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Criminally good reads…

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March 2014

Blog Tour- Paula Daly- Keep Your Friends Close-Review/Extract

Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married. Rock solid in fact. So when Natty’s oldest friend, Eve Dalladay, appears – just as their daughter collapses on a school trip in France – Natty has no qualms about leaving Eve with Sean to help out at home. Two weeks later and Natty finds Eve has slotted into family life too well. Natty’s husband has fallen in love with Eve. He’s sorry, he tells her, but their marriage is over. With no option but to put a brave face on things for the sake of the children, Natty embarks on building a new life for herself. And then she receives the note. Eve has done this before, more than once, and with fatal consequences…

Having read and favourably reviewed Paula Daly’s first novel. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? last year, it was with a great sense of anticipation that Keep Your Friends Close dropped into my lap. And remained there for the course of one night- and early hours of the morning- as this wonderfully warped tale of familial loyalty, and twisted friendship, kept me reading…and reading…and reading…

I think what Daly achieves with this book is the sense of how ordinary and humdrum domestic life, with its inherent frustrations and tensions, can be so easily undone. Set again, in the beautiful location of the Lake District, the ordinariness of people’s struggle to earn a living, in such a seasonally-dictated to environment, looms large within the book.  Her portrayal of the mind-numbing routines of most people’s families, and the petty insecurities and jealousies that can arise is brilliantly depicted, along with the differing needs and wishes of those in a marriage, that can come to the fore by the insertion of an outsider into the mix. Sean and Natty are a typical couple, both working long hours with two teenage daughters and their lives redolent of the tensions and strains, that their striving for something better, brings to bear on a relationship. Theirs is an ordinary marriage, until the arrival of Natty’s friend Eve, a glamorous, and as it turns out, exceptionally scheming woman, who puts more than a cat among the pigeons with her seduction of the hapless Sean, when Natty has to leave the home temporarily to deal with a family crisis. Okay- so fair enough- Sean’s head could easily be turned a woman who is the polar opposite of his wife- but what Daly achieves so well in this book, is the slow reveal of the determination that Natty has to usurp this woman, and how little they all know about the real Eve….

I think the joy with Daly’s writing is the sudden explosions of surprise that she pops into the plot, be it blunt humour, bad language, unforseen violence and so on. You’re reading along quite happily- or as happily as you can in the tension of this psychological thriller-  and then boom, something looms up in the text that either makes you laugh out loud, or shudder. The book is punctuated by moments like this- hence the ease of  reading this in one sitting- and a fair scattering of surprises as these two women take on the likeness of fighting lionesses in order to remain within, or regain the power, in this family. Yes, there were a couple of twists that I found a little too far-fetched, but I can’t say that they spoilt my enjoyment in any way, as the plot swiftly moved on to new revelations, and an ending that literally made me say- well I wasn’t expecting that!

A novel of moral and emotional complexity, that to my mind crosses the boundaries between crime and mainstream fiction, but ticks all the boxes in terms of suspense and how easily the humdrum ordinariness of domestic life can be uprooted so easily. More importantly though, a compelling psychological thriller that will keep you gripped.

Keep Your Friends Close- Extract

‘Am I over the limit is the first question I ask myself. Am I too drunk to drive?

‘Natty, who was that?’ Eve asks.

‘Felicity’s in hospital. She’s being operated on right now.’

I hear my words spoken from what seems like the other side of the room. I’m shaking. Not just shaking. It’s shock. Where has all the blood gone?

‘They didn’t know,’ I say without emotion. ‘The teachers didn’t know she was even sick.’

‘What’s wrong with her?’ Eve asks. ‘What did the teacher actually say?’

‘They don’t know what’s wrong. She collapsed. They’re not completely sure she’ll make it.’

Eve bursts into action. She doesn’t comfort me, or tell me not to worry, or tell me Felicity will be okay. She grabs the phone, uses the speed dial to call the hotel and tells Sean in a business-like manner that he needs to come home, there’s an emergency.

‘Why did I let her go to France?’ I whisper. ‘She’s only fourteen, too young to travel alone. Why did I let her go? What was I thinking?’ Eve looks at me straight.

‘They’re fixing her, Natty. It doesn’t make any difference that she’s in France. They’re saving her life. We need to get you there as soon as possible. Let me search for flights.’

‘Do you think she’ll die?’

‘Go and pack a bag.’

The shaking is violent now.

Eve repeats slowly: ‘Natty, go and find your passport and pack your bag.’

My guts have become a bucket of eels. I don’t think I can stand, let alone board an aircraft. I stay fixed to the chair. If I just stay here, it will all go away. I put my hands between my thighs and squeeze tight to stop the shaking.

‘Natty! Move!’

‘I can’t,’ I say.

‘You have to.’

I’m shuffling about the bedroom trance-like, picking up bits of underwear, T-shirts, when Sean appears in the doorway. He doesn’t speak. We simply look at one another for an extended moment. Is this it we’re both thinking. Is this the rest of our lives? Do we move from the standard, the typical family of four, petty worries, petty fall-outs? Do we move into that other realm? Do we join the ranks of families who’ve lost a child? My first thought hearing the teacher give me the news about Felicity was to whisper, ‘Not this one. Please, God, not this child. Then immediately I felt utterly wretched, because did I really want him to take my other child instead? I’ve spent the last ten minutes bargaining with God. Even though I’ve not really been a believer since – well, since he deserted me, age nineteen. Please save her, I’m begging again now. Please, I’ll do anything. Take everything away from us, strip us of all that we know, but do not let my child die Sean strides towards me. Puts his arms around my body, and I begin crying silently. There is so much terror inside my chest I cannot form sound. I’m struck by the realization that this is what it must be like to be attacked. Women, girls, say their voices simply leave them. Their bodies scream in fury, but nothing comes, their larynxes paralysed by fear.

‘There’s one seat left,’ Sean says gravely. ‘Manchester to Rennes. It leaves in two hours. I’ll take it, Natty, you stay here. You’re in no state to travel. You can fly out tomorrow morning.’

‘What if we lose her, Sean?’

He shakes his head as though he’s not about to answer that question.

‘We need to decide. One of us needs to get on the road right now if we’re to make it in time.’

‘I’m going.’

‘I’m not sure you can. Look at you,’ he says, and he takes my shaking hands, lifts them for me to see, as if to drive home his point.

‘But if she dies and I’m not with her, then how can I ever . . .’

My words disappear in my throat.

‘You can be there by eleven tomorrow morning at the latest.

Stay here, Natty, let me do this.’

I pull my hands away. ‘No. It has to be me.’

And I feel him relenting. Another moment of quiet deliberation, and he says, ‘Okay.

Okay, let’s get your things together. We need to move quickly.’

He pulls the overnight bag from the top of the wardrobe, unzips it and begins gently laying the small stack of T-shirts, jeans and underwear inside. I watch him, knowing I should be running around, grabbing everything I need, but the thought of Felicity unconscious in the operating theatre without me by her side keeps me rooted to the spot.

Sean lifts his head. ‘Natty?’ he says, a cloud of fear passing over his face. ‘Natty,’ he says gently, ‘which shoes do you want to take with you?’

‘Huh?’

‘Shoes? Which ones?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Hang on,’ and I walk to the wardrobe and stare at the choice, baffled. Then I turn back to Sean. ‘What about Alice?’ I ask him, frowning. ‘If you come to France tomorrow, who will look after Alice? We can’t leave her here alone. Christ, Sean, you know what she’s like, she can’t even open a can of beans. And your mother’s away, and my dad’s housebound and—’

‘It’s all right,’ he says, grabbing my electric toothbrush, ‘Eve has offered to stay…

                                                     ————————-

(With thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the ARC)

ACK BOWMAN

Blog Tour- Anya Lipska- Death Can’t Take A Joke- Review/Extract

 

When masked men brutally stab one of his closest friends to death, Janusz Kiszka – fixer to East London’s Poles – must dig deep into London’s criminal underbelly to track down the killers and deliver justice.

Shadowing a beautiful Ukrainian girl he believes could solve the mystery, Kiszka soon finds himself skating dangerously close to her ruthless ‘businessman’ boyfriend. Meanwhile, his old nemesis, rookie police detective Natalie Kershaw is struggling to identify a mystery suicide, a Pole who jumped off the top of Canary Wharf Tower. But all is not what it seems…

Sparks fly as Kiszka and Kershaw’s paths cross for a second time, but they must call a truce when their separate investigations call for a journey to Poland’s wintry eastern borders…

After bursting onto the British crime fiction scene last year with her perfectly hewed debut Where The Devil Can’t Go, it is a delight to be immersed once more in Lipska’s interweaving of Polish and British culture in this thoroughly enjoyable follow-up. Oh- and watch out for those twists- they’ll get you every time….

One of the strongest features of Lipska’s debut was the relationship developed between Janusz Kiszka, the grouchy Polish PI with his unique brand of tough guy underscored by a heart of gold, and ambitious young detective Natalie Kershaw. This novel drives the development of this relationship further as once again their individual investigations overlap, with the murder of one of Kiszka’s closest friends, and a mysterious death in Docklands that proves to be no common suicide, necessitating a sojourn to Poland for our unlikely crime fighting partners. As the story develops, Lipska injects an enjoyable smattering of the more personal issues affecting the pair, with Kershaw on the cusp of moving in with her partner and  fellow police officer, Ben, and Kiszka falling under the spell with a European gangster’s mole, the mysterious femme fatale Varenka. To my great delight, outside of their own investigations and affairs of the heart, Death Can’t Take A Joke, also re-introduces Kiszka’s friend, the ebullient Oskar, who lights up every scene he appears in with his blunt charm, and less than politically correct behaviour. His interactions with the more taciturn Kiszka are once again a joy to behold, as Oskar ingratiates himself into Kiszka’s pursuit of Varenka’s lover in his own Polish Keystone Cop style. I think that even if you are coming to this book as a new reader, the strength and natural style of Lipska’s characterisation will instantly draw you into the characters and the different worlds they inhabit.

As with the first book, I was once again exceedingly impressed with the fluidity of Lipska’s writing style from the unfolding of the plot and the twists contained within, the free-flowing dialogue and the seamless insertion of the Polish vernacular. Although, there is less concentration on the strands of Polish history, so prevalent and effective in the first book, the reader is completely absorbed in this mix of two cultures, and how these cultures shape the main protagonists. Likewise, Lipska’s manipulation of pace and plot made this is a book that was extremely hard to put down, and I was grabbing any spare minute to delve back into the plot, but without losing any sense of where the story was up to, or what had happened just previously.

So as you can gather, I quite enjoyed this book. Great characters, a compelling plot, and a skilful blend of pathos and humour that not only captured the gritty side of the immigrant experience in London, but evinced all the essential components of a solid police procedural. Genialny odczytu!

Here is an excerpt from Death Can’t Take A Joke for your delectation and delight…

Prologue

If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.

Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.

I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.

And I realise the somebody is me.

One

Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.

Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.

Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.

As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.

Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.

Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.

Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.

Image of Anya LipskaAnya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit www.wherethedevilcantgo.com  and Anya writes an occasional blog on The Literary Platform . You can also follow Anya Lipska on Twitter @AnyaLipska.

Read Raven’s review of the first book in the series: Where The Devil Cant Go

(With thanks to Nic Forster at LightBrigadePR for the ARC)

Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

springThe spring tides are the highest of the year in Nordkoster; the beach will be covered in particularly deep water tonight. Three men on the beach are digging a hole, covertly watched by a young boy. His intrigue turns to horror as he makes out a fourth figure –  the woman for whom the hole is intended. Buried up to her neck in the sand, the high tide is rapidly approaching. Still screaming in terror, the victim takes her last breath as water fills her nose and mouth – in her stomach, she feels her baby kick. And her  waters break. Twenty-four years later, the abhorrent crime remains unsolved; gruesome violence however is still prevalent after all those years. A gang has been beating up and killing homeless people in parks – worse still, they are filming their attacks and broadcasting them on the internet. The police have their work cut out trying to keep abreast of the crime wave. Olivia Rönning hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and join their ranks in the next few months after she completes her training; she has only one last hurdle to overcome over the summer break, a challenge from her professor to pick a cold case and solve it. Should be simple, she thinks. Little does she know the world she is getting involved in, the danger she faces and the ugly truths she risks uncovering.

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind are an established crime-writing partnership, with their television credits including the twenty-six Martin Beck films based on the hugely influential Sjowall/Wahloo books, the Swedish adaptation of Wallander and the Arne Dahl Intercrime series, recently broadcast on BBC4. So with this pedigree of screen-writing how did Spring Tide measure up?

Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents. The central joy of this book is that these two storylines are both equally compelling, and as Olivia’s investigation gathers speed, there is a shocking expose of members of the higher echelons of Sweden’s business community and their rum goings-on, linked to the shady world of the sex-trade. So often in books, there is a sense in the reader that they are wishing to return quickly to one strand over another, but I felt that the interweaving between the two, and the sordid realities they throw up in the overall plot were perfectly executed throughout. The writing is tight, precise and unyielding in its blunt descriptions of this world of sex, violence and human relationships. At times, the realities presented have a powerful emotional affect, particularly in the bonds of friendship between the homeless protagonists, and even more so in the re-assimilation of Stilton into everyday life as he is drawn into Olivia’s cold case investigation, and the inherent dangers that lie within a trip to his past and the capture of a killer.

Despite the grim nature of both investigations, this is a book punctuated by moments of teasing humour, redolent of the lighter side of Scandinavian crime fiction, and the repartee between certain characters, and the throwaway humorous remarks are beautifully placed throughout. Both Olivia and Tom are convincing, empathetic and I loved the, at times, wide-eyed naivety of Olivia tempered against her terrier- like and dogged pursuit of the truth in her cold case, and the physical dangers she never shies away from.  She is a lovely character all round in her feistiness, and her sheer empathy to the victims of society ills, which makes the finale of the book all the more poignant as home truths are delivered to her with the force of a runaway train. Tom is a man of exceptional integrity, but fully encompasses the notion of people becoming adrift in society, and the nefarious paths and life choices that can be made- not always the good choices. I loved this multi-layered character and the way that he and Olivia were almost a reflection of each other, despite the wide differences in terms of age and gender, linked by their personal integrity and quest for justice.

So it is with some delight that I read that the second book has been published in Sweden, as Spring Tide is a great opener to a series. With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours. Next one now. Please.

Read another review of Spring Tide here:

Kaggsys Bookish Ramblings

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)

Samuel W. Gailey- Deep Winter

In the small town of Wyalusing in eastern Pennsylvania, a woman is found brutally murdered one winter night. Next to the body is Danny Bedford, a misunderstood man who suffered a tragic brain injury that left him with limited mental capabilities. Despite his simple life, his intimidating size has caused his neighbors to ostracize him out of fear of what he may do. So when the local bully-turned-deputy discovers Danny with the body, it’s obvious that Danny’s physical strength has finally become deadly. But in the long, freezing night that follows, the murder is only the first in a series of crimes that viciously upset the town order–an unstoppable chain of violence that appears to make Danny’s guilt undeniable. With the threat of an approaching blizzard, the local sheriff and a state trooper work through the predawn hours to restore some semblance of order to Wyalusing. As they investigate one unspeakable incident after another, they discover an intricate web of lies revealing that not everything is quite what it seems.

Set deep in the heart of rural Pennsylvania, Deep Winter hits you with the toxic blast of Frank Bill, combined with the raw emotional intensity of Daniel Woodrell. Focusing on the confusion wrought in the aftermath of a brutal murder in a small town community, with a cast of characters ranging from the good to the exceedingly bad, this is a book that has more than a shock or two in store for the unsuspecting reader…

The defining characteristic of Gailey’s writing is his incredibly natural and fluid portrayal of his protagonists. Ostensibly the book is centred on Danny, a middle aged man who has suffered not only an extreme personal tragedy, but also having to deal day-to-day with life in the shadow of his learning disabilities. As we are offered snapshots of Danny’s life both now and in the past, we bear witness to the bullying and ostracising he has experienced within this small community. Having formed a heart-warming connection with the sassy Mindy- now a  waitress in the local diner- from a young age, Danny finds himself at the centre of a manhunt after her murder. As he is pursued doggedly by the local law enforcement, one of whom is actually responsible for this brutal crime, we see his life descend into a tailspin, with the blurring of his perception of reality, as past and present become confused in his mind. Gailey’s portrayal of Danny is both emotive and affecting and as a reader you are rooting for him throughout with a sense of extreme indignation at the persecution of this simple soul. Likewise, the bad guys in this book are thoroughly bad, in particular the dastardly Deputy Sokowski -what a rotter- provoking a strong sense of disgust at both their actions, and the lengths they will go to in condemning Danny for a crime he did not commit. As Danny is pursued by the evil Sokowski, the empathetic Sheriff Lester and an alcoholic State Trooper, Bill Taggart, a man haunted by more than a few demons of his own, the scene is set for a violent denouement that’ll blow your socks off, You’ll either love or hate the slightly overblown Tarantino-esque ending, but I thought it was good fun. Yes, I know…

So, compounded by the use of location, and the unrelenting chill of winter that seems to seep into your very marrow as the book progresses, I  enjoyed this violent tale of murder with its detours into the emotional core of its characters. A nice find if you like your crime fiction with a bit more punch.

Samuel W. Gailey was raised in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379), which serves as the setting for his debut novel, ‘Deep Winter’. Drawn to rural life and the sometimes deceiving atmosphere therein, Gailey’s first novel and his works in progress are suspenseful mysteries and intriguing studies of human nature. Before writing novels, he worked in film production and eventually became a screenwriter, writing and developing shows for Showtime and Fox. He has also been published in “Documentary Magazine”. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his daughter and wife, author Ayn Carrillo-Gailey:  www.samuelwgailey.com Follow on Twitter @SamuelWGailey

(I read an ARC of Deep Winter downloaded in digital format www.netgalley.com )

Thomas Enger- Scarred

An elderly woman is found dead in a nursing home.Bjarne Brogeland, who heads up the investigation, soon realises that they are on the trail of a meticulous killer who has developed a keen taste for revenge. A killer who has only just begun. Trine Juul-Osmundsen, Norway’s Secretary of State and Henning Juul’s sister, is accused of sexually harassing a young male politician. As the allegations cause a media frenzy, Trine receives an anonymous threat telling her to resign. If she doesn’t, the truth about what she really did that night will be revealed. Scarred reporter Henning Juul, finds himself torn between the two high profile cases. He wants to help his estranged sister, but as he digs into their past, he discovers memories that haunt them both. Memories of a broken home. Memories of a dead father. As the two cases collide, both their worlds threaten to fall apart…

Okay so we’ve been Burned and Pierced so now prepare to be Scarred by the latest instalment in Thomas Enger’s superlative Henning Juul series. Focussing on our dogged, emotionally and physically damaged reporter, Juul, Enger has carved out an exceptional niche in the current Scandinavian crime fiction market. In this book in particular, there is more than a nod to the Borgen phenomena, as Juul’s estranged sister Trine, Norway’s Secretary of State becomes the focus of some unwelcome press attention…

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that this book in particular changed the direction of the series somewhat with the aforementioned development of Juul’s sister Trine in the overall plot. She is a complicated and layered character, as is Juul, and the tentative re-establishment of contact between the two in the wake of their previous estrangement, is handled with a deft touch and delicacy by Enger. Trine’s life is spiralling out of control with a malicious sex scandal story, in much the same way as Juul’s did in the wake of the events and his personal loss of the previous books, and Enger is pitch perfect in his depiction of the baying wolves of the press and her fellow politicians as her political career unravels. What unfolds is not only a brutally honest tale of political intrigue, but how the bonds of family can sometimes be an enormous burden and source of sadness to those involved, as events of the past sometimes refuse to rest in peace as Henning and Trine discover.

In a parallel story, regular police protagonist Inspector Bjarne Brogeland, is investigating a particularly brutal murder at an old people’s home of a curmudgeonly ex-schoolteacher. Having recently had an operation on my eye, I extend a note of thanks to Enger for highlighting the use of knitting pins and orbital crevices! Anyway, I digress, so, the collective intelligence of Brogeland, and by extension his professional relationship with Henning Juul forms the crux of this investigation, and there is normal bandiage and grudging professional respect between them once more in evidence. I enjoyed the way this plotline played out and the use of misdirection and red herrings that Enger employs. Set against the political storyline, there was a good balance throughout, and  both plots were of equal interest and emotional intensity to hold my attention throughout.

I think it is a testament to the strength of Enger’s writing that all three of his books to date, have been incredibly enjoyable. He seems to combine the very best aspects of the current Scandinavian crime table in terms of characterisation and plot as well as his razor sharp eye on the social and political trends at work in Norway, thus providing an added layer of interest to his crime fiction. A great read, and I would urge you to try the whole series.

Thomas Enger is the author of two previous Henning Juul novels, most recently Pierced, which was described in Shotsmag as ‘excellent, another superbly compelling read by Thomas Enger’. As well as writing, he also composes music. He lives in Oslo and is currently at work on the fourth novel of the series. http://www.thomasenger.net/ Follow on Twitter @EngerThomas

(With thanks to Faber&Faber for the ARC)

Clare Donoghue- Never Look Back

Three women have been found brutally murdered in south London, the victims only feet away from help during each sadistic attack. And the killer is getting braver. Sarah Grainger is rapidly becoming too afraid to leave her house. Once an outgoing photographer, she knows that someone is watching her. A cryptic note brings everything into terrifying focus, but it’s the chilling phone calls that take the case to another level. DI Mike Lockyer heads up the regional murder squad. With three bodies on his watch, and a killer growing in confidence, he frantically tries to find the link between these seemingly isolated incidents. What he discovers will not only test him professionally but will throw his personal life into turmoil too.

I must admit that on receiving this book to read and review, there was a slight sinking in my heart when I saw the well-worn comparisons to Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson and Peter James. However, never one to be deterred by publicity blurb,  I dove in to this debut crime novel with an open mind and was more than pleasantly surprised by what lay within…

From the outset you are plunged into a nightmarish insinuation that this killer has more than a passing resemblance to the resident weirdo killer in The Silence of the Lambs. Crafting his magnum opus in his spare room, that you just know is going to be constructed out of items accrued from his crime scenes. Cut to young woman being violently attacked on a London street and its aftermath, quickly introducing us to the main police protagonists, and straightaway Donoghue has raised the reader’s interest simply and succinctly. This is what you want from a British police procedural- straight in- boom- so loved that. Then, the story spirals out encompassing the miserable day-to-day existence of a previously vivacious woman and her nightmare experience at the hands of a stalker. Donoghue captures perfectly the claustrophobic dread of Sarah’s life from her waking moment under the microscope of her stalker’s eye, and this is very well depicted within the plot. Inevitably, all the facets of the plot intersect nicely, as Sarah’s cries for help are eventually answered by the intervention of DI Mike Lockyer and DS Jane Bennett as her stalker enters their radar, in the course of their murder investigation…

I did like the tight control that Donoghue kept on the pace and gradual unfolding of the plot, never resorting to implausible coincidence and keeping the tension high. I was slightly less sure of the development of the relationship between Lockyer and Sarah, and did raise my eyes to the heavens a little as this came to light, but both characters, carrying their own emotional baggage, were empathetic enough, and this did help overcome the slightly hackneyed nature of their personal interactions. Overall, the characterisation was very good, and Lockyer makes for a good central police character, with more importantly further room for development. He displays all of the central tenets needed by a leading character, and though not quite as charismatic as DI Tom Thorne  from Mark Billingham, there are definitely sparks of interest.  I’m also hoping that in any future books DS Jane Bennett has a greater part to play as I think she could well be a character to take more of a role from this initial encounter with her.

So to sum up, a more than satisfactory debut of another player in the British police procedural genre. Despite my minor quibble with one aspect of the plot, I would be more than happy to pick up another in the series, and always nice to encounter a new author. Promising stuff.

After ten years in London, working for a City law firm, Clare Donoghue moved back to her home town in Somerset to undertake an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University. The Watcher is her first novel and in 2011, whilst still an unpublished manuscript, was long-listed for the CWA Debut Dagger. Follow on Twitter @claredonoghue

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

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

Okay, so despite my best intentions I seem to have fallen behind again with the whole reading and reviewing thing. But fear not, I am already 4 books ahead for March, and have reined in my natural instinct to waste far more time on pointless tasks when I could be reading. Working a treat so far! So eyes down and look in for this, the delights of my February reading which although slowed down by a couple of non-starters (and which had promised so much) was actually not a bad month at all…

Books read and reviewed:

Pat Fitzpatrick- Keep Away From Those Ferraris

Peter Swanson- The Girl With A Clock For A Heart

Luke Delaney- The Toy Taker

Court Haslett- Tenderloin

Tom Rob Smith- The Farm

Elly Griffiths- The Outcast Dead  (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Mark Sennen- Cut Dead (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Chris Womersley- Cairo (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month

I cannot just leap onto the book of the month without a good dollop of praise for the wonderful Tenderloin by Court Haslett, a new writer to me, and one I shall certainly be watching out for again. Tapping in perfectly to my huge interest in, and regard for, contemporary American crime fiction, this debut was a breath of fresh air, resonating with the look and feel of 1970’s America. Find it. Buy it. Read it.

But to the victor the spoils, as I really cannot fail to award my best read of the month to the mesmerising and intensely personal new novel from Tom Rob Smith- The Farm. This is a book that has repeatedly returned to my mind over the last few weeks, and was so emotive and fluid that it really does fit the adage of a book to lose yourself in. A thought-provoking read that really does serve to demonstrate Smith’s well-earned reputation as an imaginative and assured writer. Marvellous.

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