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: Follow on Twitter @andrewcotto and on Facebook

 Check out Andrew Cotto’s playlist for Outerborough Blues here:

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. Follow on Twitter @CarlaJNorton

Read an interview with Carla Norton here, courtesy of the superb blog: My Bookish Ways

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

(With thanks to Pan Macmillan for the ARC)

Hakan Nesser- The Strangler’s Honeymoon

Desperately lonely, sixteen-year-old Monica Kammerle has little idea of what she is getting herself into when she begins an affair with her mother’s latest partner; the sophisticated Benjamin Kerran . . . Months later, when a woman’s strangled body is found, the Maardam police must discover who has committed this terrible crime. It isn’t long before they realize the perpetrator may have killed before – and is likely to do so again. Meanwhile former Chief Inspector Van Veeteren finds himself drawn into the mystery when a priest, who has learned dreadful secrets, appeals to him for help. But when the priest falls beneath the wheels of a train and the police find more dead-ends than leads, it seems Van Veeteren will have to come up with a new approach to unearth this dark serial killer. Before he chooses his next victim . . .

It’s always such a treat being immersed back into Hakan Nesser’s carefully crafted world of detection and intuition, and with reading the whole series to date I am always left with a feeling after each, that the one just finished is now my favourite/the best of the series. The Strangler’s Honeymoon does little to buck this trend, as I will say confidently that this could now be my favourite/the best…

There is something hypnotic about the gentle ease in which Nesser immerses you in one compelling thriller after another, and the refreshing attitude that he brings to the genre that not all detectives need to be either (a) prone to ludicrous bouts of reasoning and actions that are implausible or thrusting them into laughably dangerous situations that stretch our credibility or (b) are overly encumbered with emotional baggage to make them more interesting or dynamic to the reader. Aside from Moreno’s natural cautiousness towards affairs of the heart, the central players in Nesser’s world are unerringly likeable, empathetic and effortlessly engage the reader in their personal and professional lives, inveigling us completely in their methods of detection and the natural progressions of their investigations. On the subject of character, as much as I enjoyed The Weeping Girl and the more central role played by DI Ewa Moreno, I’m sure I was not alone in slightly pining for the appearance or intervention of her mentor Van Veeteren, now spending his days surrounded by antiquarian books, but still eager to exercise the little grey cells of detection. Van Veeteren is an integral player throughout the novel, as a young priest troubled by a confession, wends his way to our retired detective’s door knowing of the man’s former reputation, drawing our old favourite into Moreno’s and her colleagues investigation into the murder of an emotionally unstable woman and the disappearance of her teenage daughter. Once again we see the steely mental cogs of Van Veeteren’s intuitive mind that aid his former colleagues’ investigation, but which are so inviting to us as readers as we are almost trying to solve the case at the same speed as our ardent detectives. The whole novel is tinged with the nuances of Van Veeteren’s wonderful character and his natural wit and intelligence and supplanted with clever little references to the literary world that aid his methods of deduction, and add additional points of interest to this wholly engaging tale of obsession and murder.

Nesser’s pacing of the plot is once again perfect, and the tying of the sunsoaked brutal opening scene to the final images of the novel provide a parentheses around the richly unwinding story of the life and times of a murderer, across split time frames, that unfolds gradually between the changes of location. This ebb and flow between different locations and periods is beautifully handled throughout, and Nesser’s depiction of a particularly manipulative and remorseless killer is truly chilling, with a nice play on the old adage, hell hath no fury….

All in all another completely satisfying addition to one of my favourite series, unhindered by the usual cliches of the Scandinavian/European crime genre, that as readable as they are have become almost de rigeur of this genre. A marvellous series indeed.

Håkan Nesser is one of Sweden’s most popular crime writers, receiving numerous awards for his novels featuring Inspector Van Veeteren, including the European Crime Fiction Star Award (Ripper Award) 2010/11, the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Prize (three times) and Scandinavia’s Glass Key Award. The Van Veeteren series is published in over 25 countries and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Håkan Nesser lives in Gotland with his wife, and spends part of each year in the UK.

(With thanks to Sophie at Mantle for the ARC)

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

September proved to be a mix of extreme frustration on one hand, and a month of some truly good finds on the other! I had a few non-starters this month, sadly by some very established names in the world of crime fiction, where unbelievable coincidences or simply some lazy pedestrian plotting- one even had an almost Mills & Boon final scene- thwarted my reading with some still lying unfinished around my abode. However, that being said there were some real diamonds in the rough this month, and continuing my new campaign to highlight newer authors on the block, September has, on reflection, not been too bad at all!

Books reviewed on Raven Crime Reads: 

Steffen Jacobsen– When The Dead Awaken

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

 Larry Quartley-Closure

 Ian Hough-Flake

Rob Kitchin-Stiffed

(Ed.) Craig Douglas & Darren Sant– Gloves Off

Hans Koppel– You’re Mine Now

Ivy Pochoda– Visitation Street

Massimo Carlotto- At The End Of A Dull Day

Alexa Camouro– Dixon Grace 1.9.7 Hamburg

Louise Phillips- The Doll’s House

Looking forward to October as my  stash of books looks to be full of treats. With some of the big-hitters, Jeffrey Deaver, Linwood Barclay and Philip Kerr for example, all having new releases, and also some new-to- me authors in the mix, it’s going to be a busy month of reading and reviewing for this little birdie! And so to….

Raven’s Book of the Month

As besotted as I was with both Ivy Pochoda’s stunning Visitation Street and Steffen Jcobsen’s totally gripping When The Dead Awaken, I am going to award my book of the month to debut British thriller The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P D Viner. What set this book apart was how completely it wrong-footed the reader, and as the story unfolded threw up surprises galore, as well as so brilliantly portraying the effects of the death of a loved one on those left behind. A remarkable and thought provoking read, that really brought something refreshing and new to the crime genre.