Search

Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

February 2014

Tom Rob Smith- The Farm

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes. Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital. Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow. Daniel is immediately caught between his parents – whom to believe, whom to trust? He becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury. Presented with a horrific crime, a conspiracy that implicates his own father, Daniel must examine the evidence and decide for himself: who is telling the truth? And he has secrets of his own that for too long he has kept hidden…

Inspired by the real life psychotic episode experienced by his own mother, Tom Rob Smith has crafted a powerful and affecting study in the disguise of a crime novel, as to the effect of a similar incident  on the very fabric of a family. Daniel resides happily in London with his partner Mark, and with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and the less frequent communication with family, believes his mother and father to be happy and secure in their retirement to Sweden from the UK. However, following a frantic phone call from his father Chris, and the appearance of his mother, Tilde, in London having seemingly escaped from a secure hospital in Sweden, Daniel’s life is turned upside down by the strange tale of abduction, conspiracy and murder his mother begins to recount…

Aside from the fact that every nuance, character and indeed word of this book is practically perfect, I will divulge nothing more of the plot at this juncture. Suffice to say as Daniel’s mother begins to present evidence in the form of journals and objects of the strange goings-on in her sleepy Swedish rural community, the reader experiences the same level of confusion as to the veracity of her claims. Through these journals and the use of dual narrative, Smith perfectly evokes the atmosphere and setting of rural Sweden so familiar to regular readers of Scandinavian crime fiction. The suffocating atmosphere of this locale that so affects the mind and actions of Daniel’s mother is beautifully wrought, and those who dwell within it are amplified and layered with sinister attributes as Tilde constructs her version of events, that have supposedly led to the disappearance of a local teenage girl. Sensing the threatening behaviour of her former friends and neighbours, and her husband Chris, Tilde sets out to accrue as much physical evidence as possible to prove her claims, and to avoid her incarceration in a hospital as others make claims as to the state of her mental health.

What is most intriguing about the book, and accomplished by the exquisite pace of the narrative, is how a family structure can be so quickly thrown into turmoil. Daniel has withheld his homosexuality from his parents,  his parents have not been entirely truthful about the happiness of their retirement, and Daniel is cast into the unenviable position of questioning which parent to believe in the light of Tilde’s claims. Cleverly, we as readers are able to participate in Daniel’s confusion, bearing witness to the unfolding of Tilde’s claims, as we are hearing the story along with Daniel at the same pace, and constructing our own theories and conclusions on Tilde’s story as the contents and evidence of her journals is divulged. The use of the journal form works extremely effectively for this very reason. Daniel is also guilty, as many are, of having taken the stability of his family relationship some what for granted, so this in turn makes the confusion and divided loyalty he experiences all the more palpable within the novel.

Having read this book some time ago, I believe it to be a testament to the strength of Smith’s writing that I am so easily transported back to the events and characters of the novel, This is a book that has stayed so vividly in my mind, that I can instantly recall the characters and their traits, and have not just pressed the mental delete button that follows the ending of a book- it has stayed with me. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book highly enough as an incredibly rewarding and thought-provoking read, and a book that I will certainly revisit in years to come.

Born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father, Tom Rob Smith’s
bestselling novels in the Child 44 trilogy were international publishing sensations. Among its many honours, Child 44 won the International Thriller Writer Award for Best First Novel, the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the inaugural Desmond Elliot Prize. Child 44 is now a major motion picture starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman. http://tomrobsmith.com/website/ Follow on Twitter @tomrobsmith

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

Court Haslett- Tenderloin

It’s 1977 and the Reverend Jim Jones has moved his Peoples Temple from San Francisco to Guyana. Rumors immediately shoot through the city that Jones is taking revenge on all of his critics. When a former Temple member and friend of Tenderloin vagabond Sleeper Hayes is murdered, and another friend is accused of the crime, Sleeper sets out to uncover the truth.  But the truth and justice are hard to find as Sleeper becomes the Temple’s next target while investigating a murderous plot that stretches from skid row all the way to City Hall.

Thanks again to the world of social networking , my attention was drawn to Court Haslett and the very positive vibe surrounding Tenderloin. As a reader who is instantly drawn to novels depicting the more real and  less salubrious aspects of American life. and with a fervent interest in American political and  social history, I found this too tempting an opportunity to miss and had to read.

From the very outset, Haslett has created a slice of evocative fiction, perfectly depicting the seedy underbelly of San Francisco life in the 1970‘s. With much the same depth of social study afforded to the run down New York neighbourhood of Gabriel Cohen’s Red Hook, or the Washington DC of George Pelecanos,  Haslett focuses on the eponymous San Francisco neighbourhood of Tenderloin. With the affection, but also sharply critical eye of someone who has lived in this area, Haslett instantly draws the reader into the essential life, sights and sounds of this neighbourhood, but underscoring the very real social deprivations that inner city living produces. Setting his book against the backdrop of the real life events of 1978, the book is suffused with references to the political and social mores of this period, but also cut through with well placed references to the effervescent cultural life in the period through music (an integral part of the book) and sport. Setting his book in this particular period, makes the inclusion of the illegal and murderous activities of Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, tailor-made as a main plot device in the book. The less than honourable affiliation of Jones with the echelons of political power in the city, is a great hook for this solidly researched and presented tale, that kept my interest throughout, with its engaging and tense plotting.

In terms of characterisation, Sleeper Hayes, Haslett’s central protagonist, is a real find. Yes, there are comparisons to be drawn with the hardboiled tradition of American crime writing, in the presentation and spare prose with which Haslett realises his characters, but this perfectly taps into the spirit of the 1970‘s and the more relaxed attitude both to life, and making a living, of Hayes and his cohorts. Hayes is a gambler with a gambler’s instincts, and despite his probable protestations to the contrary he has a very defined moral centre, that cannot be denied by the overall loucheness and positively horizontal relaxedness of his outward character. Hayes exists in a world populated by criminals, bums, boxers, hookers and bent politicians- think a 70‘s set version of The Wire- but ingratiates himself into all these worlds through the vitality and doggedness of his character, which some take to more than others!  He is sharp, funny and proves an unlikely knight in shining armour at the core of this book, but is eminently likeable and genuinely a character I would love to read about again.

I was very impressed this book, and between you, me and the gatepost this is a book I could have easily missed out on in the overcrowded crime genre. This book sits perfectly alongside Pelecanos and Lehane in my opinion, with its no-holds-barred  depiction of  urban American life and crime,  so well worth a look.

Court Haslett is the author of the “Sleeper Hayes” crime series set in San Francisco’s skid row Tenderloin neighborhood. A San Francisco and Bay Area resident for over 20 years, his work has been short-listed for the Faulkner-Wisdom Award. TENDERLOIN was named a Nook First Pick: Compelling Reads by Emerging Authors by Barnes and Noble. When not writing, Court likes to gamble and grouse, usually in that order. Follow him on Twitter @courthaslett and at www.theroguereader.com

Luke Delaney- The Toy Taker

Your child has been taken. Snatched in the dead of night from the safety of the family home. There’s no sign of forced entry, no one heard or saw a thing. DI Sean Corrigan investigates. He needs to find four-year-old George Bridgeman before abduction becomes murder. But his ability to see into dark minds, to think like those he hunts, has deserted him – just when he needs it most. Another child vanishes. What kind of monster is Corrigan hunting? And will he work it out in time to save the children?

Having established himself on the British crime scene with Cold Killing and The Keeper , Luke Delaney once again delights and chills with the new outing for the wonderfully tortured Sean Corrigan in The Toy Taker

Although on the surface, both in The Keeper and The Toy Taker, Delaney takes quite well-trodden themes of female and child abduction, he lifts his books out of the ordinary with the power and mesmerising interest created by his central character DI Sean Corrigan. In The Toy Taker, small children are being abducted from their homes, and with his team woefully under-employed, Corrigan and his team are redeployed at Scotland Yard as a Special Investigation Unit as the abductions increase. This is a great move by Delaney in the development of the characters in Corrigan’s team, as nothing winds up your average copper more than being in the full glare of the top brass, and the demands they place upon the team’s success. Delaney captures this tension beautifully throughout as we see Corrigan returning to mental and physical fitness after the events of The Keeper, and the tensions that arise through his recovery and the impact on the psychology of his team. Once again, we are immersed in the darkest imaginings of the incomparable Corrigan as he seeks to channel the thoughts and motivations of the abductor, and the personal mental anguish this produces in him. Thus the plot is punctured throughout with these glorious streams of consciousness by Corrigan, trying to think like and outwit this cruel and unusual abductor. On the road to discovery, there is a brilliant game of cat and mouse with a particularly insidious pervert, giving Delaney the chance to portray the frustrations so prevalent for the police in investigations of this kind. Again thanks to Delaney’s personal experience within the police, the feeling of authenticity and realism in this book is always resonant, making the whole premise of the investigation that much more vital and chilling, to the genuinely tense conclusion.

There is always the fear that as a writer becomes more established, that sometimes the quality of their writing, particularly within the demands of producing serial novels, can become diminished with the deadlines placed upon them. I am more than happy to report that Delaney is genuinely going from strength to strength, both in the compulsive attraction of his central protagonist, but also by the fleshing out of others within Corrigan’s team. As I said in the opening, child abduction is an all too common motif of crime thriller writing, but Delaney really does ascend the other pedestrian portrayals of this type of crime, with the day to day angst of, and the demands placed upon police officers, as the clock ticks against them. Through the ruminations and analytical mind of Sean Corrigan, who shows no compunction at fully entering the mind of the perpetrator, there is always an increased level of interest for the reader, that I’ve seldom seen bettered in the police procedural/serial killer genre. Delaney has produced another winner, begging the question- just what will he come up with next? A great read.

Raven reviews the Sean Corrigan series:

Cold Killing

 The Keeper

Redemption of the Dead

(With thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC)

Peter Swanson- The Girl With A Clock For A Heart

George Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern. When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past. Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

Following the pre-publication hype, I was more than intrigued to read this new debut crime thriller from Peter Swanson. Opening with a very familiar conceit of a figure from the main character’s past reappearing, up to their eyeballs in trouble, and thus propelling innocent main character into mild peril, there are some very obvious comparisons with the stalwarts of the genre.  Having ticked these boxes, I embarked on this trying to keep an open mind on the entrance to this particular sub-genre of crime by Swanson,  but in actuality was reminded incredibly strongly of both Harlan Coben’s Six Years, and the amalgamation of the complete Linwood Barclay back catalogue. So how did Swanson measure up to the ‘big boys’?

The plot is constructed across two timelines, with the reader seeing George Foss as a formerly impressionable college student, caught up in the throes of young love with fellow student Liana, and an affair that has serious implications for George several years later. Believing that Liana has committed suicide during their college years, eventually discovering that their whole relationship and her account of her life is totally comprised of lies, he is utterly surprised by her reappearance in his life, and the troubles she trails in her wake. The reader is then taken on a path of discovery with our hapless hero George, as the real Liana is gradually revealed, and how the ensuing years following their first interaction has led her on a life based on deception, theft and murder in which George becomes inextricably tangled.

Despite the enthusiasm of other reviewers for this book, I must confess that I was a little underwhelmed generally by this book. The plot was engaging enough, and written with a pace that led to this being a relatively quick read, but perhaps with the influence of other writers in this genre looming so large, I didn’t feel that the plot was anything new no matter how well constructed. The twists were just a tad obvious I felt, and the conclusion a little cliched for me, but entertaining enough when looking at the book as a whole. George was a perfectly affable and quite ordinary character overall, not imbued with many heroic qualities, but your empathy was drawn on as his involvement in Liana’s double and triple lives sucked him into danger, but really you were just thinking just leave well alone- that girl is trouble with a capital T! Stepping out of the shadow of the aforementioned Coben and Barclay was never going to be an easy task, but Swanson has given a good shot in this debut, but maybe just a little pedestrian for my taste I’m sorry to say.

Read other reviews at:

Milo Rambles

Crimepieces

Crime Fiction Lover

(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)

Pat Fitzpatrick- Keep Away From Those Ferraris

Reporter Noel Byrne is about to die.  Two snipers hold him in their crosshairs as he delivers his live report from the HQ of HiberBank in central Dublin. His first problem is they will kill him if he doesn’t say exactly what they want him to say. His second problem? They both want him to say different things.  This is the story of a country in collapse. A vicious gang of bankers and minor celebrities is desperately trying to salvage one last pay day from the wreckage of the Irish economy. Only Byrne can help them. Only Byrne can stop them. Follow him across the boardrooms, bedrooms and bars of Dublin as he tries to stay one step ahead. And remember that when billions are at stake you can’t trust anyone. Not your family, your friends or the love of your life.

In the wonderful world of social networking, some little gems appear and unsolicited approaches by authors can sometimes really come up trumps- Pat Fitzpatrick’s Keep Away From Those Ferraris being a case in point. Taking place in the Noughties in the post Celtic Tiger financial boom, Noel Byrne is something of a minor celebrity, delivering news of economic woes as a financial reporter- think a better looking Robert Peston injected with a good dose of Irish charm. Byrne is cruising along quite nicely, not short of female attention, and plenty of work with the ever deteriorating state of Ireland’s financial climate and some high profile bank sell offs on the horizon. then old friend Johnny Ferrari comes bouncing back into his life, having kidnapped a prominent member of a nauseating boy band, and through a series of less than scrupulous actions, entwining his old mate the hapless ‘Byrnser’ into a life threatening plot reliant on Byrne manipulating the Irish public (and their wallets) through his TV reports, to make a financial killing.

The plot takes in the best and worst of not only the financial meltdown but is not above having a great poke of fun at modern celebrity culture and reality TV, leading to some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Indeed, even allowing for the slightly rambling nature of the economic descriptions, the book is infused with an infectious charm through Fitzpatrick’s steady characterisation and the appeal of his characters to the reader, be they good or bad. I loved the hapless Noel, and the skilful manipulation by both Johnny Ferrari and Johnny’s wideboy father Cosmo, and the array of femme fatales who drift into Noel’s sphere clouding his judgement further. Johnny is a brilliant character, louche, charming and thoroughly rotten, whose attitude to life is that you’ll be dead long enough, and I liked the way he and Noel interacted throughout. As Noel discovers the extent to which his own parents are investing in the whole HiberBank scam, and finds himself in a gunman’s sights, the tension ratchets up- is there any way out of this for our dynamic reporter?

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a good sense of fun. Genuinely humorous and good knockabout fun, with a nice satirical eye on the Irish financial situation and popular culture. Good craic indeed.

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T.
industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of
writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is now busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. Follow on Twitter @pdfitzpatrick http://www.patfitzpatrick.ie/

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

January 2014 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

Well after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, here in the UK January has proved to be a sodden affair- no more rain please! Luckily my spirits have not been dampened by the marvellous selection of crime books read while the rain fell, a couple of interesting interviews with Ray Robinson (Jawbone Lake) and Suzanne Rindell (The Other Typist), a landing post for the Luca Veste (Dead Gone) blog tour and my fledgling contributions to the marvellous Crimefictionlover.com a great resource for fans of all things criminal. So all in all, a very interesting month indeed and if that all wasn’t exciting enough, just you wait for February. My challenge for the upcoming month is to not only highlight some of the more mainstream releases, but to finally compile an ‘indie’ round-up as I have read some great independent/self-published crime over the last couple of months, so watch out for this as well…
BOOKS REVIEWED:

Simon Beckett- Stone Bruises (www.crimefictionlover.com )

Wiley Cash- This Dark Road To Mercy

Hans Koppel- You’re Mine Now (www.crimefictionlover.com )

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

Becky Masterman- Rage Against The Dying

Peter May- Entry Island

Marc Pastor- Barcelona Shadows

Matthew Reilly- The Tournament

 Ray Robinson-Jawbone Lake

Dominique Sylvain- The Dark Angel (www.crimefictionlover.com )

Luca Veste-Dead Gone

And here in time honoured fashion is…

Raven’s Book of the Month:

Another tricky one to award in the face of the fantastic conclusion to Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Trilogy- The Sudden Arrival of Violence– and the truly weird, Gothic inspired miracle that was Marc Pastor’s Barcelona Shadows which was a breath of fresh, but equally foul, air in the normal realm of crime fiction. However, this month my black heart belongs to Wiley- Wiley Cash, that is with the hypnotising, compelling and perfectly executed This Dark Road To Mercy. Appealing to my innate love of beautifully written American contemporary fiction, and displaying all the necessary attributes of a great crime read, there is no question that this book deserves my humble plaudit. Marvellous.

 

Up ↑