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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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January 2014

Malcolm Mackay- The Sudden Arrival of Violence (Glasgow Trilogy 3)

He’s touching the front of his coat, feeling the shape of the gun. Should have got rid of it. On any other night, any other job, he would. This isn’t any other job. This, he intends, will be his last . . . It begins with two deaths: a money-man and a grass. Deaths that offer a unique opportunity to a man like Calum MacLean. A man who has finally had enough of killing. Meanwhile two of Glasgow’s biggest criminal organisations are at quiet, deadly war with one another. And as Detective Michael Fisher knows, the biggest – and bloodiest – manoeuvres are yet to come . . .

Have delayed writing a review of this one, as I am in a state of denial that this marvellous trilogy has reached its final curtain. Having been bowled over by the fist two instalments, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter and How A Gunman says Goodbye (and bored everyone interminably with how good they are) Malcolm Mackay finishes his Glasgow Trilogy with a bang and not a whimper…

Redolent of the spare, gritty prose that Mackay has now gained a reputation for, and reminiscent of that colossus of Scottish crime fiction, William McIlvanney, The Sudden Arrival of Violence continues to pull no punches in its depiction of the Glasgow underworld and for many of the major characters this is the final reckoning with scores to be settled once and for all. Calum MacLean, a gunman for hire wants out, being heartily sickened with not only the elements of his last job for crime boss Peter Jamieson, but having become increasingly disillusioned with his choice of career, and life within the criminal fraternity. Jamieson himself has reached his boiling point in his determination to cement his position as the true overlord of criminal control in Glasgow, wanting to stamp out his challengers once and for all. Likewise, DI Michael Fisher, frustrated in his pursuit of Jamieson and his cohorts, is a man on a mission to bring them to justice by any means necessary. As all three men begin on their paths of action and try to extinguish the threats to their ultimate aims, Mackay ramps up the tension, neatly intertwining their three quests into a sublime and flowing narrative, manipulating the reader’s empathy, particularly in the case of Calum, with a true heart-wrenching episode along the way, that by its difference to the normal stone-cold narrative of these books, makes for a shocking impact on the reader. Such is Mackay’s skill at manipulation that for me certainly Calum is an inordinately sympathetic character, presented in such a way that it becomes easy to overlook his clinical and murderous career, and really empathize with his wish to escape, despite the personal cost that arises…

Although this could be read in isolation (and includes a handy list of characters) I would wholeheartedly implore you to read the trilogy in its entirety, to really get a feel for Mackay’s spare prose and to appreciate the nuances of the relationships between the characters. As I have said in my previous reviews of the series, there is a cold, dispassionate tone throughout, not only in relation to the violence of the events presented, but also in the emotional reactions of the characters themselves that is both alienating yet inclusive to the reader’s experience. The writing is seemingly straightforward, but almost witholds as much as it reveals. It is extremely rare to find a trilogy where all three books warrant a 5 star rating, but delighted to say that Mackay achieves this admirably. A great series with a suitably compelling ending. I wonder what’s next….

Read other reviews of A Sudden Arrival of Violence at:

Readerdad

Crimefictionlover

Raven reviews:

Malcolm Mackay- The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (Glasgow Trilogy 1).

Malcolm Mackay- How A Gunman Says Goodbye (Glasgow Trilogy 2).

 (With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Marc Pastor- Barcelona Shadows

Barcelona ShadowsIn 1917, Barcelona’s infamous Raval district is alive with outlandish rumours. A monster is abducting and murdering young children. The police are either powerless to prevent his terrible crimes,or indifferent to them, since they concern only the sons and daughters of prostitutes. But Inspector Moises Corvo is determined to stop the outrages, and punish their perpetrator. His inquiries take him on a tour of the Catalan capital,through slum, high-class brothel and casino, and end in a stomach-turning revelation…

Originally entitled La Mala Dona – The Evil Woman – Barcelona Shadows fictionalises the real events of 1911-1912 involving the serial disappearance of young children. Drawing on his own experiences as a crime scene investigator, Pastor is well placed to produce more than one shiver down his readers’ spines, as he recounts the events of these sinister disappearances, and the fears of the community that a real life vampire walks amongst them in this compelling and unsettling novel. With more than a nod to the penny dreadful genre of 19th century literature, and scattered with references to Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allen Poe,  you are instantly drawn into this dark story, overseen by the omnipresent narrator of Death himself, and what a tale it is…

This book pulls no punches from the opening bodysnatching scene, with a dark jibe at the use of a headless corpse, which did appeal to my dark sense of humour. There are children playing with bones, overstuffed flies that have feasted on bodies, details of autopsies, with a good coating of the visceral nature the crimes themselves. There are beautifully Dickensian-esque characters that lodged in my imagination as toothless stinking ragbags with glorious names such as One Eye and Blackmouth and the insane Doctor von Baumgarten with his creepy medical investigations. Cleverly, in his depiction of the main detectives, the charming womaniser Corvo and his earnest counterpart Malsano, there was a nod to the more contemporary motifs of crime fiction, as they endeavour to solve the disappearances and subsequent murders under the gaze of an idiotic boss, with more than a dash of sardonic wit a la Montalbano or Rebus. I really took to this crime fighting duo, in particular Corvo, described as no longer a defender of good folk as toughened by his experiences as he no longer believes in good folk and as an old dog, grim-faced and filled with vices, but with a tenacious zeal for clearing the streets of scum, but at what personal cost to himself? The perpetrator of the crimes in the book, the hypnotically chilling and manipulative Enriqueta, takes on all the childhood nightmare inducing qualities of Baba Yaga or the gingerbread house dwelling witch of fairytale tradition, and equally frightening to think that in the real life case that Pastor draws on that the chief suspect in the child snatching was indeed a woman. As her madness intensifies during the book, ably supported by three dim-witted men bowing to her every whim, the plot twists and turns, transporting the reader along effortlessly as more horrors are unveiled at every turn.

I think that there is a specific intention by Pastor for the city to assume a character of its own in the book, and the depiction of the grinding poverty and the population’s propensity for an unerring superstitious belief all adds to the very atypical 19th century feel of the book, as the setting is so resonant of the industrial geography of Northern England and even London itself. Barcelona is referred to in phrases such as ‘a city of mask and lies’, and equally as a coldhearted being that, ‘keeps pretending nothing is going on’. There is a feel itself that the city is endeavouring to thwart the investigations of the police, and keep its dark and dirty shadows filled with fear for the general populace. The well-crafted descriptions of the city itself all add to the overall disturbing nature of the book and the crimes contained within it and achieved for me a narrative equally on a par with the psycho-geographic mastery of writers such as Peter Ackroyd with Hawksmoor or Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy

I concede that this dark tale, populated by a cast of grotesques and infused with a visceral wit, may not be to everyone’s taste, but it really tapped into the dark imaginings of the human psyche. All in all, a clever, parodic novel that will appeal to those who actively search out something different within the crime genre and an entirely satisfying read at that.

Marc Pastor studied criminology and crime policy, and works as a crime-scene investigator in Barcelona. He is the author of four novels: Montecristo, Barcelona Shadows, awarded the Crims de Tinta prize in 2008, L’any de la plaga and Bioko. Richly atmospheric, his work spans a range of genres, from Sci Fi to Gothic via the adventure novel. Barcelona Shadows is first book published in English. Follow on Twitter @DoctorMoriarty. Marc Pastor’s first UK TV appearance- http://bbc.in/1fhKk12 

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

An Interview With Suzanne Rindell- The Other Typist Blog Tour and Review

The Other Typist long banner
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untitledTo mark the release of the paperback edition of the stunningly dark New York tale, The Other Typist, debut author, Suzanne Rindell has taken some time out from work on her new book to answer some probing questions from the Raven..
Can you tell us about the inspiration for The Other Typist?


I was writing a dissertation on literature and culture of the 1920’s and came upon an obituary of a woman who had worked as a typist in a police precinct during Prohibition.  Her life as I imagined it intrigued me, and soon after finding the obituary I began hearing the voice of Rose, my narrator.  The dissertation was meant to be academic in nature, so I really sort of went off the beaten path when I decided to “listen” to Rose and write the novel.

 Rose is a wonderfully formed and multi-faceted character and her loose relationship with the truth makes her a disconcerting and unreliable narrator. Was this your original intention? 


Part of the reason I was so keen to write the book and pursue Rose’s story was because right off the bat, I could tell she had a warped sense of the world around her.  I thought it would be fun to pit two opposing concepts against one another by putting this emotionally damaged woman in the role of a typist, thereby challenging our assumptions that legal transcription is somehow above the influence of human bias – as Rose proves, it isn’t!

 The sinister undercurrents of Rose`s relationship with and fixation on the divine Odalie drive the plot and keep the readers on the back foot. How clearly was this relationship set in your mind before writing or did you just decide during the writing process to make it a good deal more unsettling for us?


I suppose in the beginning, I simply had an image – or impression, really – of these two women in mind.  On the surface of things, I wanted Rose and Odalie to be opposites and to have these superficial differences drop away as the novel goes on.  I knew Odalie I needed to use Odalie as a sort of decoy in order to tease out Rose’s complexities, but that was all.  I let the rest unfold of its own accord.

The ending was defined by its ambiguity and I appreciate we cannot reveal it here! Was this another ruse to play with the reader`s minds?


I think it was a result of following the plot through to its unraveling point.  I wasn’t trying to trick anyone so much as feel my way to a point of resolution.  Without giving anything away, for me, the ending was not so much about Odalie’s lies or Rose’s lies to other people so much as it was about revealing all the many ways in which Rose has lied to herself.

The atmosphere, settings and whole feel of this period is wonderfully evoked throughout. Apart from F. Scott Fitzgerald`s The Great Gatsby, what other specific authors provided your influence?


Because I had been studying the period, I had a pretty sizable store of research to draw upon.  I had freshly read all sorts of wonderful authors who artistically shaped that era – Hemingway, Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Pound, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker, Radclyffe Hall, Michael Arlen – popular and critically acclaimed authors alike.  Then there are other research details; like, for instance, that I collect Vogue magazines from the 1920’s.  Those were great fun to skim through when getting in the mood to write.  Everything from the articles to the advertisements was useful in getting the period right.

It was great to see the male characters only bathed in the reflected light of and at the whim of the very strong female protagonists, even down to their being referred to initially by their job titles- the Lieutenant etc. Why did you decide to do this and what has been the general response?


I suppose that choice was an extension of how I imagined Rose would see the world around her.  In the beginning of the book, she’s very into formalities, and would favor titles over first names.  She’s also emotionally isolated in a lot of ways, and leery of men.  In terms of response, I had a lot of readers – including my editor – tell me they wanted to see Rose be more kind to the Lieutenant Detective in general.  I tried once or twice to rewrite those scenes, but Rose simply wouldn’t play nice, and I realized it was part of her arrested development.  She’s cruel to him the way little girls on the playground can be reflexively mean to boys who like them.  She doesn’t possess the emotional confidence to move past this basic state of insecurity.

How closely involved will you be with the film adaptation of The Other Typist? As a reader I’m already picturing certain actors in the main roles so will be fascinated to see the final cut…


I get excited every time I hear from the people over at Fox Searchlight, and so far they have been very kind to keep me posted as things develop, and to ask my opinion about casting and writers.  I’m very curious to see how the screenwriter they choose will adapt the end of the novel.

 What`s next?

I’m working on a second book, and hope to have it edited soon!

RAVEN’S REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the rest of Suzanne Rindell’s blog tour using the links below:

January 16th- NOVELICIOUS

www.novelicious.com

January 17th- THE BOOKBAG

www.thebookbag.co.uk

January 18th- RAVEN CRIME READS

https://ravencrimereads.wordpress.com

January 19th- LEELEE LOVES

http://leeleeloves.co.uk/

January 20th- READING IN THE SUNSHINE

http://readinginthesunshine.wordpress.com/

Becky Masterman- Rage Against The Dying

 In her hey-day, ex FBI agent, Brigid Quinn, not only worked serial killer cases but became their prize. Small and blond, from a distance she looked vulnerable and slight…the perfect bait to catch a killer. But as Quinn got older, she realised she needed to find a protégé, a younger field agent to take her place. So Quinn trains a twenty-two year old and lets her loose in the field. The plan works. Until the Route 66 killer not only takes the bait, but kills the bait.Years on, Quinn is trying to move past the fact that she has a young woman’s death on her conscience. She’s now the perfect Stepford Wife – until she gets a knock on her door. The girl’s body has finally been discovered. Quinn is pulled back into the case and the more she learns about the killer the more she comes to believe, despite the overwhelming forensic evidence to hand, that they have the wrong man…

 Becky Masterman has really brought something different to the thriller market with her impressive debut novel Rage Against The Dying. With a strapline from Linwood Barclay saying, ‘Masterman writes like an angel that has seen too many ungodly things’, I can only agree, with such a visceral plot and with a band of damaged and affecting characters. I think it is demeaning to the strength of Masterman’s writing, to simply label this as a serial killer thriller in the conventional sense. Yes, the essential ingredients of this genre are in evidence with the plot focusing on the actions of the Route 66 killer and the violent details of his, as yet, unpunished killing spree, but it quickly becomes clear that this book carries a weight and emotional depth largely untapped in this kind of writing. As our erstwhile heroine ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, who has her own personal history with the case, insinuates herself back into the investigation after a violent event, what Masterman constructs is an examination of not only a race to catch a killer, but how those left in the wake of violence try to come to terms with their lives and deal with the need for retribution. Masterman truly captures not only the the motivation of those who endeavour to administer justice, but equally makes the reader take a trip into the darkest recesses of a killer’s mind.

 The stand out feature of this book for me is the character of Brigid Quinn herself, who is a complete breath of fresh air in the normal cardboard cutout creations of many contemporary female American crime fiction authors. Probably due to the fact that Quinn is more advanced in years than most female protagonists, her character was infinitely more rounded and believable from the outset. This is a woman living in the shadow of her former career, tormented by the aftermath of leaving a major serial killer case unsolved, and feeling personally responsible for the death of a young agent on her watch. Following a violent confrontation close to her home, Quinn is inextricably lured back to the Route 66  killer case, and is drawn into a dangerous chain of events in her search for justice, her own redemption for her former mistakes and her determination to protect another young female agent involved with case. What I liked most is the grasp of reality that Masterman keeps in her depiction of Quinn’s involvement in terms of her mental strength, but also an authentic depiction of her physical aptitude, obviously affected by her age. This air of authenticity draws the reader to Quinn, and arouses our trust and empathy with her as a character which Masterman skilfully handles throughout the course of the book. Her emotional intelligence shines through in her professional relationships, be it acting as counsellor to a bereaved father, or imparting her wisdom to a young impetuous agent on a destructive path of action. In terms of her personal relationships. Quinn has come to married life late, having being so focused on her career, and this makes for an interesting strand in the plot, examining how difficult it is for her to balance her personal life, and the pull of the chase to catch a killer. Her relationship with her husband Carlo, comes under the most severe strain, but in every interaction between these two characters, there is a complete feel of authenticity about their relationship and a sense of them adjusting and readjusting to the commitment and honesty that should define their marriage. What Masterman so neatly captures in the character of the Quinn is the day to day tussle between these two disparate parts of her life, and her sometimes misguided need to shield one from the other, but also maintaining her personal survival as violent events threaten her freedom, not to say her life.

I’m usually loathe to draw comparisons with other authors but in the interests of getting as many people as possible to discover this book I would certainly mention Masterman in the same breath as established crime author, Karin Slaughter. Masterman certainly combines the visceral nature so prevalent in Slaughter’s books, but adds a new and authentic depth to her own characterisation with her outstanding portrayal of Brigid Quinn. An extremely satisfying thriller that can only auger well for Masterman’s success in the world of crime fiction.

BECKY MASTERMAN is the acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University.  Becky lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband. Rage Against The Dying is her first thriller.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Peter May- Entry Island

When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal’s St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterise his life in the city. Travelling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime’s destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometres wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants – the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home. The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met. Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime’s conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professional duty he must fulfil, and the personal destiny that awaits him.

Following the sucessful and highly enjoyable Hebridean trilogy comprising The Black House, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen, Peter May returns with a new standalone, which again reflects the strength of his storytelling and the precision of his building of atmosphere and location. Using a split narrative, May carefully weaves the themes of time and history into an interlocking plot, comprising of real life historical events and a contemporary murder mystery…

I don’t usually read other reviews of a book that I am planning to review myself, but I was very interested to see other’s perceptions of the effectiveness of the dual storyline at play. The central character of the piece, disillusioned Montreal detective Sime Mackenzie, an interloper through his nationality, Scottish and a man set apart from his work colleagues both socially and professionally, is used as the conduit for both aspects of the story- a modern police procedural influenced by the events of the past. As Mackenzie seeks to unravel the possible mariticide of an influential island dwelling businessman, he becomes more than a little involved with the chief suspect, and therein slowly unfolds the possible historical connection between himself and the accused. May begins to reveal the history of Mackenzie’s forebears through a series of diaries and dreams, tapped into by Mackenzie’s sleepless nights in the wake of his marriage break-up,  charting the enforced immigration, in the same way as the more well-documented Irish exile, sparked by the illegal foreclosure and clearance of Highland farms  many years previously. This is where the real strength of the story lies for me, not only in the sheer interest that these people’s struggle raises up in the reader’s consciousness, but the fact that it gives full vent to May’s undoubted prowess in the depiction  and merging of location and history, so evident in his previous Hebridean trilogy.

I was totally immersed in the troubles of Mackenzie’s predecessors, making the harsh journey to Canada, and the obstacles awaiting them in establishing new lives abroad. I found the gradual unfolding of this slice of history totally engaging throughout, that the more contemporary aspect of the book was as just a small interuption in what I perceive as the more important  and well drawn facet of the story, depicting a cruel and unnecessary fate of decent folk at the hands of the English oppressor. It was beautifully rendered due to the strength of May’s control of the portrayal of these events, which strike an emotive chord with reader. Other reviewers prefer the contemporary storyline, but I just found it a little drawn out and the ending a little hackneyed, as much as May’s sense of setting breathed life and interest into this plot. Indeed, I found Mackenzie and his infatuation with the victim’s wife more than a little irritating, but appreciate that this was the key to May’s central remit of the resonance of the past in our contemporary existence. Overall a satisfying read, with the historical aspect of the novel in particular coming to the fore.

Read other reviews of Entry Island:

Crimepieces 

 Crime Fiction Lover

Peter May talks Entry Island: Crime Thriller Fella

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

An Interview With Ray Robinson-Jawbone Lake

Ray Robinson first won attention in 2006 with his debut novel, Electricity followed by The Man Without and Forgetting Zoe. To mark the release of Robinson’s latest novel Jawbone Lake (see below for review), an emotive and captivating thriller set in the brooding landscape of the Peak District, he has kindly answered some questions about the new book, the nature of storytelling and the journey of his book, Electricity, from page to screen…

Can you tell us a little about Jawbone Lake and the inspiration for the book?

This is the first book I’ve written organically, meaning I didn’t have a clue what the book was going to be about when I started writing it. It’s the first time I’ve used this chaotic method, and it’ll be the last. Usually I have the bookends – I know where the book starts and finishes, and have a rough idea of the journey between. But I made Jawbone up as I went along, writing maybe five books in the process. I was constantly open to new ideas and, as a consequence, made a lot of wrong turns and false starts. But saying that, been out of my comfort zone for the past three years has been a massive learning curve.

I’d been writing Jawbone for about a year when I realized what was at the core of the novel: I was writing about something that happened to a friend of mine, and so the inspiration came from quite an unusual place. Just over 10 years ago, my friend Adrian, a filmmaker from New York, was visiting me in England when he received a phone call to say that his mother had driven off a bridge and been killed. Three months later, I went to visit him in New York. He wasn’t coping. Nor was he willing to talk about what had happened. Instead, he went down to the park below the Manhattan Bridge every morning and flew a kite.

Once I realized what I’d actually been writing about, I called Adrian and nervously told him what I’d been doing. I then read him the scene where Rabbit flies her kite beside the lake, communing with her dead son. I was scared I was desecrating his memories somehow, by twisting what was a difficult time in his life into something fictional, but he said I could do whatever I wanted with it. He read the book recently and said he felt like it had created a kind of punctuation, a full stop to his mourning.

As with some of your previous books, I didn’t feel that Jawbone Lake was easy to label as just a thriller, due to the exceptional exploration of the emotive aspects of the protagonist’s lives. Do you perceive the book as a ‘thriller’?

I’m not sure about the thriller label, either, but it does have the traits of noir, with its mandatory detective (in this case, Joe, the son of ‘the criminal’), a good share of femme fatales and guns, and of course we gradually enter the shadowy world of CJ’s nefarious business dealings. All of these add the essential elements of fear, violence and disgust that noir demands. But noir is inherently genre-bending and I’ve tried to create a type of Peak Noir, I guess, that I hope will appeal not only to fans of hardboiled fiction but to those with more a literary bent, focusing on the effects that the crime has on the criminal’s family, instead of just the crime itself, and rather than making the crime super-complex and rushing through the plot at breakneck speed, I’ve focused instead on the ripples that spread throughout the families and community involved, as CJ’s secret life is revealed.

I never started out with this in mind, of course (I’m suspicious of writers who talk about ‘intention’). I started out just trying to write the best book I could; I wasn’t thinking about genre, and I didn’t realize for a long time that I was writing another noir-ish, literary thriller.

There’s a wonderful line in the book about the essence of secrecy being as ‘Silence upon silence. Stones piled upon stones’. How important was it that all the characters appear to be haunted by secrets? Likewise, you explore the notion that many versions of one person live within other people’s narratives as they perceive different sides to our personalities and this is particularly pertinent in relation to Joe’s father CJ. Perhaps this would account for the influence of CJ throughout the book, although he is physically absent?

‘The world is full of people who aren’t who or what they say they are. The people who believe them aren’t who or what they say they are either.’ A quote from the Russell Bank’s novel Lost Memory of Skin, that neatly sums up the idea that we’re all unreliable narrators. In my experience, most men of a certain ilk – gangsters and criminals that I know – lie a lot. Their lives are built on bullshit, pretence, and bluster (I try to make a living from making stuff up, so I guess I’m no better). But I think as humans we constantly reinvent ourselves by telling stories. Story telling and identity are, perhaps, converse sides of the same coin. I think we all have a need to create, and in many ways be defined, by stories and storytelling. And sometimes by spouting complete and utter bullshit about ourselves we often trick ourselves into believing is true.

Family secrets are at the heart of all my books. Secrets eat away at people and can ruin lives.

Questions about family secrets, the burden of grief, and small-town claustrophobia are elicited by CJ’s crash at the beginning of Jawbone. I wondered what would happen when the person you feel closest to in life turns out to be somebody you never really knew. But the novel is also a momento mori. As you said, CJ is the main protagonist in the book, though he is firmly off-stage – possibly, probably, dead.

The inspiration for this came from the John Darwin case – the guy who ‘disappeared’ while canoeing in the sea near Hartlepool and was believed to have drowned, but it turned out it was an insurance scam. I found the case fascinating. I felt so sorry for his sons. Imagine finding out that not only had your ‘deceased’ father been living in the bedsit next door, but that he and your mother faked the whole thing so that they could start a new life in Panama – a life without you. Heartbreaking.

I was very interested in the wildly different locations used in the book- the haunting natural beauty of Ravenstor, Andalusia and the rundown seaside resort of Hastings. How fixed in your mind were these locations before writing the book?

These were places I lived during the three years it took to write the book. Actually, I’ve just written a detailed piece for my publisher’s website, talking about these different landscapes, and how they came to play such an important role in the novel. You can read it at:

http://www.windmill-books.co.uk/index.php/sense-of-place-ray-robinson/

I see that Electricity is being made into a film. How directly involved have you been with this and how does it feel to see the product of your imagination via a different medium?

I’m lucky to have been involved with the film right from the start. Usually a writer just signs the option and that’s it, they have zero involvement after that. It took seven years to finally get the funding in place for Electricity, and during this period I spent a lot of time with the director and producer, discussing how we wanted not only the film to look, but to be perceived. Because of the nature of the book – about a young woman with epilepsy – and my knowledge of epilepsy, I’ve been on hand throughout the process to offer advice. We had an ethical responsibility to ‘get it right’, to educate the viewer about the realities of life with epilepsy, about how it feels to live within the disorder.

The first time I visited the set, they were on location in Saltburn – a place I spent a lot of time growing up. As I walked down the cliff road, I could see them in the distance filming on the beach, and I felt like I was having an out of body experience because I vividly remembered writing the scene they were filming, in a tiny room in Lancaster when I was a PhD student.

I spent time with Agyness talking about my personal experiences of epilepsy. I’ve nothing but admiration for her. She’s intelligent, intuitive, and sensitive, and I think viewers are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see her in her first lead role. I recently saw the final cut of the film and the portrayal of epilepsy is vivid, visceral and shocking. So yes, I’m more than happy with it. It’s been a real privilege.

Marking the start of a New Year could you share any of your favourite reads from last year or any new discoveries you have made?

For me, the cultural highlight of 2013 was discovering the work of Kent Haruf. I adore his writing. I want to have his babies.

What’s next for you – are you working on a new book at the moment? If so, any teasers for us?

Currently, I’m working on a film script, tinkering with a short story, and playing around with a few ideas for a children’s book, but there’s no novel on the horizon… yet. Though people are already pestering me to write a sequel to Jawbone Lake

Ray Robinson is a post-graduate of Lancaster University, where he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing, and is a Literary Mentor and Reader for the Literary Consultancy. Robinson first won attention in 2006 with his debut novel, Electricity (2006) which was shortlisted for both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Authors’ Club First Novel Award. Electricity is currently being made into a film starring Agyness Deyn. Robinson’s other novels are The Man Without (2008) and Forgetting Zoë (2010). Forgetting Zoë was selected for the inaugural Fiction Uncovered promotion and was the Observer’s Thriller of the Month. Robinson was hailed as ‘among the most impressive voices of Britain’s younger generation’ by the Irish Times. He spends his time between the UK and Spain: rayrobinson.org.uk/ Follow on Twitter @RayRob1nson

Raven’s Review:

Ravenstor, the Peak District. The early hours of New Year’s Day. A young woman stands on the shore of a frozen lake and watches a Land Rover crash off a bridge and through the ice. Two hundred miles away, a young man is woken by a devastating telephone call. The accident, and what it brings to the surface, will change both of their lives forever. The driver of the Land Rover was CJ Arms, a successful local businessman and pillar of the small community. The young man is his son, Joe, who returns from London to comfort his mother and to search for clues as to the causes of the crash. What he finds will take him from the desolate tors of the Peaks to the foothills of southern Spain, and to a group of ex-pats from CJ’s past with many secrets to hide. The woman on the lakeshore is Rabbit, a factory-worker struggling to recover from the sudden death of her son. Pursued by an unknown figure, Rabbit is spun from a cycle of grief and longing into one of fear. Seeking shelter at work, Rabbit finds that she can’t hide for long. What Rabbit saw that night will draw her, and Joe, towards a shocking act of violence. 

From the very first visually striking scene of Jawbone Lake I became totally absorbed in this emotive and beautifully rendered novel, and in the lives of Joe, a young man facing life after the disappearance of his father CJ, and Rabbit, a local young woman, recovering from the death of her son. Their lives become inextricably linked as the events leading up to CJ’s death impact on both of them: Rabbit as a witness to the death, and Joe discovering many aspects of his father’s life, previously unknown to him.

With both Joe and Rabbit being unstintingly empathetic characters, there is a natural connection with them on the part of the reader, which ensures that your attention is fully engaged with them, and as the danger increases for them both, this engagement with them heightens even further. There is a wonderful unfurling and organic growth of their characters, in particular the formerly timid and downtrodden Rabbit, as Joe embarks on a personal mission to discover more of his father’s character and shady activities, that take him on a journey through his father’s life, from his formative years in Hastings to his other life in Andalusia.

Along with the assured development and linkage of Rabbit and Joe’s characters, underscored with some powerfully affecting scenes between the two, Robinson’s evocation of place is stunning. Gravitating between three entirely different locales, both geographically and visually, each location is colourfully painted in the reader’s minds with a superb evocation of the sights, sounds and atmosphere that Joe experiences in his travels, and the desolate beauty of Ravenstor to which he initially returns, as the scene of his father’s disappearance.

I would hesitate to label Jawbone Lake as a traditional thriller as although exhibiting signs of the genre, the writing is much more fixed in my mind as having a more ‘literary’ feel- I would easily compare it to a writer such as Jim Crace in the rendition of its deep rooted emotional themes, and its pitch perfect evocation of place. A beautiful and affecting read.

(With thanks to Emma Finnigan for the ARC)

Wiley Cash- This Dark Road To Mercy

Along with Ryan David Jahn, Wiley Cash has quickly cemented a place in my affections as an outstanding contemporary American crime fiction writer. In the light of his exceptional debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, my expectations were high when embarking on this, his second, This Dark Road To Mercy.

Over the course of the last two years, there have been a plethora of novels, the majority of which American, using a young female character at the heart of the plot, but I can honestly say that Cash’s protagonist Easter Quillby has the strongest and most assured narrative voice that I have encountered to date- little wonder there are comparisons to the character of Scout in To Kill A  Mockingbird. Easter and her younger sister, Ruby, find themselves placed in a care home following the death of their mother, only for their long errant father the ex-baseball playing Wade Chesterfield, to reappear in their lives, seeking to remove them from said home. However, Wade comes with more than a touch of baggage, both emotional and in the form of a large bag of loot removed from the home of a criminal. As they embark on the time honoured fictional tradition of an American road trip, Wade and his daughters finds themselves pursued by Robert Pruitt, a man with a dangerous agenda of his own as well as the girls’ court-appointed guardian Brady Weller, an ex-police officer with his own troubled past…

The absolute highlight of this book for me has to be the characterisation, and Cash’s slow, meditative exploration of the themes of family and emotional healing. From the initial distrust of Easter towards her father, Cash emotionally portrays the rebuilding of a particularly fractured relationship, and in the vignettes focussing on Wade, Easter and Ruby alone, the writing carries a particular emotional and affecting intensity. It is extremely interesting for the reader to see how the three interact, and with the introduction of their pursual by Pruitt and Weller, how the parameters of their relationship changes. In the brilliantly portrayed out-and-out bad guy Pruitt, the reader naturally feels an alignment with his hunted prey, and Weller provides an effective foil to Pruitt, with his natural integrity, despite the events of his former career in law enforcement. As Cash ratchets up the tension, the characterisation hold its strength throughout, and the tense ending, is just perfect as hunters and prey intersect in a fitting denouement. Indeed, the rendition of pace in relation to the plotting is finely honed throughout, garnering a feeling of peril within the reader as our intrepid threesome seek to evade the clutches of those who pursue them.

Such is the strength of the writing in relation to the main characters, that the ‘crime’ element of the book can be viewed as almost incidental to the plot, so I think that this book would be just as acceptable to a fiction reader in terms of its central narrative about the indelible power of family, and the relationships depicted within the novel. Wiley Cash has once again proved his writing prowess in my eyes certainly, and even at this early juncture of the new year This Dark Road To Mercy, could well be vying as one of my reads of 2014. Excellent.

This Dark Road To Mercy is published 30 January (Doubleday)

www.wileycash.com

Twitter: @wileycash

(With thanks to Transworld for the ARC)

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