. He describes a taxi driver as a ‘small bug eyed man with pictures of small bug-eyed children gummed to his glove department.’ A projectionist is described as having ears ‘that broke the sheen of his hair like two dolphins breaching’ and my particular favourite, a policeman in Tangier is described as having ‘a face, long and grey, like a lolly sucked dry of flavour’. Perfect little snapshots of a person that fire the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. The story is also imbued with a natural wit from the quotations of a hotel receptionist who seems to neither eat nor sleep- ‘Life without friends is like couscous without salt’ and the verbal sparring of Sanguinetti and his stubborn father. What Mogford holds back from his description of his protagonists, he then lavishes upon his description of location and history, but controlling this so it does not overpower the reader. Using two locations, that to me certainly were entirely unfamiliar, Mogford paints a picture of Gibraltar and Morocco, that not only brings both locations visually alive, but also gives the reader a sense of the troubled and complex multi-racial histories of both countries, and the issues that loom large in their current state from identity and migration to the exploitation of the indigenous populations. Weighty issues are seamlessly melded in to what is both a compelling thriller, infused with wit, and yet also a controlled depiction of the greed and excesses of mankind. A highly impressive debut.

Product DetailsA domestic dispute has escalated into a bloodbath. When his uncle and aunt are found dead, Spike Sanguinetti must cross the Mediterranean to Malta for their funerals, leaving the courtroom behind. But the more he learns about their violent deaths, the more he is troubled by one thing: what could have prompted a mild-mannered art historian to stab his wife before turning the knife upon himself? Reunited with his ex-girlfriend, Zahra, Spike embarks on a trail that leads from the island’s squalid immigrant camps to the ornate palazzos of the legendary Knights of St John. In Malta, it seems, brutality, greed and danger lie nearer to the surface than might first appear.

In the second outing for the debonair but troubled lawyer, Spike Sanguinetti, I picked up on a palpable change of tone and feel to this book.  From the brutal opening of the murder of Sanguinetti’s aunt and uncle in Malta, necessitating Sanguinetti and his ailing father to travel and deal with the deceased’s personal affairs, this novel was altogether darker and more circumspect in terms of  the investigation, the character of Sanguinetti himself and the overall feel of the book. The more light-hearted aspects of its predecessor  Shadow of the Rock were largely absent and there was a significantly less incorporation of wit and humerous interplay between the characters, perhaps reflecting that the events were much more close to Sanguinetti personally than those of the previous book. Having had his relatives murdered by person or persons unknown, the intensity of his father’s illness becoming more evident (and maybe the chance of Sanguinetti falling prey to this hereditary disease himself) and the reappearance of Zahra, forging a new life for herself away from Sanguinetti, the emotional toll on our erstwhile hero is much more in evidence. This perhaps suppresses the more jocular aspects of Mogford’s writing, but in truth, I rather enjoyed the apparent difference in style between the books, and thought this darker tone heightened the sinister and quite brutal path that the story took. As the story plays out, and the facts behind his relatives’ murders come to light, there is also an insidious additional storyline on the exploitation of female migrants that puts Zahra into huge danger, following her work at an immigrant’s camp. A bold but necessary depiction of the plight of women seeking a better life for themselves, but so at risk by those who seem to be aiding their escape. I thought this was both a powerful and well-realised strand of the story, that made for uncomfortable reading, but was good to expose in this context.

As with Shadow of the Rock, Mogford’s sense of location and atmosphere is without doubt another compelling facet to the cut and thrust of the central narrative.  By shifting the action to Malta, as he had done using Gibraltar and Morocco in the first, Mogford has centred on a country with a multi-layered history both in terms of religion and demography, fuelling the book with additional points of interest for the reading, but not resorting to a travel guide commentary of the locations and historical anomalies of this fascinating location. Malta has a rich and varied history that Mogford unveils piece by piece as Sanguinetti traverses this island nation in pursuit of the guilty and each location is vividly brought to life from the comfortable neighbourhood of his family dwelling, to the claustrophobic migrant camp and to the less than salubrious Marsa where the seamier side of Maltese life resides.

Building on the strength of his excellent debut  Shadow of the Rock, Mogford has produced a subtly different but equally enthralling follow-up, with an intriguing ending- one that I guarantee like me, will have you eagerly awaiting the next instalment…

Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for Time Out and as a translator for the European Parliament and the UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set in the Mediterranean region. Shadow of the Rock introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client. The sequel, Sign of the Cross, came out in April 2013, and the third book in the series will be published in April 2014 : www.thomasmogford.com follow on Twitter @ThomasMogford

Thomas Mogford Talks To Crime Time: http://www.crimetime.co.uk

(I bought my copy of Shadow of the Rock and received an ARC of  Sign of the Cross from Bloomsbury)

Peter James- Dead Man’s Time

Product DetailsA vicious robbery at a secluded Brighton mansion leaves its elderly occupant dying, and millions taken in valuables. But, as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, heading the enquiry, rapidly learns, there is one item, of priceless sentimental value, that her powerful family care about, above all else. And they are fully prepared to take the law into their own hands, and do anything, absolutely anything, to get it back. Within days, Grace finds himself following a murderous race against the clock that leads him from the shady antiques world of Brighton, across Europe and back in time to the New York waterfront gang struggles of 1922, chasing a killer driven by the power of one man’s greed and another man’s fury.

Right, time for a startling confession. I have to date only read one Peter James book- shame on me.  So when I was approached to read and review Dead Man’s Time I was looking forward to the opportunity of re-entering D.I. Roy Grace’s world albeit with a seven book hiatus. In a way this has worked in my favour as I cannot have been said to be influenced by the other books, nor can this give me cause to compare this one to its predecessors in terms of style and character development, so it was really quite nice to read this in a vacuum unhindered, as I sometimes am, by the weight of those books in a series that have gone before!

I think was an interesting authorial experiment on the behalf of James as the action in the book pivots between the UK, Spain and America to accommodate the needs of the plot. The book opens in 1920‘s New York, as a young boy’s mother is killed and his father is spirited away by some ne’er-do-wells, immediately piquing my interest, but we are quickly settled back into present day Brighton, with Grace investigating a particularly heinous home invasion and the murder of its elderly occupant. It gradually unfolds that these two events either side of the Atlantic are related, and as the dead woman’s brother,  nonagenarian Gavin Daly- a man with his own shady past- seeks his personal revenge on those responsible, Grace becomes embroiled in a tale of greed and murder that inevitably comes a little too close to his own doorstep. I don’t know if it’s just a personal foible on my part, but I did feel that as a reader I had the uncomfortable sensation of treading water a little, during certain parts of the UK based part of the book. There seemed to be a quite laborious journey to who was behind the whole robbery and why, and how by some dubious coincidences Grace’s nearest and dearest come to be threatened, along with a swift trip to Marbella by Daly’s odious son Lucas, and oafish hard man sidekick, to deal with some miscreants and a random diversion to Germany for Grace’s ex-partner Sandy to vent at her therapist. But, fear not, the book increases in excitement one hundred fold when Gavin Daly plus odious son Lucas, the ineffable Roy Grace and a couple of his colleagues all hotfoot it to America for the final denouement. I loved this section of the book, bemoaning the fact that it couldn’t be longer, and loved the interplay between Grace and his American counterparts, the depiction of New York and its environs, and the brilliant Gavin Daly wreaking his revenge for the sins of the past. Excellent, but a long time in coming and rudely interrupted by Grace’s irritating other half, Cleo- despite being showered by police protection after a storm in a teacup incident- making him come home. No. Let him stay a bit longer to hang out with the cool cops!

 As the previous paragraph shows I did have issues with some of the supporting cast, but I do like Roy Grace- he’s so thoroughly decent and upstanding which proved a nice counterpoint to my personal preference of the more maverick and tortured souls who reside in law enforcement. I like his personal mantra that “he would never stop fighting his corner for the murder victims. He would work around the clock night and day to catch and lock up the perpetrators. And mostly, so far in his career, he had succeeded.” A good cop with a prodigious sense of right and wrong, ingrained with a wry humour and a natural empathy to those around him. I found the focus on his tedious home life a little too intrusive and disempowering throughout, but thought his character really came to the fore when involved in the cut and thrust of the investigation, and when interacting with suspects and colleagues.

The other standout character for me was the wily Gavin Daly, a man defined by his father’s disappearance in the era of Irish gangs in New York (the history of which was seamlessly woven into the central plot), and his lifelong ambition to find the truth behind his father’s disappearance and his final resting place. I thought this back story and the characterisation of Gavin himself gave some real backbone to the overall narrative arc, and his steely determination made him an admirable adversary not only for those who had sinned against him but in his cat and mouse relationship with Grace.

So despite a couple of quibbles, overall I quite enjoyed my return to the world of Peter James with Dead Man’s Time. I felt quite at home in the company of Roy Grace- our thoroughly decent detective- and thankfully the American aspects of the book, both in the terms of gang history and the relocation of the action to New York- lifted this from, for me personally,  a slightly average read, to a slightly infinitely more exciting one. Not bad- not great.

Peter James was educated at Charterhouse, then at film school. He lived in North America for a number of years, working as a screenwriter and film producer before returning to England. His novels, including the Sunday Times number one bestselling Roy Grace series, have been translated into thirty-five languages, with worldwide sales of thirteen million copies. Three novels have been filmed. All his books reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research, as well as his fascination with science, medicine and the paranormal. He has also produced numerous films, including The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. He divides his time between his homes in Notting Hill, London, and near Brighton in Sussex. Visit his website at www.peterjames.com . Or follow him on Twitter @peterjamesuk Or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/peterjames.roygrace

 

(With thanks to Sophie Ransom at Midas PR for the ARC)

Mark Billingham- The Dying Hours

Product DetailsA cluster of suicides among the elderly. Such things are not unknown to the police and the deaths are quickly dismissed by the police as routine. Only one man is convinced that something more sinister is taking place. However, no one listens to Tom Thorne anymore. Having stepped out of line once too often, he’s back in uniform and he hates it. Patronised and abused by his new colleagues, Thorne’s suspicions about the suicides are dismissed by the Murder Squad he was once part of and he is forced to investigate alone.  Unable to trust anyone, Thorne must risk losing those closest to him.He must gamble with the lives of those targeted by a killer unlike any he has hunted before. A man with nothing to lose and a growing list of victims. A man with the power to make people take their own lives.

It was a very real sense of anticipation that I embarked on reading The Dying Hours, the latest instalment of the hugely successful D.I. Tom Thorne series.  Having been disappointed by the standalone, Rush of Blood, and bemoaning the hiatus in this series,  I was itching for Billingham to return to our troubled detective Thorne with his thorny (excuse the pun) professional and personal life…

Our maverick hero returns, busted back to uniform after the destructive events of Good As Dead and he’s mad as hell. Caught in an impasse between his uniformed and CID colleagues, with neither side appreciating his presence, Thorne quickly irritates them all further having noticed that a spate of seemingly straightforward suicides is anything but. Thorne adopts his traditional determined stance becoming increasingly frustrated with the antipathy of his colleagues and their stalwart position that there is not a murderer at work, and that these are indeed just suicides. Enlisting the albeit reluctant help of some his former colleagues- well, the ones that still deign to give him the time of day- Thorne and his able sidekick, the marvellous pathologist Phil Hendricks, seek to get to the bottom of the mystery by fair means or foul. This is where Billingham excels in this series, with the sharp interplay of Thorne and his colleagues that supports what, to my mind, was quite an un-engaging plot. I didn’t particularly care who was committing the crimes nor in the motivations of the exceptionally dull killer, so most of my pleasure was derived from Thorne and his cohorts, putting themselves at professional and personal risk as Thorne bullishly seeks to keep his investigation under the radar, despite the problems this causes. Billingham’s razor sharp dialogue and injection of wit is clearly in evidence again, and to my mind what the book lacks in plot, is more than made up for in the interaction between Thorne and others in his professional sphere. Thorne has no compunction in getting them into scrapes and I enjoyed their moral dilemmas as they seek to disengage from their renegade former boss, and naturally the verbal tussles between Thorne and his mate Hendricks are always a crowd pleaser!

On the personal front, Thorne has embarked on an affair with the comely police officer, Helen Woods, although this relationship is clearly delineated by their separate abodes and the awkwardness caused their differing shift patterns. I actually found Helen’s role in the book little more than window dressing, with only an arbitrary focus on her own career and her simply being used as a foil for Thorne’s frustrations when she eventually finds out what he’s been up to. With her employment in one of the most stressful police investigation units I got a wee bit bored with her naval gazing as to whether she was up to her job after recent events, and just wanted her to get involved in a juicy case of her own to support her former characterisation by Billingham as a ballsy and determined police officer, not just a woolly mother in need of a good shake, and hopefully to step out from the shadow of Thorne.

So criticisms aside, I for one, breathed a sigh of relief at the return of Tom Thorne, and despite this having a small feel of a ‘bridging’ novel about it with the intimation that Thorne may well be up to something entirely more interesting in the next book, I found this a satisfying enough read. Carried by Billingham’s natural skill for dialogue and some solid characterisation my final verdict would be good- but not great.

Mark Billingham has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel, and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a Sunday Times bestseller, and Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were made into a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne. Visit his website here: http://www.markbillingham.com

(With thanks to Nigel at Little Brown for the ARC)

A Summer of American Mysteries

Attention my fellow American crime fiction fans! Open Road Integrated Media, have created this nifty little infographic that can be your guide to summer reading and to fill out those ever expanding reading wish-lists even more!

The graph shows 64 mysteries, thrillers, and crime stories from every state in the good ole United States of America.

Handpicked by the mystery team these tales of murder, revenge, and destructive ambition will take you on a wild ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific: from Carl Hiaasen’s sleazy South Florida heists, to James Ellroy’s dark and greedy streets of Los Angeles, you’ll never look at America in quite the same way. For more details visit: http://openroadmedia.com/

Best American mysteries Open Road Media infographic

John Mantooth- The Year of the Storm/Shoebox Train Wreck

When Danny was fourteen, his mother and sister disappeared during a violent storm. The police were baffled. There were no clues, and most people figured they were dead. Only Danny still holds out hope that they’ll return. Months later, a disheveled Vietnam vet named Walter Pike shows up at Danny’s front door, claiming to know their whereabouts. The story he tells is so incredible that Danny knows he shouldn’t believe him. Others warn him about Walter Pike’s dark past, his shameful flight from town years ago, and the suspicious timing of his return. But he’s Danny’s last hope, and Danny needs to believe…

Having read an intriguing review of The Year of The Storm by Chris Irvin at HouseLeagueFiction.com*, I was delighted to also be approached by John Mantooth to read and review his book. As regular visitors to my blog know my other great passion in terms of reading is American fiction, so very much in the vein of Michael Koryta, Wiley Cash and Tom Franklin, TheYear of the Storm,  not only conforms to the tenets of contemporary American fiction, but also manifests itself as a seamless fusion of crime inflected with a tinge of the supernatural.

This is a beautifully controlled piece of prose which struck me as a very powerful examination of the validity of memory, as adult Danny looks back on the distressing and ultimately life forming events of his early teens through therapy.  There is almost a gauze-like effect to the prose, as the text is imbibed with references to how reliable memory is, not only on the part of Danny, but also of grizzled Vietnam vet Walter, whose interaction and relationship with Danny form the heart of the book. Walter acts as a kind of shadow puppet to Danny, as both have experienced traumatic events in their formative years, and the sanity of both seems to rely on the symbiotic nature of their relationship as their insecurities and fears come to light. The role of memory and reality looms large throughout, cleverly playing tricks on the characters and our perception as readers, as to the inherent truth of these men’s lives, and the events that have shaped them.

As is my usual habit, I will not refer too much to the plot as the multi-layered feel to this book and some pretty startling reveals are yours to discover with as much pleasure as I did. What I will say though, is that as the events of both protagonists past and present come to light, Mantooth addresses some incredibly powerful issues throughout the book that are brought to light by the characters’ closest personal relationships- grief, family, isolation, addiction, abuse,  homophobia, Asperger’s and the ties that bind humans together under pressure and in unlikely circumstances. However, due to the skilful control of Mantooth’s prose, these seem somehow understated making them resonate more powerfully in the lyrical intensity of the prose- you are not assailed by them and the gradual introduction of them in certain contexts make them all the more affecting.  The story is compelling and thought-provoking in the truest form of the Southern Gothic genre, with a feel of impending violence threatening to consume those in its shadow at any moment, and the tension is palpable throughout but with the overarching confusion of what is real and what is imagined. This is not only beautifully written and engaging, but having finished reading it a few days ago, I find I keep thinking about certain scenes from time to time, which in my book is evidence of a thoroughly good read to remain in my consciousness. The Year of the Storm is a  rare find indeed.

John Mantooth is an award-winning author whose short stories have been recognized in numerous year’s best anthologies. His short fiction has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Crime Factory, Thuglit, and the Stoker winning anthology, Haunted Legends (Tor, 2010), among others. He’s represented by Beth Fleisher of Clear Sailing Creatives, and he’s a founding member of the semi-notorious writing group Snutch Labs. His first book, Shoebox Train Wreck, was released in March of 2012 from Chizine Publications. His debut novel, The Year of the Storm, is slated for a June 2013 release from Berkley. He lives in Alabama with his wife, Becky, and two children. Visit his website at http://www.shoeboxtrainwreck.com

*Read Chris Irvin’s review here: http://houseleaguefiction.com

If you like short stories in the vein of Frank Bill, Ron Rash et al I would definitely recommend this collection as well. In terms of characters, a true mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, but most notably a vivid exploration of  fundamental human experience through their lives and interactions with others.

Product DetailsThese sixteen genre-bending stories are set against a backdrop of sudden violence and profound regret, populated by characters whose circumstances and longings drive them to the point of no return . . . and sometimes even further. A young girl takes a journey to see what is really hidden within the belly of an ancient water tower. A high school senior learns about defiance on a school bus and witnesses a tragedy that he won’t soon forget. Six survivors in an underground bunker discuss the possibility of Armageddon being an elaborate hoax. Two brothers take a walk on the dark side of the wheat field and discover that some bonds are stronger than death. And in the title story, a former train conductor must confront the ghosts of his past while learning that it’s not the dead who haunt the living, but the other way around. Traversing the back roads of the south and beyond, these stories probe the boundaries of imagination, taking the reader to the fringes of a society where the world looks different, and once you visit, you won’t ever be the same.

(With thanks to John Mantooth for the ARCs of The Year of the Storm and Shoebox Train Wreck)

(A Belated) Best of the CrimeFest 2013

At last I feel well enough to embark on a round-up of my CrimeFest experience-yes, slightly later than planned- and having been entertained  by some amazing articles by other bloggers and authors (links below) which are well worth checking out. I shall endeavour to keep it brief as I attended 20 panels/interviews  and don’t want to bore you all to death with every detail, but here are my highlights…

SOME TOP PANELS :

WHO IS EVERYMAN AND WHAT IS HE DOING IN MY THRILLER- Chris Ewan (moderator) Simon Toyne, Simon Kernick, Louise Millar, Michael Ridpath. An extremely interesting discussion on the role of instinct vs rationality in the realm of crime fiction characterisation, and how ‘ordinary’ protagonists can be imbued with the ability to act in extraordinary ways when they or their nearest or dearest are under threat. Best line- Simon Toyne on decamping to France to write- “ I didn’t want to sit in my spare room in my pants for six months trying to write a book”- no indeed not…

DEATH OVERSEASStav Sherez (moderator) Thomas Enger (Norway) Valerio Varesi (Italy) Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland) K. O. Dahl (Norway) The role of psychogeography in crime fiction and how location directly affects the language and events related to that particular environment. What was particularly interesting was Dahl’s revelation of having been a taxi driver in Oslo, and how what he witnessed as the all seeing but largely ignored part of people’s everyday lives gave him an unique perspective on Oslo and its inhabitants. On a similar theme I also enjoyed UNDERBELLY- THE GRITTY SIDE OF THE STREET Craig Robertson (moderator), William McIlvanney, Antonin Varenne, Tim Weaver, Michael Sears which explored similar themes of violence in major cities with a brilliant unfolding of murder statistics that took on an almost competitive edge as to whose city was the most violent! And likewise another exploration of the city in MAJOR CITIES, MAJOR CRIMES- William Ryan (moderator) Barbara Nadel, David Jackson, K. O.Dahl, Pierre Lemaitre, in which the wonderfully ebullient Lemaitre described with some gusto how he channels his natural rage at the world into violently despatching people in his books.

SERIAL KILLERS- WHY DO WE LOVE THEMCaro Ramsay (moderator) Matt Hilton, Xavier-Marie Bonnot, David Mark, Steven Dunne. A discussion around the hypothesis that serial killers are not the epitome of evil but the banality of evil, and the symbiotic relationship between the killer and his pursuer. A very interesting debate on how the mental state of the detective is changed and oftentimes warped in some way by their pursual of a killer. Also a lively exploration of the modern thriller genre in  GUNS FOR HIREBarry Forshaw (moderator) Jeremy Duns, M. R. Hall, Zoe Sharp, Simon Toyne which drew to my attention some old school thriller writers that had directly influenced the panel, but also juxtaposed with how dated some of these now appeared. General consensus was that a good thriller raised the feeling of fear and suspense in the reader, but needed a firm foundation of good characterisation and fast moving plot to achieve this.

Also a special mention to the encyclopaedic brain of Barry Forshaw for his talk on British crime films which has led to a burgeoning film wish list of some great movies that I had no knowledge of, but am now determined to seek out! So much more than Get Carter and Brighton Rock

SPECIAL WELL DONE TO MODERATORS EXTRAORDINAIRE:

STAV SHEREZ & CHRIS EWAN- excellent work chaps!

 

WHAT I SPENT MY POCKET MONEY ON:

Despite the inordinate number of books currently sharing my home I couldn’t resist buying Craig Robertson’s Witness The Dead  and the three titles in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw series- Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties. I also picked up James Oswald’s second novel (following the excellent Natural Causes) The Book of Souls. Bit of a Scottish theme there I can’t help feeling….

THE THREE MUSKETEERS: Thanks to the lovely folks at Quercus I got the opportunity to attend a dinner with a host of their authors, including the brilliant Antonin Varenne (whose book Bed of Nails was my best crime read last year), Pierre Lemaitre, author of the thrilling Alex, and Xavier-Marie Bonnot whose Voice of the Spirits I also highly recommended. All three authors were incredibly entertaining and I learnt a great deal about, not only the motivations as authors, but also the nature of the book trade and readers in France. Also I met the lovely Barbara Nadel, the slightly bonkers David Mark, Colin Cotterill and Martin Edwards and think I can safely say that a good night (and wee small hours) was had by all!

MOST ENTERTAINING PANELLISTS:

David Mark, Kevin Wignall and Zoe Sharp. Hilarious.

I had a fabulous time at CrimeFest and it was lovely to meet some of my cyber friends at last. Met up with fellow bloggers Mrs Peabody, Sarah of Crimepieces, Rhian of It’s A Crime (or a mystery…) Karen from EuroCrime, and Crime Thriller Girl Steph. Smashing! Thanks to the incredibly relaxed and informal atmosphere of CrimeFest, I also managed to meet a host of authors, some of whom I’ve reviewed and others completely new to me. Special thanks to Stav Sherez for his entertaining conversation on all things Americana, Quentin Bates and Ragnar Jonasson for an Icelandic education, to Steve Mosby, Anya Lipska , Simon Toyne, William Ryan, Antonin Varenne, Kevin Wignall, David Mark,  Mari Hannah, David Jackson, Paul Finch, Nick Quantrill, and many many more. Big thanks also to the organisers and delegates of this year’s shindig for a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining time. Can’t wait for next year…

READ MORE ABOUT CRIMEFEST 2013 FROM THE MARVELLOUS:

Mrs Peabody Investigates-Dispatches-From-Bristol-crimefest-2013/

CrimepiecesCrimeFest Day 1, CrimeFest Part 2

Detectives Beyond BordersCrimeFest 1, CrimeFest 2, CrimeFest 3, CrimeFest 4

Do You Write Under Your Own NameCrimeFest 2013 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Graskeggur (aka author Quentin Bates) –CrimeFest Report: All Over Bar the Tweeting

Mystery FanfareCrimeFest 2013 Award Winners (all except The Petrona)

SherlockologyHighlights from CrimeFest – Creating Sherlock

Vicky NewhamMy Experience of CrimeFest 2013

Alison GrayCrimefest-30th-May-2nd-June-2013

A quick update…

vector silhouette sick ravens on white background stock photographyAs some of you are aware I have recently returned from hospital following major surgery. I’ve been home three days now, sore, bruised and liable to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, but apart from that in good spirits and feeling positive.

Many thanks for the get well messages I have received via email and Twitter and nice to know you all care so much. It’s appreciated 🙂

Needless to say my recovery will be quite slow, but luckily my ability to keep reading marvellous books is unimpaired- hurrah! Hopefully normal service will be resumed here soon as I haven’t even told you all about last week’s CrimeFest yet…seems so long ago now, let alone some more splendid books I have read.

Will be back here soon when I’m feeling a little better so see you all then…

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

Time for my slightly delayed round-up of last month’s reading and what a month it was, packed with blockbusters and stellar crime debuts that fuelled an excellent month’s reading. With many of these attracting 5* reviews from me, the accolade of Book of the Month was an extremely hard decision- but we’ll come to that in a bit… 

Books reviewed on Raven Crime Reads:

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

Anya Lipska- Where The Devil Can’t Go.

Dan Brown– Inferno.

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Mark O’Sullivan/Crocodile Tears & Matt McGuire/Dark Dawn.

Michael Clarke- All Day Every Day

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Sean Lynch- Wounded Prey

William Ryan- The Twelfth Department.

Will Jordan- Sacrifice

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

So with much deliberation I can announce that my Book of the Month is… Dan Brown…ha…only kidding…

No, by a whisker my favourite read of the month was:

Mark O’Sullivan/Crocodile Tears

Product DetailsA very impressive first crime novel from O’Sullivan with a compelling and highly empathetic central police protagonist. Cut through with a sharp wit, engaging dialogue, and more than fulfilling its remit as a strong police procedural I very much look forward  to the continuance of this series featuring the excellent DI Leo Woods. A grand read indeed and perfect for any Irish crime fiction devotee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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