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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

September 2013

Louise Phillips- The Doll’s House

People say that the truth can set you free. But what if the truth is not something you want to hear?
Thirty-five years ago Adrian Hamilton drowned. At the time his death was reported as a tragic accident but the exact circumstances remained a mystery. Now his daughter Clodagh, trying to come to terms with her past, visits a hypnotherapist who unleashes disturbing childhood memories of her father’s death. And as Clodagh delves deeper into her subconscious, memories of another tragedy come to light – the death of her baby sister. Meanwhile criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is called in to help in the investigation of a murder after a body is found in a Dublin canal. When Kate digs beneath the surface of the killing, she discovers a sinister connection to the Hamilton family. What terrible events took place in the Hamilton house all those years ago? And what connects them to the recent murder? Time is running out for Clodagh and Kate. And the killer has already chosen his next victim . . .

Despite Louise Phillips’ first book Red Ribbons receiving some acclaim and having been shortlisted for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year, I must admit that she is a new author to me. Always keen to discover new Irish crime fiction, I have once again joined the party late having read The Doll’s House– the second in her series featuring criminal psychologist Kate Pearson and DI O’Connor, aiming to unravel the implications of a decades old suspicious death in relation to the investigation of a current one…

I would say from the outset that if you enjoy the psychological thrillers of writers in the same vein as Sophie Hannah, Erin Kelly, et al that this novel sits very comfortably within this genre. With an exceptionally strong female protagonist pit against the introspective and grizzled detective, Phillips brings their professional and personal relationship to the fore with both characters being the lynchpin to the central plot. It is so important for a writer to construct credible characters that you genuinely feel engaged with, to counterbalance the demands of the plot, and this balance is difficult to achieve with sometimes one of the two falling into the shadows. However, Phillips achieves this with aplomb, and I felt totally at home with both Pearson and O’Connor from the beginning and enjoyed the interesting dynamics at play in their relationship and the events of Pearson’s personal life that unfold throughout the book as a wife and mother. Likewise, the surrounding cast tainted by the murder investigation proved an engaging study in the exploration of family and the ties of loyalty, with the character of Clodagh- a woman seeking to uncover the truth of her past through regression-being a particularly effective protagonist in the central storyline.

As Phillips skilfully intertwines the timelines of a thirty-odd year suspicious death with the very contemporary murder investigation, the actions moves swiftly and seamlessly between the two, and explores how past events get suppressed in the memory of the characters so enmeshed in the current murder case. This for me was the most satisfying aspect of the book as the exploration of the human psyche and the suppression of memories by the consciousness loom large within the plot. We see how criminal psychologist Kate Pearson delves into the psychological impulses of a killer attempting to unravel the sinister events perpetuating themselves in a tangled web of deceit and murder. Likewise, the notion of the psychological repression of memory being explored through the story of Clodagh, adds another interesting dimension to the whole affair. Apparently an overheard conversation about mental hypnosis, sowed the seed for Phillips’ exploration of the subject initially, and she has even attempted regression herself to see how hypnosis can return you to a state of pure memory, but how the subconscious tries to bar the way to realising this. Hence, the enjoyment of this novel to me was not only in the traditional remit of crime fiction to follow the investigation of a murder, but to bring to my attention a new facet, in this case the world of the subconscious, that enriched the reading experience overall. I will definitely be seeking out Phillips’ first novel Red Ribbons on the strength of this one, and am delighted to have discovered a new and highly readable author.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

(With thanks to Hachette Ireland for the ARC)

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Alexa Camouro- Dixon Grace 1.9.7 Hamburg

DIXON_GRACE_197_HH_finSeptember 2011: Dixon Grace, an Australian of Indian descent, is living in Hamburg. She shares a flat with her boyfriend, and teaches English to local workers. She’s beautiful, smart and stylish. And she’s a dangerous international spy. Or is she? Dixon wakes one morning to find her flat being raided by the SEK , the German equivalent of SWAT. Her boyfriend is nowhere to be seen and she is under arrest for the crime of corporate espionage. Whisked away to Hamburg’s State Criminal Police HQ, she is held in an interrogation room awaiting her fate. Dixon and her boyfriend, Ben, both work at Flussair, an international aeroplane manufacturer. Dixon is a part-time, freelance teacher at the plant, with no access to important documents: yet, she is accused of having stolen closely-guarded navigation and guidance technology for aeroplanes that can also be used with weapons and military drones. As she is questioned by the hopelessly inept officer Gerd Schultze and his sharper, more sensitive superior, Babette Korner, Dixon’s story begins to unfold. Ben’s boss, a highly respected Flussair senior, has been murdered, and there seem to be strangely revealing elements in Dixon’s past. All accusations point to her. And yet, she insists, it is all a terrible misunderstanding…

Every so often a random approach from a publisher to review a book does uncover a real gem, and this is certainly true of Alexa Camouro’s debut- an international fast paced spy thriller that delivers more than a few surprises along the way, and I, for one am jolly glad to have embarked on this high-octane tale of spies, lies and espionage.

With my fondness of the James Bond school of espionage and thrills and spills, I was quite taken with this. There’s a wonderful quote from Camouro on her feisty female protagonist where she says she wanted to “create a character James Bond would fall in love with, but who didn’t need him at all. And who, in the process, could break his heart, kick his arse and steal the important documents.”- and she succeeds. What was so refreshing about the book was the character of Dixon herself, who not only has a razor sharp delivery of sassy one-liners, but who comprehensively defies those tasked with breaking down her cover story, which they believe to be untrue. It was good to see Camouro playing with the traditional roles of gender within this particular genre, and to so perfectly turn the expectations of this style of book so convincingly on its head.  The book operates across several timelines and two continents as we follow Dixon’s back story, from her childhood and fledgling police career in Australia to her current employ as an English teacher working within an industrial company in Germany. I would say that you need to pay attention as each chapter moves at speed between different dates and locations, filled with some skilful red herrings and fully enveloping the reader in their own kind of detection. Nothing is quite as it seems. As the story delves into her personal and professional relationships there are some wonderful vignettes, delving into her family life and her journey both physically and metaphorically to her current status as a person under suspicion of industrial espionage. The scenes with Dixon and her interrogators are particularly effective as instead of good cop/bad cop we bear witness to inept cop/slightly less inept cop and Dixon manipulates the situation, and how much of her true self she reveals brilliantly throughout these intense yet witty face-offs.  The plot unfolds at an upbeat pace, and I liked the cutting between the key players in the affair, and how all roads do seem to lead to Dixon via the less than honest world of international industry- a world of shady deals and murderous intent. But is our wisecracking, ass-kicking heroine as culpable as the authorities believe she is or is she just a smarter than average teacher caught up in a horrible case of mistaken identity and false accusations? I guarantee you will love the journey to find out! Funny, fast and furious, this is a debut novel that has a universal  appeal to any lover of spy fiction, and I’m more than keen to read what Dixon does next. Great fun.

Read an interview with Alexa Camouro here: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk

Dixon Grace 1.9.7 Hamburg is published 1st October (Rippple Books)

(With thanks to Tabitha at Rippple Books for the ARC)

Massimo Carlotto- At The End Of A Dull Day

Pellegrini, the unforgettable hero of The Goodbye Kiss, has been living an ‘honest’ life for eleven years. But that’s about to change. His lawyer has been deceiving him and now Giorgio is forced into service as an unwilling errand boy for an organised crime syndicate. At one time, Giorgio wouldn’t have thought twice about robbing, kidnapping and killing in order to get what he wanted, but these days he realises he’s too old in the tooth to face his enemies head-on. To return to his peaceful life as a successful businessman he’s going to have to find another out…

With The Goodbye Kiss being one of my favourite crime thrillers of all time, I relished the opportunity of catching up with its mesmerising protagonist Giorgio Pelligrini in this new tale from Massimo Carlotto. Having been exonerated of a murder charge, and now running a restaurant in the guise of a respectable businessman, what I can promise you is that Pellegrini has lost none of his edge, despite seemingly living a blame free life and going straight. Do not be fooled. There’s about as much chance of him avoiding trouble, as there is of him entering the priesthood, and as his criminal cohorts try to pull the wool over his eyes and play him for a fool, Pellegrini decides the time is right to remind them of what a force he can be, “The time had come to remember who I once was, what I’d done to get ahead. I’d shot my best friend in the head, I’d betrayed, cheated, raped, robbed, and eliminated anyone who got in the way of my reaching my objective.” Pellegrini’s seemingly upstanding circle of business associates, reflect the inherent motif in Italian crime fiction, as being out for what they can get, be it politically or financially, and Pellegrini has been attending to the more carnal needs of his clientele through his involvement in sex trafficking. As he begins to uncover the betrayal and double crossing of his less than honest associates, the hardcore Pellegrini returns and his vengeance is brutal and exact, and Carlotto once again cannot be accused of pulling any punches in his depiction of Pelligrini’s swift and vicious revenge.

This is Italian hardboiled noir at its best, from the punchy dialogue, the great cast of characters and the simpering attentions of the spineless women who hang on Pellegrini’s every word or his rationed bouts of Giorgio-love. As one of his unfortunate women comments, “the only way to love you is to abandon yourself and plunge down into the abyss that you dig for every woman that lets you get near her.” He demeans and controls his wife, and amazingly she lets him, and embarks on an affair with his wife’s best friend, who is even more keen it would appear to be treated like dirt. And as for the only woman brave enough to try and cross him? It doesn’t end well. But this all adds to the gritty masculinity of the book which I think is the key to the success of Carlotto and others in this genre, and what I enjoy about these books. The bad guys are utterly bad, but totally compelling, and as much as you sit in judgement of them as a reader, there is a strangely alluring glamour to characters like Pellegrini that sucks you in, chews you up, and spits you out the other end. A slim but totally satisfying read.

Massimo Carlotto is one of the best -known living crime writers in Europe. In addition to the many titles in his extremely popular Alligator series, and his stand-alone noir novels, he is also the author of The Fugitive, in which he tells the story of his arrest and trial for a crime he didn’t commit, and his subsequent years on the run. Carlotto’s novel The Goodby Kiss was a finalist for the MWA’s Edgar Award for Best Novel.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

Ivy Pochoda- Visitation Street

Summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a blue collar neighbourhood where hipster gourmet supermarkets push against tired housing projects, and the East River opens into the bay. Bored and listless, fifteen-year-old June and Val are looking for some fun. Forget the boys, the bottles, the coded whistles. Val wants to do something wild and a little crazy: take a raft out onto the bay. But out on the water, as the bright light of day gives way to darkness, the girls disappear. Only Val will survive, washed ashore semi-conscious in the weeds. June’s shocking disappearance will reverberate in the lives of a diverse cast of Red Hook residents. Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, trolls for information about the crime. Cree, just beginning to pull it together after his father’s murder, unwittingly makes himself the chief suspect – although an elusive guardian seems to have other plans for him. As Val emerges from the shadow of her missing friend, her teacher Jonathan, Juilliard drop-out and barfly, will be forced to confront a past riddled with tragic sins of omission.

In all honesty, I could simply reduce the length of my review of Visitation Street to a stream of complimentary adjectives, such is the mesmeric beauty of this book. However, as regular readers of this blog would probably appreciate a little more insight from the Raven, here are my thoughts…

The first notable quality of this novel is the way that it encompasses not only the best of contemporary American fiction in its depth of issues and characterisation, but also how it threads into the central narrative a compelling crime strand. Focussing on the New York shore-dwelling community of Red Hook, the book opens with two young girls embarking on a trip to the shoreline armed with a raft in the hope of adventure. Only one makes it back to safety, with the crux of the story then revolving around the disappearance of the other. From this initial mystery, Pochoda weaves a multi-layered narrative, perfectly constructing the lives of this run-down community and the minutiae of their personal troubles. Each character is filled with a vibrancy and clarity of depiction, that truly reflects the socio-economic pressures of life within their community be they a humble store owner, a struggling music teacher or a youth attempting to rebuild his life in the shadow of past sins. Pochoda captures the themes of poverty and race with pinpoint precision, and imbues the book with protagonists who will draw your empathy or dislike in equal measure. There are scenes within the book that will simply transfix you in their brutal simplicity and the rhythmical and utterly authentic dialogue sings from the pages.

Having achieved such an attention to detail as previously mentioned, I feared that the central crime of the piece would somehow get lost in the meticulous attention to these other aspects, but my fears were dispelled as the novel progressed and the truth surrounding the girl’s ill-fated river trip, and a young man’s discovery of the real events behind his father’s murder come to light. Both these plotlines unfold beautifully in the course of the book as you become more and more immersed in this unique but blighted community of people getting on with their lives in the best way that they can. It is little wonder that Dennis Lehane felt so compelled to trumpet this book to the wider reading community, and on the strength of this novel Ivy Pochoda will certainly be a writer to watch in the future. A remarkable read and I have no qualms of labelling this as one of the best books I have read this year.

Ivy Pochoda grew up in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and lived in Red Hook for several years. She is the author of The Art of Disappearing. A former professional squash player, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband. http://ivypochoda.com/ Follow on Twitter @ivypochoda

(I bought this copy of Visitation Street)

Hans Koppel- You’re Mine Now

Anna and Magnus have a happy marriage, but when, in a moment of madness, Anna has a brief fling with Erik, a man she met at a work conference, she lives to regret more than just her infidelity. Erik is a disturbed individual who goes to extreme lengths to get Anna’s attention, including kidnapping her ten-year-old daughter and attacking her mother. Before she knows it, Anna’s life is in the grip of this psychopathic stalker and she must try desperately to escape his clutches before it’s too late…

Having thoroughly enjoyed Hans Koppel’s UK debut She’s Never Coming Back which focussed on a woman kidnapped and held prisoner opposite her own home, with a CCTV link enabling her to see her family’s distress at her abduction, I was as keen as mustard to read this one. In You’re Mine Now  Koppel puts his own spin on the Fatal Attraction type tale where a comparatively rational wife and mother embarks on a short lived sexual entanglement with the mysterious uber-fit Scandinavian Adonis Erik, (well who wouldn’t?), which judging by the extremely creepy opening scene to the novel, can only end in a bad way for all concerned…

There is a good building of tension throughout as Anna seeks to extricate herself from the clutches of Erik who is slowly inveigling himself in the more personal areas of her life. Following the good intentioned actions of her own mother in the whole affair and what results from this action, Anna soon comes to realise that the sins of the flesh are sometimes best avoided. I liked the way that Koppel slowly reveals the true nature of Erik’s character and equally the claustrophobic atmosphere that begins to surround Anna and her family as she seeks to conceal the truth of her dalliance from her husband Magnus, and her daughter. The characterisation supports the menace of the plot well, with Anna’s mother and her work colleagues particularly well-realised and believable characters, and although I did find Anna herself a little one dimensional, Koppel makes Erik creepy enough to counterbalance this slight flaw. I also enjoyed the little flickers of humour that Koppel injects particularly in relation to the usefulness of Ikea in supplying the perfect kit for body disposal! The only disappointment for me was the slightly hackneyed ending which was signposted quite early on, and I felt that with Erik’s strength of character and purpose that the ending could have been somewhat braver. I’m sorry to say that it just left me feeling a little flat after the shocking denouement of Koppel’s previous book, and I thought he might have taken a bit more of a risk with it. Overall though, I did enjoy the book for what it was, and there was certainly enough within the plot to hold my interest, and that of fellow Scandinavian crime fiction fans.

Hans Koppel is a pseudonym for an established Swedish author, Petter Lidbeck, who was born in 1964 and lives in Stockholm. You’re Mine Now is published in the UK by Sphere- a division of Little Brown. http://www.goodreads.com/author 

(I bought this copy of the book)

 

 

Raven’s Criminally Good Discoveries- Larry Quartley-Closure, Ian Hough-Flake, Rob Kitchin-Stiffed, (Ed.) Craig Douglas & Darren Sant- Gloves Off

Aside from my reviewing of titles originating from the more mainstream publishers, every so often some other little gems wend their way to me via social networking. Here is a quick round-up of a few of the best I’ve read so far, and maybe you too may discover some hidden delights amongst these. Hope you enjoy!

For Zachary Taylor it’s about to get personal; a detective who can’t let go of the past or the part he played in the murder of his old DCI. Investigating the brutal rape and murder of a young woman, whose death pulls the past into the here and now. In 2003 Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Benner was gunned down when he and other officers were caught up in a shooting frenzy between rival drug gangs. Zachary Taylor was among the first to arrive at the bloodbath. He worked the case – desperate for a conviction – but in the end his chief suspect, James Black, and the faceless guilty walked away, sticking two fingers up at the justice system. For Taylor the case remained unsolved. Seven years later, Taylor is investigating the murder of Stella Kerr – whose boyfriend, Steve Lamb, charged with the heinous crime had gone on the run. Taylor quickly learns that in Lamb there is a connection to the past and James Black. He believes the same dark forces responsible for the slaying of his old DCI are behind the drug fuelled murder of Stella Kerr…

A London- based police procedural that I believe could herald the start of a good series featuring DCI Zachary Taylor. From the brutal opening chapter, Quartley maintains the pace in this well-crafted, and most importantly, credible depiction of a murder investigation. With the interweaving of a previous case and Taylor’s obsession with bringing odious businessman James Black to justice for his sins of the past, Quartley establishes a great tension between the two that plays out well throughout the book. Taylor is a well-formed and engaging character, who carries the thrust of the story well and he is thankfully relatively baggage-free that is a refreshing change when compared with many fictional male detectives. Add to the mix some very assured plotting, and I for one, would definitely pick up the next in the series.

Visit the author’s website here: http://larryquartley.com/ and follow on Twitter @quartley

It’s winter on the cocaine pipeline in Western Massachusetts. When the biggest outlaw biker gang in the rural Northeast collide headlong with the Mafia, the result isn’t pretty. Martin, an English immigrant, is caught smack in the middle of the war, and the snow-ride proves even darker than the city he left behind. Bernie Del Monti, head of the biker crew, has taken Martin under his wing. Martin’s father-in-law, Ralph Cerillo, is a mafia capo and Del Monti’s biggest distributor. When the girlfriend of Springfield mob boss Paul Vinti disappears after a biker party, old differences explode to the surface and the guns come out. A series of tit-for-tat incidents escalates, until Vinti brings in his most feared and evil hit-man. Del Monti responds with everything he has and Martin finds himself a major player in the heart of a primal winter struggle.

For the most part I enjoyed this depiction of Martin, an Englishman in exile, sucked into the dirty and brutal world of drug dealing, and grappling with the loyalties of family ties. There is a good pace to the writing as we bear witness to the less than savoury activities of Martin’s cohorts, as he finds himself enmeshed in a world of violence with a host of characters that could have walked in from the set of Breaking Bad. Hough captures the dialogue of his characters extremely well and there is a good pared down style to this. Equally the sense of location is very good with an atmospheric feel to depict the cold and harshness of the locale. I did feel that some of the writing could have been tightened up slightly and there may be one or two too many references to Martin’s relationship with his homeland and his love of Manchester United (!), but that aside, this one is definitely worth a read.

 Ian Hough is from Manchester. He currently lives in exile from that city’s Thought Police in an undisclosed location in the USA. Author of Perry Boys and Perry Boys Abroad, and a regular contributor to United We Stand fanzine. His natural habitat is drinking heavily while watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. He knows they’re out to get him, and it’s not just the drugs.. Follow on Twitter @IanHough

 

Tadhg Maguire wakes to find himself spooning a dead man. The stiff is Tony Marino, lieutenant to mobster Aldo Pirelli. It doesn’t matter how the local enforcer ended up between Tadhg’s sheets, Pirelli is liable to leap to the wrong conclusion and demand rough justice. The right thing to do would be to call the cops. The sensible thing to do would be to disappear. Forever. The only other option is to get rid of the body and pretend it was never there. No body, no crime. What he needs is a couple of friends to help dispose of the heavy corpse. Little do Tadhg’s friends know what kind of reward they’ll receive for their selfless act – threatened, chased, shot at, and kidnapped with demands to return a million dollars they don’t possess. By mid-afternoon Tadhg is the most wanted man in America. Not bad for someone who’d never previously had so much as parking ticket. If he survives the day he’s resigned to serving time, but not before he saves his friends from the same fate.

I will put my hands up straightaway and confess that ‘comic’ crime does not usually sit well with me, and apart from Carl Hiaasen and Colin Bateman, I very rarely pick up books billed as such. However, Stiffed was a genuinely very entertaining and equally funny read. You know how sometimes you ruminate at the end of the day and say “Wasn’t that just the day from hell“, well, think twice, because Tadhg’s day can easily trump the minor irritations of the average day!  Waking up with a corpse, grappling with the realisation that your girlfriend is missing, being pursued by some very nasty characters indeed, and relying on the help of two hapless friends with dubious social skills, and you get a sense of how bad his day really is.  Not only has Kitchin constructed a very readable and compelling plotline, but the comic touches are a joy. There are numerous completely laugh-out-loud moments that appealed to my dark sense of humour, and I loved the interplay between Tadhg and his friends, who bring a whole new level of ineptitude to the world of body disposal. There is a nice little twist involving Tadgh’s girlfriend and his blundering avoidance of the baddies of the piece is well played out. All in all, a bit of a hoot!

Rob Kitchin lives in Ireland where he is a  director of a research institute and a regular media commentator on social issues. He is the author of two police procedural novels and dozens of short stories. In addition to writing crime fiction, he’s the author or editor of 20 academic books and a 12 volume encyclopedia. He writes two blogs: http://theviewfromthebluehouse and http://irelandafternama Follow on Twitter @RobKitchin

Jose’s review at The Game’s Afoot: http://jiescribano.wordpress.com

 

 

Gloves Off is a collection of dark stories from the cream of the literary crop. These stories have one thing in common: they will come at you, all guns blazing. There’s a story lurking down every dark alley. Just when your back is turned a plot-twist is ready to attack. The stories in this anthology are mainly crime, but there is also grim humour and the supernatural; dark tales for an adult audience featuring hit men, mobsters, bikers and stalkers. Are you prepared for the bloody scenes within?This anthology was spawned from the dark, talented minds of : Gareth Spark, Richard Godwin, Paul D. Brazill, Aidan Thorn, Pete Sortwell, B.R. Stateham, Brian Panowich, Ryan Sayles, Chris Leek, David Barber, Vic Errington, Graham Smith,Walter Conley, Tom Pitts, Allen Miles, Jim Spry, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, Mike Monson, Alan Griffiths.

I’m making a concerted effort this year to read more short stories as this is a genre that has never really appealed to me, but am now discovering some real delights. This collection is great if you like your crime writing with a darker edge, and for the more faint hearted among you, this does fall on the more visceral side in some of the stories within this collection. Off the back of this I have discovered some good new authors, both American and British, and would definitely recommend this sharp and gripping collection if you are looking for some new criminal inspiration!

 

P. D. Viner- The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

Last Winter of Dani Lancing

Over twenty years ago Dani Lancing met a brutal end. The people she left behind are still haunted by the tragedy, consumed by their grief. It led her best friend to become a hero. To her father talking to the dead. And it will drive her mother to become a killer…

I must admit that when I started reading The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, my initial reaction was one of “Oh no, not another ‘I see ghosts’ type of book”, but thankfully this impression was quickly dispelled and this proved itself to be a really quite clever and compelling read…

What I loved particularly about this book was the way that the story gradually unfolded with more than one or two surprises along the way. This could so easily have devolved into a very linear tale of the lives of those in the shadows of loss- Dani’s parents and her closest friend Tom- and consequently been a little dull. However, thanks to the skill of Viner’s writing and his control of the pace, the reader is constantly wrong-footed, as the details of Dani’s brief life are revealed and the totally surprising consequences of her murder, as evinced by the actions of her mother on the man she believes culpable, and the undertaking of a career in the police force of her friend Tom in the wake of his personal loss. These two characters in particular, carry the weight of the novel, as the death of Dani reverberates through, and dictates their actions, and both characters are incredibly empathetic as the strands of their stories are unveiled. Dani’s father acts as a foil to the more extreme actions of the aforementioned, and Viner skilfully depicts the sad image of a man bereft, trying to hold onto his memories of his daughter by conversing with her and seeking to come to terms with his personal loss. The depth of feeling conveyed in these passages is really quite heartrending, especially set against the more vital actions of her mother and Tom. I am loathe to go into details of the plot as I would want any reader to be surprised as I was by the clever touches of misdirection that Viner instigates throughout, that truly added to my experience as a reader.

There is an ease to Viner’s writing seldom achieved in crime fiction, that does make this book exceedingly difficult to put down- I read this almost in one sitting. His attention to the more sensual details of a scene is unerring, so that the reader really experiences the feel and sensory perception of the smallest details- the coldness of the snow and the smell of blood for example- as well as being totally caught up in the strength of human emotion and weaknesses of the main protagonists. The book is cut through with some nice little comic touches as well to, at times, that lighten the whole affair as this really is a book fair bursting with  the gamut of human emotion. I loved that this book so quickly revealed itself as something new and refreshing in a fairly well-used story arc, and the power and intelligence of the writing kept me reading. An excellent debut and a refreshing new voice in crime fiction.

P. D. Viner is an award winning film-maker and creator of the highly successful SmartPass audio guides. He’s married to an American Doctor of Linguistics and, along with their five year old daughter, he is her test-subject. He has lived abroad for ten years, working and studying in the USA, New Zealand and Russia, and has been a pretty bad stand-up comedian, produced mime shows for Japanese TV and written theatre for the Shakespeare Festival, produced in London and Verona. This is his first murder. Author website:  http://pdviner.com/ Follow on Twitter @philviner

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is published 12/9/13 (Ebury Press)

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Police officer Tom Bevans is nicknamed the Sad Man by his colleagues. As a Family Liaison Officer he is always the bearer of bad news – it is his job to tell the friends and family of victims the fate of their loved ones. But Tom is weighted down by crimes both old and new – haunted by the death of his best friend Dani, whose murder has never been solved. When a rare opportunity emerges for Tom to take the lead in a horrific murder investigation, he is determined to get justice for the victim. A young girl has been found in her own home, cut so badly – and so carefully – that she has bled to death, leaving a deliberate pool of blood in the shape of angel wings….

(With thanks to Ebury Publishing for the ARC)

Steffen Jacobsen- When The Dead Awaken

Sabrina D’Avalos’s father was murdered by the mafia. Now a district attorney, she wants justice, or revenge. Whichever comes first. The Camorra, one of the oldest criminal organisations in Italy, runs Naples. More powerful, more violent and richer than the Sicilian mafia, its hold is unshakeable. When Sabrina investigates a family found dead in a shipping container, she quickly uncovers links to the Camorra – and her father. The mafia’s most terrifying assassins are on Sabrina’s trail. But Sabrina is desperate to find out the truth about her father, despite the deadly risks she is taking.

An exceptionally good crime read from a new-to-me Danish author appearing for the first time in English, When The Dead Awaken is a thriller not to be missed. Drawing on the influence of Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah, Jacobsen has fashioned an enthralling thriller set in Naples and focusing primarily on the criminal activities of this feared criminal organisation, but also the frustrations of and danger to those that seek to bring them to justice…

The first thing that strikes me about When The Dead Awaken, is Jacobsen’s fluid and totally engaging writing style. His prose just pulls you in, not only in the sense of location and atmosphere, but also by the little vignettes of the socio-political complexity of Italy that he melds into the central narrative. He makes it abundantly clear that the forces of justice in Italy work so at odds with each other, that the growth of organised crime over many years still remains largely unchecked due to the lack of communication and cooperation between the various factions. This is reflected strongly in his central protagonist, Sabrina D’Avalo, a public prosecutor whose father was murdered by the Mafia, working for the public prosecutor Frederico Renda (himself a victim of the Camorra’s wrath), being set on the trail of the Camorra after the discovery of two bodies identified as having been in a witness protection programme. Sabrina not only has to elude the grasp of the criminals who pursue her, but also navigate her own relationship with the mysterious Nestore Raspallo who has been commissioned by Renda to watch her back. Where this book come into it’s own is not only in the tension we experience through Sabrina’s dangerous investigation, but how Jacobsen also incorporates a view of her investigation through the eyes of the head of this branch of the Camorra, Don Francesco and his right hand man- Urs Savelli- a fixer with a dark past and one of the most compelling characters in the book. Add into the mix the story of Giulio Forlani currently residing under the radar in the rural tranquillity of Castellarano, but with his own reasons for avoiding the attentions of the Camorra, and these different storylines solidify how Jacobsen manipulates and weaves the individual strands into one contiguous whole in such a readable style. Likewise, the characters mentioned are extremely well-drawn, and Sabrina D’Avalo centres the whole book, being clever, intuitive and driven by her own demons. She assumes the same aura of feminine strength as Steig Larsson’s Lisbeth or Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, holding the reader in her thrall throughout and stoutly supported by an equally strong cast of male characters, be they on the side of justice or crime. Not only is the plot extremely pacey and tense, but there are also rare little injections of humour, and some of Jacobsen’s physical descriptions of characters are a delight. I loved this one of a hotel receptionist, “She smiled. Or her upper lip curled, at any rate. Sabrina was mesmerised by tiny clumps of lipstick stuck to the black strands of hair on her upper lip. Like tiny unripe cherries, they swayed in the stream of air to and from the nostrils.” Marvellous.

This is an easy book to recommend, harnessing as it does the very factors that make both Italian and Scandinavian crime so popular. Sublime plotting, superb characterisation, a nod to the socio-political climate and a real sense of location all knitted together in a truly gripping thriller. Highly recommend this one.

Steffen Jacobsen is an orthopaedic surgeon and consultant. This is his third novel. He was inspired to write When The Dead Awaken by Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction book Gomorrah, about the Camorra and by his travels around Italy. When The Dead Awaken is perfect for fans of The Killing, The Wire and The Godfather. Jacobsen’s bestseller Trophy has been number one in the Danish bestseller chart. He lives in Denmark with his wife and children.

(With thanks to Midas PR/Quercus for the arc)

 

 

August Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

 Well, another full-on month of crime reading, and what a purple patch it has been with a widely different selection books in terms of period, location and means of investigation. My August Challenge proved to be tricky but quite pleased with the number of titles I did actually manage to read! Now I am back in the world of work which will limit my reading time somewhat, but I will endeavour to bring you as many books as I can in September, which will no doubt be filled with further little gems for you….

Books reviewed this month on Raven Crime Reads:

Pieter Aspe– The Square of Revenge

Ken Bruen– Purgatory (Jack Taylor 10)

Sheila Bugler– Hunting Shadows

Chris Carter– One By One

Luke Delaney– The Keeper/Redemption of the Dead

Barbara Nadel– An Act of Kindness (Hakim & Arnold Mystery 2)

Charles Salzberg– Devil In The Hole

William Shaw– A Song From Dead Lips

RAVEN’S BOOK(S) OF THE MONTH

In terms of my best read of the month I would be hard pushed to choose between William Shaw with his brilliant  debut A Song From Dead Lips which was both entertaining and thought provoking in equal measure with its wonderful depiction of sixties London, and Charles Salzberg for Devil In The Hole  which exhibited an exceptional control of characterisation and pace throughout, carefully fictionalising a real life murder case.  Two wildly different reads that both appealed to the Raven very much indeed for decidedly different reasons…

I also had the pleasure of submitting some questions to Kathy Reichs to mark the release of Bones of the Lost  An Interview With Kathy Reichs , marked the launch of Black Mask Goes Digital and welcomed not only a new crime drama What Remains but also looking forward to the return of Whitechapel… 

Books shortlisted for the last three daggers

 Also this month the Crime Writers’ Association announced the shortlists for the remaining three CWA 2013 Daggers. The eventual winners will be revealed on 24th October, at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2013.

The shortlisted authors are:

For the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger:
Belinda Bauer for Rubbernecker (Bantam/Transworld)
Lauren Beukes for The Shining Girls. (HarperCollins)
Mick Herron for Dead Lions (Soho Crime)
Becky Masterman for Rage Against The Dying (Orion)

For the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger:
Roger Hobbs for Ghostman (Transworld)
Stuart Neville for Ratlines.  (Random House)
Mark Oldfield for The Sentinel (Head of Zeus)
Robert Wilson for Capital Punishment  (Orion)

For the CWA John Creasey Dagger:
Hanna Jameson for Something You Are  (Head of Zeus)
Malcolm Mackay for The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter  (Mantle)
Derek B Miller for Norwegian By Night. (Faber and Faber)
Thomas Mogford for Shadow of the Rock (Bloomsbury)

Find out more here:  www.thecwa.co.uk

And now to September…

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