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October 2013

Jakob Arjouni- Brother Kemal (Kayankaya 5) Jakob Arjouni Fund to Fight Pancreatic Cancer Announcement

Valerie de Chavannes, a financier’s daughter, summons private investigator Kemal Kayankaya to her villa in Frankfurt’s diplomatic quarter and commissions him to find her missing sixteen-year-old daughter Marieke. She is alleged to be with an older man who is posing as an artist. To Kayankaya, it seems like a simple case: an upper class girl with a thirst for adventure. Then another case turns up: The Maier Publishing House believes it needs to protect author Malik Rashid from attacks by religious fanatics at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Rashid has written a novel about, amongst other things, attitudes towards homosexuality in an Arabic country. Kayankaya is hired to be Rashid’s bodyguard for three days. The two cases seem to be straightforward, but together they lead to murder, rape and abduction, and even Kayankaya comes under suspicion of being a contract killer for hire.

I’m sure, like many crime fiction fans, the announcement of the tragically early death of Jakob Arjouni this year was a source of sadness to us all. I have derived a great deal of reading pleasure from Arjouni’s wonderful Kemal Kayankaya series, featuring this unconventional, straight-talking and supremely witty Turkish private investigator, formed from the same clay as the stalwarts of the hard-boiled crime tradition. So it is now with some sadness that I now review the last of the series, Brother Kemal

Tasked with finding the errant daughter of femme fatale Valerie de Chavannes, Kayankaya is drawn into a devilish plot of murder, rape and abduction, which places our hero under the gaze of the police as a murderer himself. Kayankaya is also hired to offer protection to an author under the threat of religious fanatics at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and sure enough his two cases become entwined with dangerous results. Although a slim read, I found the linking of the plots a balanced affair, with the build-up of tension lightened by Kayankaya’s involvement with the publishing fraternity and the humour this produces, a good counterbalance to the sinister and murderous abduction plot at the opening of the book. In the grand tradition of hardboiled noir, Kayankaya presents himself in the same world weary sense as some of the most recognisable protagonists from the pages of Chandler and Hammett, and I adore Arjouni’s depiction of him absorbing and dealing succinctly with the casual racism that his Turkish heritage raises in others. Once again, the book is suffused with some brilliant comical interludes, and speaking as someone who is not a fan of ‘comic’; crime per se, I would draw comparisons with the dark sardonic wit of the late, great Pascal Garnier in some of the moments of levity which to me lost nothing in translation. Also having some personal knowledge of the publishing world myself, I found the depiction of this within the book fair setting, particularly knowing and pitch perfect in its rendition. If you have not encountered this brilliant series before, I would urge you to seek them out, and experience the wonderful world of Kayankaya for yourselves in these perfect little packages of exceptional crime writing.

Announcing the Jakob Arjouni Fund to Fight Pancreatic Cancer

by

This past January, Melville House author Jakob Arjourni died after a fight with pancreatic cancer.

He was born Jakob Bothe on October 8, 1964. He famously published his first novel, Happy Birthday, Turk!, at just 20. The book kick-started a writing career that grew to include not only a series of mystery novels featuring Turkish-German P.I. Kemal Kayankaya—the books that made him famous—but also highly regarded literary novels and plays.  Melville House is proud to announce the Arjouni Fund to Fight Pancreatic Cancer. We’ve partnered with Lustgarten Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation dedicated to pancreatic cancer research, which will administer the fund and see that 100% of the money raised in Jakob’s name will go directly to research. We’re asking Jakob’s fans and friends around the world to consider donating in his name.

Melville House publishers Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians also announced that a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Jakob’s final novel will be donated to the fund.

If you don’t know Jakob’s work, a lovely survey can be found in the pages of the New York Times, which  hailed Jakob as the German “master of crime fiction.” He was surely this, but he was also a loving father and husband—and a dedicated and generous collaborator, as Jakob’s publishers around the world would readily attest to.

Please consider giving in Jakob’s name. Those wishing to join the fight should go here :  www.lustgarten.org/  and to view this original article go to www.mhpbooks.com

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William Boyd- Solo

It is 1969 and James Bond is about to go solo, recklessly motivated by revenge. A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M’s orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice. Bond’s renegade action leads him to Washington, D.C., where he discovers a web of geopolitical intrigue and witnesses fresh horrors. Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his every waking moment.

William Boyd dons the mantle of the late great Ian Fleming, with his latest outing Solo, and despite being a fan of both Boyd and Bond, I had rather a mixed response overall…

Boyd takes us back to the swinging Sixties with our ubiquitous hero celebrating his birthday and in pensive mood, but then quickly being commissioned to thwart a civil war in a small African nation. Boyd does present the spirit of this era perfectly, and as with all good Bond fare, there is the usual attention to cars, gadgets and the natural charm of Bond in his dealings with the ladies, so little deviation from Boyd in his remit. I enjoyed the build up to Bond’s African mission, as Boyd neatly taps into our perception of Bond, accrued from the books and movies, detailing his particular quirks in relation to his personal life balanced with his unerring eagerness to undertake seemingly suicidal missions on behalf of her majesty’s government. I thoroughly enjoyed the  African mission significantly, where using his cover as a journalist, Bond is drawn into a bloody and dangerous intervention in a civil war, and enjoyed the more compassionate side to Bond exposed when interacting with the innocent victims of such conflicts. The introduction of the feisty Blessing provided a good interplay in Bond’s mission (and naturally in his bed as well), along with the maniacal despots that seek to snuff out our favourite secret agent. A rollicking good beginning I thought, but although ostensibly capturing the key elements of the James Bond ouvre, particularly in the London and African set portion of the novel, I did find the conclusion of the novel set within the boundaries of Washington DC, a little less satisfying and disjointed than what had gone before and it all felt a little rushed, after the staunchly controlled writing of the first half of the book. Indeed the first half of the novel read like a conventional Bond book, but the second was definitely more cinematic in style for this reader certainly, and as much as we all like to suspend our disbelief as far as Bond is concerned, I just felt the two halves of the book didn’t marry completely, although not irritating enough to compel me to stop reading.

Without question, Boyd is singularly, in this reviewer’s opinion anyway, one of the finest literary fiction writers Britain has produced and often imitated but rarely bettered, but I wasn’t totally convinced by his rendition of a traditional Bond adventure I’m sorry to say, with its slight unbalance in the narrative and the denouement of the adventure. However, despite my misgivings and taken as a whole I think this book largely fits the Fleming mould, and Boyd does capture the essence of the originals with the quality of his characterisation. Not quite licensed to thrill but in the end not bad enough for me to give it a big (Doctor) No- no…

William Boyd is the author of one work of non-fiction, three collections of short stories and thirteen novels, including the bestselling historical spy thriller Restless – winner of the Costa Novel of the Year – and Any Human Heart, in which the character of Ian Fleming features. Among his other awards are the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Jean Monnet. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2005, he was awarded the CBE.Born in Ghana in 1952, William Boyd spent much of his early life in West Africa. He now divides his time between the south-west of France and Chelsea, where he lives a stone’s throw from James Bond’s London address. Author website: http://www.williamboyd.co.uk

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

Hilary Bonner- The Cruellest Game

Marion Anderson lives the perfect life.She has a beautiful home, a handsome and loving husband, and an intelligent and caring son. But as easily as perfect lives are built, they can also be demolished. When tragedy strikes at the heart of her family, Marion finds herself in the middle of a nightmare, with no sign of waking-up.
The life she treasured is disintegrating before her very eyes, but it’s just the beginning of something much worse and altogether more deadly…

Having to avoid spoilers with this review of The Cruellest Game is a tricky prospect indeed as, from the outset and in a similar pacing to S. J. Watson’s psychological thriller Before I Go To Sleep, this is a crime tale filled with unexpected reveals as Marion Anderson, a seemingly happily married wife and mother’s life goes into tailspin from the devastating emotional events at opening of this book. With Bonner’s vast experience of writing tautly plotted psychological thrillers, this is a gripping read with an uncanny balance of overly emotional and more dispassionate threads to the narrative, that wrong- foot the reader by turns in Bonner’s depiction of this family in crisis and in particular her main female protagonist’s reactions and actions as each layer of deception is unfurled. From the opening to this review, I can offer you little more in the way of plot as there are some nasty surprises along the way for Marion, and it’s interesting to see the way that she hardens and draws on an emotional strength, that even she seems to believe she doesn’t have, to cope with her domestic life spinning off its axis and changing her world…

Bonner’s writing is controlled and assured throughout, and this would definitely be a good book group pick with the twists and turns in the plot some obvious, some not,  and the steadfast characterisation of Marion and those around her. A good read.

Hilary Bonner (born 1949) is an English crime writer. She grew up in the town of Bideford on the North Devon coast. She was previously the showbusiness editor of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mirror.  She is also a past chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, and has written ten crime novels and five non fiction books. Author website: http://www.hilarybonner.com/

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Robert Gott- The Holiday Murders

The Holiday Murders

 On Christmas Eve, 1943, the newly formed but undermanned Homicide division of the Melbourne police force is called to investigate the vicious double murder of a father and son. When Military Intelligence becomes involved, Homicide’s Inspector Titus Lambert must unravel the personal from the political.

If only the killings had stopped at two. The police are desperate to come to grips with an extraordinary and disquieting upsurge of violence. For Constable Helen Lord, it is an opportunity to make her mark in a male-dominated world where she is patronised as a novelty. For Detective Joe Sable, the investigation forces a reassessment of his indifference to his Jewish heritage. Racing against the clock, the police uncover simmering tensions among secretive local Nazi sympathisers as a psychopathic fascist usurper makes his move.

Having read a review of The Holiday Murders earlier this year at the excellent Australian crime website FairDinkumCrime.com , I was delighted to get my hands on a copy recently of this thoroughly intriguing crime novel, so here are my thoughts…

Based on real political events in Australia during the Second World War, Robert Gott has crafted a compelling and historically detailed crime mystery, suffused with a cast of characters, some good, some rotten and misguided to the core, that certainly kept my interest throughout. Charting a murder investigation between Chistmas and New Year 1943, the book opens with a scene of total carnage which will test the investigating ability of not only the eminently likeable police Inspector Titus Lambert but his cohorts, Jewish detective, Joe Sable and female Constable Helen Lord. All three of these characters are perfectly drawn with a wonderful camararderie and sound professionalism gravitating between them, that add a strength to the overarching solidity of the central plotline. There are some nice little vignettes threaded in, for example the heartwarming relationship between Inspector Lambert and his wife Maude, who is more than happy to cast her eye on the more gruesome aspects of her husband’s investigation: the emergence of Helen Lord as a detective comparable to her male counterparts despite the resistance she faces as a woman, and the turmoil of Joe Sable as he is drawn into a particularly dark and dangerous world beyond his understanding, as an unfailingly fair-minded and right thinking man.

With the plot based on a real right wing political group of the period, Australia First, who harbour an intrinsic hatred of other racial groups, Sable in particular as a Jew, along with Lord and Lambert, must draw on his complete sense of professionalism to infiltrate this group and catch an intrinsically deranged and brutal killer. Gott perfectly characterises the members of this insidious political group from the weak and wooly figurehead to those tasked with furthering the group’s ends, and as a fellow reviewer points out, there are a few of these characters that you are glad are confined to this fictional world as they are a very nasty bunch indeed. Gott pulls no punches in his depiction of violence throughout the book, which has you as a reader firmly rooting for the good guys, and with the thought always in your head that this is based on fact, it adds a particular shiver of the spine to the whole affair. There is also a complete gem of a twist in the reveal of one protagonist as being a whole lot less wholesome that we are originally led to believe…

Overall, I was much impressed with this book, giving me an insight into a period of history I was totally unfamiliar with and enriched by just the right combination of fact and fiction. A great cast of characters, a fluid writing style and more importantly a gripping mystery compounded my enjoyment of this book. A good read and a would heartily recommend.

Robert Gott was born in the small Queensland town of Maryborough in 1957, and lives in Melbourne. He has published many books for children, and is also the creator of the newspaper cartoon The Adventures of Naked Man. He is also the author of the William Power trilogy of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia: Good Murder, A Thing of Blood, and Amongst the Dead.

(With thanks to Scribe Publications for the ARC)

Beau Riffenburgh-Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Life and Times of James McParland- 10/11/13

The story of the legendary Pinkerton detective who took down the Molly Maguires and the Wild Bunch. The operatives of the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency were renowned for their skills of subterfuge, infiltration, and investigation, none more so than James McParland. So thrilling were McParland’s cases that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included the cunning detective in a story along with Sherlock Holmes. Riffenburgh digs deep into the recently released Pinkerton archives to present the first biography of McParland and the agency’s cloak-and-dagger methods. Both action packed and meticulously researched, Pinkerton’s Great Detective brings readers along on McParland’s most challenging cases: from young McParland’s infiltration of the murderous Molly Maguires gang in the case that launched his career to his hunt for the notorious Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch to his controversial investigation of the Western Federation of Mines in the assassination of Idaho’s former governor.
Filled with outlaws and criminals, detectives and lawmen, Pinkerton’s Great Detective shines a light upon the celebrated secretive agency and its premier sleuth.

I just wanted to draw your attention to this absolutely absorbing mix of true crime and historical biography, published in the UK next month. For several years I have had a  fascination with the origins and deeds of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency and it’s involvement in many differing spheres of criminal activity within this fascinating period of American history, This biography is excellent because, as the author states himself, there is a wonderful sense of misdirection and misrepresentation at work in unravelling the history of both the history of this famous institution and its main figures. By creating and embellishing their own histories, particularly in the case of the charming Irishman, James McParland himself, there is a palpable sense that the reader is never really in possession of all the true facts relating to him and the agency, which fuels  feeling of the ‘unsolved’ in relation to the detectives and the cases they are embroiled in. I loved the atmospheric and period detail in relation to the activities of the infamous Molly Maguires and the wild, wild West,  amongst other cause celebres, and the depth and scope of Riffenbaugh’s research throughout which paints such a rich and authentic portrait of the social, political and criminal activities of this era. An utterly engrossing account of both an enigmatic character, and a fascinating institution so steeped in history with more than one mystery of its own…

Pinkerton’s Great Detective will be published by Viking Books- 10th November 2013

(I downloaded this as a galley in Kindle format via www.netgalley.com )

Val McDermid- Cross and Burn

Someone is brutally killing women. Women who bear a striking resemblance to former DCI Carol Jordan. The connection is too strong to ignore and soon psychological profiler Tony Hill finds himself dangerously close to the investigation, just as the killer is closing in on his next target. This is a killer like no other, hell-bent on inflicting the most severe and grotesque punishment on his prey. As the case becomes ever-more complex and boundaries begin to blur, Tony and Carol must work together once more to try and save the victims, and themselves.

Well it is with great delight that I can report that in this humble reviewer’s opinion,  Val McDermid is back on form with her new outing for Carol Jordan and Tony Hill- hallelujah and saints be praised! After the relative disappointments of McDermid’s stand alone The Vanishing Point and the last Jordan/Hill The Retribution (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) I was feeling a little deflated as I’ve always held McDermid in some regard and very much enjoyed her books previous to these two, so I did approach Cross and Burn with a slight sense of trepidation but my fears were quickly dispelled…

What I particularly enjoyed about Cross and Burn was the sense of readjustment that ran through the book for all the protagonists, as after the horrific events of  The Retribution, both mentally and physically for the main players, they are all in a state of flux in their personal and professional lives. Carol Jordan, now no longer a police officer, is still coming to terms with her familial loss and on a mission to erase these events, now firmly rooted in a rural idyll and her relationship with her former colleagues, and more importantly, Tony Hill completely severed. Our favourite bumbling but brilliant psychological profiler, Tony Hill is, well, bumbling along, pining for the loss of his relationship with Jordan, the drying up of his police consultancy work and his new life on the waves- okay- a canal. Newly promoted DS Paula McIntyre takes a larger part in the story, now part of a new investigation team under the steely leadership of another female boss- DCI Fielding- and finds her personal and professional life intermingling when a friend disappears. As a series of abductions unfold McIntyre and Hill join forces providing a different dimension to the plot, but Hill soon finds himself in the accusatory glare of the indominitable Fielding and Carol Jordan cannot help but be drawn back into the world she has left behind, despite the fragility of her relationship with him. This is the real strength of the book for me, as the abduction storyline was a little laboured (although I appreciate the need to draw McIntyre’s personal life into the mix for the sake of the plot) but where McDermid excels is in her observation of the very human need for connection and reconciliation. I loved the tentative and thorny reactions between Jordan and Hill, the pressures on McIntyre to connect with a new team of detectives and her narrow minded boss, and the ruminations of Hill on his disconnection with a world that largely tolerated his own peculiar quirks of character and way of working. I enjoyed the depictions of the solitary lives led by Jordan and Hill- consumed in their own particular miseries- set against the sudden change in McIntyre’s domestic set-up with the introduction of her own newly arrived waif and stray and how this impacts on her relationship with her partner Eleanor, and of course the very marked differences made in the characters and professional attitudes of Jordan and Fielding in their former and current roles of overseeing murder investigations.

No question then in my mind that McDermid is back with style, not necessarily in the depiction of the central investigation, but in her capturing in the real frailties and strengths in her established cast of characters. It’s no mean feat to reveal new aspects to such stalwart characters over the length of a series, but to me this worked beautifully throughout, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ebb and flow of them reconnecting them in the face of emotional and professional difficulties. Nicely done.

 Val McDermid is the author of twenty-four bestselling novels, which have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over ten million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She has a son and a dog, and lives with her wife in the north of England. www.valmcdermid.com/ Follow on Twitter @valmcdermid

(I received Cross and Burn as a galley in Kindle format via www.netgalley.com )

Linwood Barclay- A Tap On The Window

When Cal Weaver stops at red light on a rainy night while driving home, he ignores the bedraggled-looking teenaged girl trying to hitch a lift. Even when she starts tapping on his window. But when she says, ‘Hey, aren’t you Scott’s dad?’ and he realizes she’s one of his son’s classmates, he can’t really ignore her. OK, so giving a ride to a teenage girl might not be the smartest move, but how much harm could it do? Over the next 24 hours Cal is about to find out. When the girl, Claire, asks to stop at a restroom on the way home, he’s happy to oblige. But the girl who gets back in the car seems strangely nervous, and it’s only when they get nearer their destination that Cal realizes she no longer has the nasty cut that he noticed on Claire’s hand. After he’s finally let her out of the car he remains puzzled and intrigued. But it’s only the next morning that he starts to really worry. That’s when the police cruiser turns up at his door and asks him if he gave a lift to a girl the previous night. A girl who has now been found brutally murdered. If Cal is going to clear his name he’s going to have to figure out what Claire was really up to and what part he played in her curious deception. But doing so will involve him in some of the small town of Griffon’s most carefully kept secrets – and a conspiracy as bizarre as it is deadly.

We all know that Linwood Barclay quite proudly carries the moniker of the Twistyturny Master- okay so I made that bit up- but regular readers of his books will know that as soon as the end of that chapter beckons there will be a surprise in store and a genuine sense of ‘Well, I didn’t see that coming.’ A Tap In The Window, then, was more than a little surprising in largely avoiding his trademark changes of direction (aside from one blinder near the end) and instead presented itself as an altogether more introspective story with a real emotional depth to the whole affair.

From Cal Weaver’s initial truly foolhardy actions in giving a lift to, as it turns out, two girls- one goes missing and one who ends up murdered- Barclay neatly controls the interplay between Weaver’s involvement in the subsequent investigation, as a private investigator himself, and the obsessive quest he is currently immersed in to track down those  responsible for his son’s death. Was it really accidental death? Suicide? Or murder? As the nefarious goings on in the local police department and the wider community are revealed, Weaver’s life is thrust into a maelstrom of suspicion and murder. As is usual we are slightly wrong-footed by the events as they reveal themselves, but unfortunately I got a whiff of the guilty party and was sadly proved right- damn my  prolific reading of crime books- but I wouldn’t say it was too obvious so never fear! I was also racking my brains all the way through about the similarity of the girl-switching plot to something else I have read or seen that rather diluted this element of the plot for me, but there was something that impressed me greatly…

I think what I found most compelling about this book, in the light of Barclay’s other outings, was the highly sensitive characterisation of both Cal Weaver and his wife, sadly emotionally estranged from each other with their differing responses and reactions to the loss of their son, and their tentative rebuilding of their fractured relationship with, as it turns out, devastating consequences for both. There was a surety of touch in Barclay’s depiction of both, that although deftly mirroring his usual high standard of characterisation, just had an added frisson and was made all the more poignant as their former relationship  with their son and his growing emotional turmoil come to light. Very nicely done.

Overall, I wouldn’t label this as a typical Linwood Barclay book, with the greater attention to the emotional machinations of his central character and the pinpoint study of life and corruption in a small community. However, there are enough trademark Barclay quirks to please most and A Tap On The Window proved itself a satisfying and nicely unsettling thriller.

Linwood Barclay is married with two children and lives near Toronto. He is the author of three acclaimed Zack Walker mysteries, a former columnist for the Toronto Star, and is the author of the Richard & Judy 2008 Summer Read winner and number one besteller, No Time For Goodbye. Author’s website:  http://linwoodbarclay.com/  Follow on Twitter @linwood_barclay

More reviews of A Tap On The Window can be found at:

http://beentherereadthatreviewedthebook.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.milorambles.com

http://literarytreats.wordpress.com

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Andrew Cotto- Outerborough Blues

Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery (Paperback) ~ Andrew Cotto Cover ArtA beautiful young French girl walks into a bar, nervously lights a cigarette, and begs the bartender for help in finding her missing artist brother. In a moment of weakness, the bartender–a drifter named Caesar Stiles with a damaged past and a Sicilian family curse hanging over him–agrees. What follows is a stylish literary mystery set in Brooklyn on the dawn of gentrification. While  Caesar is initially trying to earn an honest living at the neighborhood watering hole, his world quickly unravels. In addition to being haunted by his past, including a brother who is intent on settling an old family score, Caesar is being hunted down by a mysterious nemesis known as The Orange Man. Adding to this combustible mix, Caesar is a white man living in a deep-rooted African American community with decidedly mixed feelings about his presence. In the course of his search for the French girl’s missing brother, Caesar tumbles headlong into the shadowy depths of his newly adopted neighborhood, where he ultimately uncovers some of its most sinister secrets…

 

With the news that Andrew Cotto’s Outerborough Blues will be available in the UK from this Thursday, and having made the final cut in Raven’s Top 5 reads of 2012, I couldn’t resist re-posting my review of this truly excellent read. Well worth seeking out crime fans!

When you read and review regularly, you can sometimes get a little jaded as books can oftentimes meld into one, or display all those bad writing habits of one-dimensional characters, ludicrous plotting and so on. However, every so often an unexpected treasure lands in your lap which restores your faith, and Andrew Cotto’s Outerborough Blues is one such book. Combining the style of some of the best contemporary American fiction (I would draw comparisons with David Prete and Elliot Perlman) and the street savvy social analysis of a writer like George Pelecanos, Cotto has delivered a book that rises above the simple tag of crime novel into a truly powerful and affecting read.

 I won’t dwell on the intricacies of the plot in the interests of keeping it fresh and surprising for you all, but needless to say it is beautifully weighted, with the alternating time frames of past and present, seamlessly melded into the overall story. As elements of our main protagonist Caesar’s former life are revealed, Cotto gradually unveils how the events of the past are so instrumental on Caesar’s actions and for his single-mindedness at righting past wrongs in the present, so the split timelines work well within the narrative.  All of Caesar’s central relationships in the book are dictated to by his highly attuned sense of morality, garnered by his formerly tumbleweed existence and the relationships encountered along the way, before his settling in a community wracked by racial tension and socio-economic problems. Cotto portrays this community and its underlying problems astutely, bringing Caesar into conflict or comradeship with his fellow inhabitants, as he takes on the problems of those around him and seeks to expose the corruption of others. In any of the passages relating to the neighbourhood itself there is a living and breathing vitality to Cotto’s description and the depiction of place and atmosphere is palpable throughout.

 Again, in terms of characterisation, Cotto hits the mark, displaying a natural ease in his portrayal of not only Caesar’s family, but the eclectic mix of people inhabiting Caesar’s neighbourhood and its multi-cultural make-up. All the frailties or false bravado of human nature are exposed throughout these characters and their interactions with Caesar, which again gives a vibrant sense of reality to these protagonists and the parts they play within the novel. This is predominantly where I think the novel rises above the crime novel tag, as this proficiency at characterisation seldom resonates so strongly in a run-of-the-mill thriller and in conjunction with Cotto’s use of powerful imagery in his depiction of place, sets this book apart. The sparseness of the prose and tight dialogue, where more often the power lies within what is unsaid than said, adds to the overall tension of the book as the plot unfolds.

 It probably goes without saying that I was highly impressed by ‘Outerborough Blues’ as it ticked many of the boxes that I look for in American crime writing and fiction. Being a fan of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley, I would certainly label Andrew Cotto as a comparable read to these luminaries in terms of style, characterisation and its depiction of life in a tough neighbourhood, so what are you waiting for, go find…

 Visit the author’s website here: http://www.andrewcotto.com/ Follow on Twitter @andrewcotto and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.cotto.9

 Check out Andrew Cotto’s playlist for Outerborough Blues here: http://tinyurl.com/ckcrylw

Andrew Cotto is a writer and teacher who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is the author of two novels: The Domino Effect is a coming-of-age story about a kid from Queens with a damaged past and a complicated present at a boarding school in rural New Jersey; Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery is an unconventional noir about a drifter seeking a missing person and a remedy to his family’s curse in the dawn of urban gentrification. His novels are represented by Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency. Andrew’s articles have appeared in many national journals, including the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Salon, the Good Men Project and Teachers & Writers Magazine. For the past six years, Andrew has taught composition courses and creative writing workshops in New York City. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and a BA in Literature from Lynchburg College.

 

 

Carla Norton- The Edge of Normal

The Edge of Normal

Reeve St Claire was abducted when she was twelve years old and held in captivity for four years. Now, in her twenties, she has a fragile stability but with the help of her psychiatrist, she has started to build a life of independence. But she will never shake off the terror and memory of the monster she believes is behind bars. When Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued from a basement having suffered a similar experience, her parents call Reeve to ask for her help in helping their daughter rediscover a ‘normal’ life. But it is only when two other girls go missing that the police confirm the link and that there is a serial abductor in their midst. Reeve knows that she alone has the knowledge which will help to find the perpetrator – but can she overcome her demons to discover the truth?

2013 has produced a plethora of fiction based on the theme of abduction, and the emotional and traumatic journey to recovery undergone by women held captive at the hands of abusers, and with the revelation of the Ariel Castro case in America, there is much to be said about art mirroring life. Admittedly having read at least four with this theme last year with varying degrees of success, I was a little ambivalent at facing another, but thankfully The Edge of Normal  has neatly circumvented the woeful plotting and laboured narratives of the others I have read this year, and really struck a chord in its depiction of Reeve St Claire as a survivor of long term abduction, and her journey back to life.

Called upon to counsel and offer support to a young girl, Tilly, recently liberated from an abductor, Reeve quickly establishes a rapport with her, and through the careful coercion of her psychiatrist, Dr Lerner, not only builds on her own recovery but becomes intrinsically involved in the pursuit of Tilly’s abductor. Naturally, Reeve finds herself in danger as her utter determination to stop this particularly manipulative and brutal man, still holding another girl captive, and as the story unfolds the empathy we have established with this fragile young woman, becomes even more potent. Perhaps through the author’s own professional experience of working with survivors of abuse, there is an extremely authoritative and authentic representation of Reeve’s character and the hurdles she must overcome to survive the other side of her horrific experiences, and this for me was the most compelling aspect of the narrative. Likewise, I found the characterisation of the abductor himself, an outwardly charming and professional man in a position of authority, who dispassionately manipulates other men to do his dirty work for him, extremely effective in the story. I would question slightly how if Reeve would necessarily place herself in the extreme danger she does towards the close of the plot, but was more than happy to suspend my disbelief, such was the strength of Norton’s storytelling overall. Compounded by the tentative relationship between Reeve and police detective Nick Hudson, which thankfully did not resort to some chocolate box resolution, and Reeve’s continuing journey from her fragility as a victim to a more self-assured and confident woman, I found this a thought provoking and very engaging read.

Carla Norton is the author of the Number One New York Times non-fiction bestseller, Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box and the true crime book Disturbed Ground. She was awarded a Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery for The Edge of Nomal. She served as the special sections editor for the San Jose Mercury News and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She has an MFA from Goddard College and has twice served as a judge for the Edgar Awards. The Edge of Normal is her debut novel. Carla Norton lives in Florida. http://www.carlanorton.com/ Follow on Twitter @CarlaJNorton

Read an interview with Carla Norton here, courtesy of the superb blog: My Bookish Ways http://www.mybookishways.com

More reviews of The Edge of Normal can be found here:

http://www.betweenmylines.com

http://skrishnasbooks.com

(With thanks to Pan Macmillan for the ARC)

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