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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

November 2013

Anthony Quinn- Border Angels

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a rugged place: cold, windswept, and dark. For the girls brought here from Eastern Europe, it may as well be a war zone. Put to work in a farmhouse brothel near Dunmore, the women are forced into a living hell. One night, a pimp takes one of them for a ride. She is just planning her escape when the car explodes. The next morning, there is nothing left but the pimp’s charred body and the woman’s footprints in the snow.  As his forensics specialists turn their attention to the burned corpse, Police Inspector Celcius Daly obsesses over the footprints. Where exactly did the woman come from, and where did she go? It is the sort of question asked only in the borderlands—between North and South, between life and death.
Now, this was a great little find for me and another of those books that would have been a total travesty to escape Raven’s beady eye! With my undoubted passion for Irish crime fiction, I will swiftly add Anthony Quinn to a must-read list and a definite recommendation for fans of Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes et al and, when time allows, I will certainly be seeking out Quinn’s first in the Police Inspector Celcius Daly series, The Disappeared.
The plot of Border Angels revolves around the trafficking of young Eastern European women to work in the sex trade around the border areas of Ireland, and as the nefarious goings-on of one brothel is exposed by Daly and his team, one young woman is found to be involved in the suspicious death of a formerly successful Irish businessman. Quinn balances perfectly not only the setting and location of the initial investigation, drawing on the borderlands violent past in the heyday of The Troubles and its wild beauty, but also the very contemporary financial difficulties experienced by Ireland in the shadow of the collapse of certain sections of the economy. Add to this the burgeoning pressures and dangers of the less salubrious side of immigration prevalent in the country today, and the scene is set beautifully for not only an engrossing tale of murder and deceit, but for a very authentic picture of Ireland today.
Since reading Mark Sullivan’s Crocodile Tears earlier in the year, I was not expecting to encounter another new-to-me detective that would so strike a chord within this reader, but Police Inspector Celcius Daly fits the bill admirably. Daly, unlike many other fictional detectives, is defined by his ordinariness- a man of a certain age coming to terms with the break-up of his marriage, and setting the shortcomings of his personal life against his professionalism as a detective. I liked his character very much- not only his natural intuitive investigative skills, but the way that he was not immune to the temptations that this particular investigation throws into his path, making for a highly believable and appealing central protagonist.
It’s always a pleasure to discover a new author in your own preferred genre of crime fiction and so Anthony Quinn was to me. An engaging investigation,  good characterisation, and a seamless blending of the current face of Ireland’s social and economic make-up, enhanced the book even further. A good read.

Anthony Quinn was born in 1971 in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and after completing an English degree at Queen’s University followed various callings – social worker, counsellor, lecturer, organic market gardener, yoga teacher – before becoming a part-time journalist and full-time father. His short stories have been short-listed twice for a Hennessy/New Irish Writing Award. Disappeared, his first novel, has been nominated for a Strand Critics Award, as selected by book critics from the Washington Post, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Guardian. He works as a reporter in the wilds of County Tyrone: http://anthonyquinnwriter.com/

Read an interview with Anthony Quinn on Border Angels at http://mysteriouspress.com/blog

(I downloaded Border Angels in Kindle format via www.netgalley.com)

Ed Chatterton- Down Among The Dead Men (DI Frank Keane 2)

At first glance, the bloody crime scene in suburban Liverpool looks like a straightforward murder-suicide – the husband kills the wife and then himself. But what of their missing teenage son, Nicky? Is he their prime suspect or the third victim? With Nicky’s holiday job on a film being shot in the city bringing unwanted press attention, newly-promoted head of the Merseyside Major Incident Team DCI Frank Keane knows that time is running out to find the boy. But all too soon the case starts unravelling into one that will test Keane to the limit – and haunt him to his dying day.

Ed Chatterton bounces back onto the British crime scene with another gripping thriller featuring DCI Frank Keane, introduced to us in the brilliant debut novel, A Dark Place To Die.  Opening with the horrific murder of a respectable couple in a Liverpool suburb, and the disappearance of their teenage son, Chatterton immerses his likeable detective in the pursuance of an incredibly narcissistic killer, taking us into the strange labyrinthine world of the Joseph Williamson tunnels that provides a particularly sinister feel in terms of location, and then a relocation to the bright lights of Los Angeles in search of said killer.

As in A Dark Place To Die, Chatterton uses this plot device of transporting the action across continents (Australia in the previous outing) for Keane to pursue his quarry, and although I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the strands that this produced, I found with a  slight suspension of disbelief, my attention was still held. This is due to the fact that the pace of the whole affair is unrelenting, and there is an immediacy and sense of urgency about the prose that gets a hold of the reader, compelling you to read this quickly. Fuelled by the great characterisation, in particular of our everyman hero DCI Frank Keane, Chatterton has created a police officer with an appeal that doesn’t rely on the usual cliches, and the shifting and complicated nature of his relationship with his sidekick, the marvellous DI Emma Harris, adds another dimension to the plot. As in A Dark Place to Die, Chatterton pulls no punches in terms of language, violence and sexual reference, although this didn’t feel quite as wonderfully sordid as the first book. The interactions between the police protagonists, in particular, is infused with the natural wit so characteristic of Liverpool,  so some of the darkness is offset with some mordantly funny exchanges, adding to the general fluidity of the dialogue and the interactions between the characters. Indeed, it is probably this aspect of both Chatterton’s books that holds the greatest appeal for me as a reader, as his observation of the weaknesses of human character is always spot on, and his characterisation across gender and social class always has an authentic feel in terms of speech and behaviours. I feel like I know these characters intimately, and this extends to the fascinating and murderous killer that Keane pursues throughout the book, with an inherent balance of charm and evil that makes for a compelling bad guy, seeking to elude our dogged detective.

So, in conclusion, an extremely readable follow up to the superb A Dark Place To Die. Although less dark, sleazy and visceral than Chatterton’s debut, that really set the first book apart, I enjoyed the overall plot and catching up with DCI Frank Keane. Just don’t call him Roy…

Read Raven’s review of the first Frank Keane book here: A-Dark-Place-To-Die/

and Interview-with-Ed-Chatterton

Ed Chatterton was born in Liverpool, England and, working as Martin Chatterton, has been successfully writing and illustrating children’s books for twenty-five years. In addition to his award-winning career as a writer, he has also worked as a graphic designer, university lecturer, commercials director and failed lingerie baron. After spending some years moving between the UK and the US, he emigrated to Australia in 2004 and became a citizen in 2006. He lives in northern NSW and is married with two vampires: www.edchatterton.com

(With thanks to Midas PR for the ARC)

Andrea Camilleri- The Treasure Hunt (Inspector Montalbano 16)

Montalbano opened the door to step out. But Gallo held him back, putting one hand on his arm. ‘What’s in there, Chief?’ ‘If it’s what I think, it’s something so horrific that it’ll haunt your dreams for the rest of your life . . .’ When a crazed elderly man and his sister begin firing bullets from their balcony down onto the Vigata street below, Inspector Montalbano finds himself a reluctant television hero. A few days later, when a letter arrives containing a mysterious riddle, the Inspector becomes drawn into a perplexing treasure hunt set by an anonymous challenger. As the hunt intensifies, Montalbano is relieved to be offered the assistance of Arturo Pennisi, a young man eager to witness the detective’s investigative skills first hand. Fending off meddling commissioners and his irate girlfriend, Livia, the inspector will follow the treasure hunt’s clues and travel from Vigata’s teeming streets to its deserted outskirts: where an abandoned house overlooks a seemingly bottomless lake. But when a horrifying crime is committed, the game must surely be laid aside. And it isn’t long before Montalbano himself will be in terrible danger . . .

If anyone was to ask what books would accompany me to a desert island, the entire Montalbano series to date would be a strong contender. There is something about the quality of Camilleri’s writing that there is always some slight nuance or unexpected event that catches you off-guard, revealing to the reader another facet to the character of the remarkable Inspector Montalbano. Indeed, with each new book Camilleri admirably deceives us, as these tales combine in the reader a sense of the comfortably familiar, but equally he delights in  intentionally unsettling us by the intervention of some strange, or more usually, hilarious moment that changes the direction of the narrative. So bring on The Treasure Hunt

From the outset, The Treasure Hunt, combines the dark and light elements that Camilleri is renowned for. A couple of elderly religious extremists begin taking pot-shots from their apartment at innocent passers by, resulting in a sudden case of immolation and a need for Montalbano to go, in the words of sidekick Catarella, all ‘Brussi Villesi’ to gain access to said apartment. Confronted with a huge spread of religious icons and the startling inclusion of a bizarre blow-up-doll, Montalbano once again finds himself caught up in a bizarre investigation, further complicated by the arrival of another blow-up-doll (with the inevitable Italian version of ‘Carry-On’ that this produces) and the wilful inclusion of Montalbano in a strange treasure hunt, reflected by the book’s title. Add to this Camilleri’s trademark portrayal of the sights, sounds and culinary aspects of Montalbano’s home turf, the never ending ups and downs of his relationships with both the luscious Livia and Scandinavian temptress Ingrid, Montalbano’s melancholic musings, and the ease and comic touch with which Camilleri immerses us back into the colourful world of his regular troop of characters, and this is once again a book impossible to fault. Another example of the twisted brilliance of Mr Camilleri, and quite simply, una lettura perfetta…

Andrea Camilleri is one of Italy’s most famous contemporary writers. His Montalbano series has been adapted for Italian television and translated into nine languages. He lives in Rome. Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator. He is also the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Open Vault. He lives in France.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Brian McGilloway- Hurt ( DS Lucy Black 2)

Late December. A sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on a train line. Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is called to identify the body. The only clues to the dead teenager’s last movements are stored in her mobile phone and on social media – and it soon becomes clear that her ‘friends’ were not as trustworthy as she thought.

Lucy is no stranger to death: she is still haunted by the memory of the child she failed to save, and the killer she failed to put behind bars. And with a new boss scrutinizing her every move, she is determined that – this time – she will leave no margin for error.

Following the phenomenal success of Little Girl Lost, the first thriller featuring DS Lucy Black, McGilloway returns to her character in his new release Hurt. Despite me being a huge fan if the Inspector Devlin series, I must confess that somehow McGilloway’s alternative series had escaped my radar, so this is my first foray into Lucy Black’s world, and a thoroughly riveting and enjoyable one at that.

There is more than enough reference to the events of the first book for the new reader to be quickly immersed in the harrowing events that Black has experienced, and which have shaped her character, both in a personal and professional sense. What the reader quickly perceives is that Black is an extremely committed and focused police officer, even if she does become slightly too personally involved in her cases at times, but fulfilling the classic edict of all great detective fiction, has a rather unsettled personal life in the wake of a failed relationship. Refreshingly though, she is not aided and abetted by the failings of her personal life by being either sexually promiscuous or befuddled by drink and drugs, but instead immerses herself in an emotive investigation where damaged young girls in the care system are procured for sex, resulting in murder. McGilloway really taps into Black’s increasing bewilderment at the sheer disregard shown for these vulnerable girls, by the men (some of them in positions of trust or power) that use and abuse them, and embarks on a single-minded mission to gain justice on their behalf, drawing Black into extreme personal danger. McGilloway once again demonstrates his superlative skill at pace and plotting, increasing the feeling of danger at a steady pace to a truly nail-biting last few chapters. This, in tandem, with the superb characterisation of both Black herself, and her colleagues, in particular her immediate boss, DI Tom Fleming, who has an interesting story of his own within the plot, and Black’s difficult relationship with his replacement, makes for a powerful and gripping thriller. The reader is immersed throughout in Black’s personal narrative, but in addition McGilloway perfectly conveys the less than pleasant aspects that lurk below respectable society, that powerfully unsettle the reader but which are integral to the overall theme of the book, focusing on the abuse of vulnerable young people in society, and the role of individuals like Black in bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. A striking read with a great female protagonist that kept me hooked throughout.

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1974, and teaches English at St Columb’s College, Derry. He lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children. He is the author of six previous crime novels: Little Girl Lost, The Rising, Bleed A River Deep, Gallows Lane, Borderlands and The Nameless Dead: www.brianmcgilloway.com

(With thanks to Constable & Robinson for the ARC)

George Pelecanos- The Double (Spero Lucas 2)

  The second novel featuring Spero Lucas, a young Iraq vet working as a PI in Washington DC but with a sideline in finding lost items – the kind of items the owners can’t go to the police about. This time Spero is trying to find a painting belonging to a sexy young woman who was scammed out of it by a super-smooth con artist, part of a team of ruthless thugs. Spero tracks the painting down but the woman is brutally attacked to warn him off. Spero goes on the attack and takes the gang out one by one in their isolated house in the woods – prompting the question: have his experiences in Iraq turned him into an amoral killer no better than the crooks he’s up against? It’s this question that gives the book its dark edge, and moral ambiguity, with a hero we’re not quite sure we should like.

I am an avid fan of  George Pelecanos and always look forward to this time of the year which holds the promise of a new book from him, so was as keen as mustard to read this follow-up to The Cut featuring ex-soldier and private investigator Spero Lucas. Unfortunately, The Double didn’t quite live up to my expectations, comprising mostly of sex, cycling, a bit of canoeing, sex, a murder investigation, sex and a missing painting, but here are my thoughts…

There can be no argument that Lucas is a wonderful creation being a true man’s man and combining a mix of moral ambiguity, showing moments of charm and empathy underscored by a propensity for violence and womanising. The tables are turned nicely in this one with Lucas being called upon for his prowess in the bedroom by a sexually voracious married woman (a neat re-working of the McNulty/D’Agostino storyline from The Wire) but despite his growing infatuation discovers that there is little else to this relationship. Hence, a large part of the book is devoted to this mismatched physical relationship, while Lucas struggles with matters of the heart (or in his case- the trouser department) and endeavours to put his mind to what he should actually be doing. The central plot is also somewhat undone by the focus on Lucas’ other physical activities with his seemingly endless scenic cycle trips, where each location is dutifully pointed out and described in some detail, that quickly lost my interest, as  I was more keen to return to his tracking down of the bad men doing bad things. Where the book got back on form for me, was seeing Lucas in his tough guy role, with the references to both his former soldiering career and the interaction between him and his other ex-military cohorts, as the race to track down a nasty, violent group of con-artists got into full swing. Additionally, Pelecanos is great on the socio-political side of his plotting, and the observations he makes on the US involvement abroad and the social decline of certain areas of Washington DC outside the corridors of power is as sharp and focused as usual. Lucas is commissioned to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice, seeking to try and prove a man innocent of a murder, but to me this plotline was slightly lost and unbalanced within the central narrative, as his other mission to recover a stolen painting from an emotionally unstable woman took precedence in the story. I would have liked the book to have been concerned with one or the other, rather than producing a weakness to both strands in a relatively slim book so in short a rather mixed affair all round.

The book is peppered throughout with Pelecanos’ trademark cultural references to music, films and books and I liked the quote that reading should comprise of “ a good story with clean, efficient writing, a plot involving a problem to be solved or surmounted, and everyday characters the reader could relate to”. Although The Double does not quite fit this manifesto on some levels for this reader, it was nevertheless good to see the return of the entertaining Spero Lucas in a generally engaging, though slightly patchy read, from one of my favourite American crime authors.

George Pelecanos is an independent film producer, an essayist, the recipient of numerous international writing awards, a producer and an EMMY-nominated writer on the HBO hit series THE WIRE. He is the author of a bestselling series of crime novels set in and around Washington, D.C: www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/georgepelecanos/

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Roger A. Price- By Their Rules

By Their RulesA new, ruthless and implacable mastermind from Africa has surfaced in gangland, carrying out his darkest deeds in the murky grey shadows of London s back streets. But, following the multiple slaughter of a large number of policemen by this monster, and his intention to commit further atrocious crimes, the challenge has to be met. The result is that this reign of terror is likely to have catastrophic consequences so emergency action is imperative.   Together, Lee and Burrows form a talented, resourceful, athletic team of experienced investigators who become dedicated to the eradication of this evil, yet powerful killer. But Cabilla’s awesome control of his murderous gang who torture victims to death, and his totally ruthless plans still appear to be gaining ground throughout the City…

Overall I was singularly impressed by debut thriller By Their Rules from the pen of former police officer Roger A. Price and for the most part enjoyed this high-octane and pacey tale, centring on the insidious activities of the vicious African gangster Shonbo Cabilla. and his criminal involvement in sex trafficking and drug smuggling. Price teams together two extremely effective characters, John Burrows and Jane Lee, both with backgrounds in the police or security services, who are tasked to track down Cabilla, and drawing on the author’s own former career in covert intelligence, there is an authentic and knowledgeable tone to the whole affair, with an exceptional eye to the detail of how operations such as this would play out. Admittedly, at times the central thrust of the action is slowed by the insertion of a little too much factual detail, and Price does use the trusty plot device of Lee asking weighted questions of Burrows to put across this information to the reader, but for the most part the attention to detail adds to the richness of the plot, providing the reader with an interesting window into the legitimate and more clandestine operational activities of those tasked with protecting the public.  There is also a satisfying interweaving of Cabilla’s chequered history in the Congo during civil conflict, conveying to the reader the development of violence within his character and his utter disregard for, and persecution of, others- not a man to be met in a dark alley or even broad daylight! Both Cabilla and his henchmen, are well characterised overall and the danger placed on an undercover police officer who has infiltrated their gang is truly nerve shredding- edge of the seat stuff indeed.  The interplay and dialogue between Burrows and Lee, is effective throughout, with the inevitable ‘will they-won’t they’ scenario nicely played out along the way, and I was delighted to see with the inclusion of Lee, a more mature and feisty female protagonist imbued with a determined streak who can hold her own in times of peril, set against the strength and dependability of John Burrows himself. Neatly done.

So overall there is much to recommend By Their Rules, and aside from the minor quibble of pacing the only thing I would add in a purely cosmetic comment is that maybe the cover is a little old-fashioned and doesn’t really reflect the ‘thriller’ side of the book- would probably benefit from looking a little more contemporary to prompt that initial ‘pick-up’. A good debut though, and I would be more than happy to read any planned follow-up if this were to develop into a series.

Roger A. Price a retired detective inspector who had been in charge of a covert unit, which received national acclaim for its successes in engaging those who openly sold Class A drugs.   Prior to this, he d been in charge of the C.I.D. at Preston, having first led a dedicated informant unit.   He also worked on murders, drugs squads, and the regional and national crime squads, often in covert roles across the UK, Europe and the Far East, receiving several commendations.   Now writing crime thrillers, he uses his previous professional experiences to add gritty realism.  Visit the author’s website at www.rogerapriceauthor.com

(With thanks to the author for the ARC in exchange for an honest review)

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

October has been a month of criminal delights , packed full of new releases from established, and less familiar authors. I seem to finally be catching up with myself, so there are some September releases that I have finally got round to reviewing and it’s been a busy old month all told. Hope you find some treats here! Have also celebrated my 200th post on Raven Crime Reads and hosted ‘The Killing’ Giveaway courtesy of Macmillan. Many thanks to all who those who entered and the lucky winner is Ewa Sherman- well done!  Plenty more reading to come in November as well, so expect another bunch of eclectic crime from the feathered one, and the continuing battle with the mountainous TBR pile…but it’s great!

Books reviewed at Raven Crime Reads:

Hakan Nesser– The Strangler’s Honeymoon

Carla Norton– The Edge of Normal

Linwood Barclay– A Tap On The Window

Val McDermid– Cross and Burn

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

Robert Gott– The Holiday Murders

Hilary Bonner– The Cruellest Game

William Boyd– Solo

Jakob Arjouni– Brother Kemal (Kayankaya 5)

Also read this month:

Philippe Georget- Summertime, All The Cats Are Bored– A delightful European crime novel with a perfect blend of the slightly whimsical set against the downright sinister. Set against the richly portrayed backdrop of Perpignan with the foibles  of its local community, this is a great read suffused with dry humour and an armoury of totally engaging characters that provide a nice counterbalance to the central story of a particularly weird serial killer on the loose targeting Dutch women. The central police character of Sebag (a mix of Van Veeteren and Montalbano in character) is a marvellous creation and the portrayal of his professional and personal life endears him heartily to the reader- a good read indeed.

Jeffrey Deaver- The October List– an experiment in crime writing that sees the book opening with the final chapter, thus leading to read the plot backwards seeing how the story gets from B to A as oppose from A to B! Admittedly, I admired Deaver’s foray into the deconstruction of the linear narrative, but to be honest I felt my enjoyment was spoiled by knowing in advance the denouement and lost interest as the plot reveals became apparent. Clever certainly, but not for me, and as a bookseller am slightly perplexed by the number of book buyers contesting that the book has been misbound!

Hannah Kent- Burial Rites– Drawing on the haunting and lyrical beauty of the traditional Icelandic Sagas, Kent has skilfully reimagined the events surrounding a real life murder case from 19th century Iceland. Although not categorised as a crime fiction book, I felt this book more than warranted a mention here, as the plot revolves around the journey to trial and punishment of the accused. Suffused with the atmospheric darkness of Scandinavian fiction, Kent’s recreation of the harsh day to day existence of these rural folk is masterful, and there is a poignancy to the whole affair that really stays with you after reading. Wonderful.

Raven’s Book of the Month

Product DetailsDespite the noteworthy temptations of the new Hakan Nesser and the powerful debut by Carla Norton, I have picked Robert Gott-The Holiday Murders as my book of the month. I thoroughly enjoyed this imaginative journey back into the period of Second World War Australia, not only for the strength of the central murder plot and ensuing investigation, but also for bringing to life an era of Australian life that was largely unfamiliar to me. The characterisation was superb and Gott neatly controlled the building of suspense with some nifty little twists and turns along the way to hold the reader’s interest. A surprising little package all in all and a great pick of the month…

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