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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)June has been a pretty terrific month all round it has to be said with a host of different crime reads and a little bit of acclaim!  Not only am I celebrating my two year anniversary  of Raven Crime Reads, but also thanks to Margaret at the Bleach House Library was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger award now proudly displayed on my site. Thanks also to all the bloggers and authors who have tweeted, and left such lovely messages in response to this- I’m feeling the love! I also took part in Marina Sofia’s series at Finding Time To Write where she asked me some great questions about what started my passion for all things crime- it was fun! Not only has June unveiled another selection of great crime reads, but July is shaping up to be equally busy with my involvement in four blog tours and a teetering stack of excellent new releases to get stuck into, as well as the distractions of a certain football competition in Brazil.  I won’t dwell on the continuing issues with my eye, but rest assured, even visually challenged the reviews will continue. Have a good month everybody!

Raven reviewed in June:

Doug Johnstone- The Dead Beat

William Shaw- A House of Knives

Steve Mosby-The Nightmare Place

Dwayne Alexander Smith- Forty Acres

Owen Laukkanen- The Professionals

Jean-Luc Bannalec- Death In Pont Aven (www.crimefictionlover.com)

John Harvey- Darkness, Darkness (www.crimefictionlover.com)

John Gordon Sinclair- Blood Whispers (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Stephen Booth- The Corpse Bridge (www.crimefictionlover.com)

And so to Raven’s Book of the Month which caused the usual headache with such an enjoyable selection of reads this month. The final outing for Charlie Resnick in John Harvey’s Darkness, Darkness was both a step back in time, and a poignant close to a wonderful series. Once again, William Shaw delighted me with A House of Knives, the second in his sixties-based series which opened with A Song From Dead Lips and this new one carried the momentum of the first again featuring the wonderful characters of DS Breen and TDC Tozer.  I was also completely mesmerised by Dwayne Alexander Smith’s debut novel, Forty Acres, which provided a wholly original spin on the emotive issue of slavery, in both shocking and thought-provoking fashion. A book I will be talking about and recommending for a good while I suspect.


picture1_0However, this month I am plumping for Doug Johnstone- The Dead Beat, which not only took me back to the delights of my record collection, with its brilliant musical references, but also proved a dark psychological thriller, that captured my imagination and was highly emotive throughout. Loved the Edinburgh setting, the characters, the shifting timelines,  and the powerful yet sensitive handling of the effects of death and mental instability on familial relationships. A great read.



Owen Laukkanen- The Professionals


Four friends, caught in a terrible job market, joke about turning to kidnapping to survive. And then, suddenly, it’s no joke. For two years, the strategy they devise works like a charm – until they kidnap the wrong man. Now two groups are after them – the law, in the form of veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens and hotshot young FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized crime outfit looking for payback. As they crisscross the country in a series of increasingly explosive confrontations, each of them is ultimately forced to recognize the truth: the real professionals, cop or criminal, are those who are willing to sacrifice everything.

Owen Laukkanen’s The Professionals accompanied me to work everyday last week, the importance of that being, that when you settle down on your lunchbreak away from the trials and tribulations of the workplace and you just need to escape for a while, you need a book like this. Fast moving, plenty of twists and turns and a genuine lack of clues as to how the story will resolve itself. Should also say that thanks to Laukkanen, there were a couple of late returns back to work whilst reading this one!

The absolute stand out feature of this book for me, was the incredibly control of pace and plot that Laukkanen produces. I loved the initial premise of the story, that one career choice when you leave college with no hope of full time employment is to band together with a group of mates and just kidnap people. Don’t ask for huge ransoms. Don’t hurt them. Everyone’s a winner. But the best laid plans can always go awry and after kidnapping the wrong man our four amigos embark on a flight from justice after a particularly foolhardy act. Pursued by a dogged law enforcement officer working out of Minnesota, Kirk Stevens, and a ballsy FBI agent, Carla Windermere, the foolish foursome encounter numerous scrapes, violence and separation along the way, as well as picking up another stray soul to add to their number, and causing the dissolution of a relationship whose ferocity of passion would put Romeo and Juliet to shame. As the fugitives flee, drawing on their reserve of false identities, but troubled by their depleting funds, they are forced into another kidnap, and a bid to release one of their number from custody resulting in a tense, violent, and almost poignant conclusion. The plotting is almost seamless throughout, transporting the reader effortlessly from state to state, in a real game of cat and mouse, as the net closes on the kidnappers. Balanced perfectly between the increasing desperate measures adopted by the fugitives, and the mostly calm and controlled investigation by the law enforcement agencies, evinced by Laukkanen’s inclusions of FBI investigative procedures and practices, the book races to its conclusion at a breakneck speed, which does make it incredibly difficult to put down.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characterisation of the kidnappers, Arthur, Marie, Mouse and Sawyer, and the pivoting relationships between them, as the peril increased and the pressure really starts to rain down on them. I found the relationship between Arthur and Marie particularly touching and a wee bit heartbreaking (even for an old cynic like me) as you will discover for yourselves when you read it. I also enjoyed the banter and good natured joshing that existed between them, and the appearance of an almost sibling- like relationship particularly between Mouse and Sawyer. However, I was altogether less convinced about the police protagonists, and the hackneyed attempt at producing some kind of sexual tension between them, that felt altogether a bit forced. Also the sporadic interactions between Stevens and his wife, were all a bit chocolate box sweet and slightly nauseating. Really, in the light of how long he was actually away from home, this proved a bit of an unnecessary diversion to the intensity of pace that Laukkanen was building overall in the increasing pace and excitement of the investigation. All in all though, a pretty satisfying thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat, if not entirely perfect in the balance of the realisation of the characters.

(With thanks to Corvus for the ARC)


A Happy Raven! A Very Inspiring Blogger Award


blogger award

Absolutely delighted to say that I have been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award posted by Margaret at Bleach House Library which provides a great opportunity to not only extend my thanks to her for this, but also to share my thoughts on the highly enjoyable world of book blogging, and to nominate in turn some of my other favourite blogs.

Since embarking on my blog two years ago, I have not only be lucky enough to ‘virtually’ meet many other terrific book bloggers and authors, but also, through their interesting and enlightening posts discover many new books and genres that I  was previously unaware of. I love the differing opinions and reactions that the same book can hold for different people, and the passion and commitment  with which we all spend our time reading and reviewing. I am always aghast at some people’s incredible output of reviews, and with the fluency and eloquence that that they write their reviews. I love the well-constructed criticism or praise that these reviews bring, and the sense of awareness that what we say can be so influential on our reader’s choice as to whether they will read the book or not. I think we will all agree that blogging is a commitment and a time consuming affair, but the joy of discovering a great new book, and being able to share this with many other readers is a worthwhile and enjoyable occupation to have. I derive tremendous pleasure, punctuated by frustration through my reading and my blog, and would not give it up for the world. It’s been a great ride so far…

So with no further ado and in the spirit of this award here are the seven things you may not know about me. Be afraid. And the 15 blogs, among the many, that I find inspiring…

1. My real name isn’t Raven- ha! Always had a liking for the twisted world of Poe, and I like ravens…

2. I have broken my right arm twice. Once by falling off a table and once by falling off a chair. And no, I wasn’t drunk.

3. I’m left-handed, and in the light of number 2 this is a good thing.

4. I was expelled from the Brownies for disruptive behaviour. Always a rebel.

5. I once had a 15 minute conversation with Lou Reed without realising who he was.

6. My good opinion once lost,  is lost forever. I’m sure someone has said this before. 😉

7. I know how to dispose of a dead body without getting caught…


15 Inspiring Blogs

Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

Crime Thriller Fella

Crime Reader



For Winter Nights

The Game’s Afoot

It’s A Crime (Or a mystery…)

Liz Loves Books

Milo’s Rambles

Mrs. Peabody Investigates

 My Bookish Ways

Novel Heights

Orange Pekoe Reviews

Reader Dad- Book Reviews


Here’s what you should do if you have been nominated :
Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
List the rules and display the award.
Share seven facts about yourself.
Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.






Dwayne Alexander Smith- Forty Acres

10faf7da8cbb005084bd1d086e119954Martin Grey, a smart, talented. young lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, is taken under the wing of a secretive group made up of America’s most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men. He’s dazzled by what they have accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be one of them They invite him for a weekend away from it all – no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But what he discovers, far from home, is a disturbing alternative reality which challenges his deepest convictions…

Although not ostensibly classified as a crime book, I was very keen to include this title as I believe that there are enough elements to fulfil the best of both genres; crime thriller and contemporary American fiction. Drawing on the theme of the continuing calls in present day America for some kind of reparation for the heinous period of American slavery, and the resonance of the falsely promised ‘forty acres and a mule’ for the emancipated slaves, Smith has constructed one of the most thought-provoking novels, with all the essential elements of a thriller, that it has been my pleasure to read for some time.

Martin Grey, a small time African American lawyer, wins a distinctly high profile court case up against a powerful and media savvy prosecution lawyer, Damon Darrell, finds himself quickly, yet mysteriously enfolded into Darrell’s immediate circle. This circle contains a small cabal of some of the most influential and successful black figures in society, and Martin, basking in the honour of being made an intimate of such a group, quickly forms an allegiance with them, despite certain misgivings when called upon to perform a strange act of initiation. Grey is then invited on a weekend of outdoor pursuits; a previous weekend of which resulted in the less than fully explained death of a former member of the group. As Martin witnesses the strange and disturbing events at the weekend retreat of ‘Forty Acres’, we, along with him, begin to bear witness to the twisted and insidiously violent events within its walls, all in the name of seeking vengeance for the sins of America’s past. Through the attempted manipulation of Martin by the cabal, and his refusal to simply see the issues raised in black and white (his name is Grey after all), he finds his highly developed moral barometer is increasingly threatened both mentally and physically…

This is not an easy read, being at times brutal and uncompromising in some of its more violent scenes. There is also an incredibly surprising and shocking reveal, as to the activities that take place within the grounds of the mysterious ‘Forty Acres’, that really pushes the morality issue to the fore. It is also a book that throws up a series of extremely troubling moral and ethical dilemmas, but at the same time steadfastly reminding the reader of the immoral period of slavery and the repercussions of this for generations of black Americans. I think this is most certainly a book that will leave readers with differing opinions and perceptions, and reading this as a white British person (with our own shady involvement in the slavery period) I would be interested to see how say, a white American or African American would perceive the issues raised. There were certainly periods of the book that challenged my own moral sense, and by taking some arguments to the most extreme degree, I found my views were increasingly in line with Martin’s as the book progressed. I think that the book was powerfully effective in highlighting the dangers of extreme beliefs whether they be affiliated with race, gender or religion, but equally how persecution of a particular group of exploited people is so easily ignored and not punished and can resonate through generations.

Smith keeps a tight rein on the build up of tension throughout, slowly accelerating the pace until the breathless denouement with Martin, and those closest to him, in imminent peril, so this more than qualifies the book as a compelling thriller. More importantly though, although not a comfortable read, the book consistently raises interesting and thorny issues in both its narrative and themes. I always enjoy books that challenge the complacency of any reader, and Forty Acres certainly achieves this. If, like me, you want a book that gets you talking, and results in differences of opinion, than this is certainly the book for you. I guarantee it will make you think, and stay in your head some time after you’ve read it. That’s the sign of a good book. Forty Acres more than fits the bill.

Forty Acres is published July 1st 2014

(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Raven?

My thanks to Marina Sofia for including me in this excellent series on bloggers and reviewers on her own blog Finding Time To Write. It’s both interesting and enjoyable to see how our individual interests in crime fiction came about and what books are currently exciting our criminal tastebuds. Be sure to check out the rest of the series!


7e42f475d4f202bdd68eac647fceabf5_bigger (1)After a little business-related break, here is another installment in my series of interviews with crime fiction afficionados. Raven is the mysterious nom de plume of one of my favourite book reviewers, whose opinions have an uncanny tendency to match with mine. In real life (as if books were not real life?!), Raven is a bookseller as well as an avid reader and reviewer. And I am delighted to say that we are also comrades-in-arms as contributors to the Crime Fiction Lover website.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Thanks to the encouragement of my mum, a keen reader, who started me reading at a very early age, I have always been a regular library user, and surrounded by books. I remember dipping into mum’s fiction collection so started on Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King, Eric Ambler and possibly some others that weren’t entirely suitable for…

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Steve Mosby-The Nightmare Place

mosbySometimes, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Or at least that’s one theory for DI Zoe Dolan, tracking the Creeper – a stalker who’s been breaking into women’s homes and attacking them. But the Creeper’s violence is escalating and there’s no pattern, no clue as to how he’s getting in, and no clue as to who’s next.

Until Jane Webster gets a call to the helpline where she volunteers. It’s meant to be a confidential service and Jane is torn – it could be a hoaxer, but the soft voice at the end of the line has the ring of truth about it. He says he loves these women – but it’s a love that ends in blood.

When Jane tells the police, it should be the lead that Zoe needs – but it only pulls her further into a case that is already taking her dangerously close to the past she’s never fully escaped. For Jane, Zoe and all the other young women of the city, suddenly nowhere is safe. Particularly their own bedroom at the dead of night…

With an opening chapter that contains enough of a fright to scare even the most hardened crime reader, The Nightmare Place, is the latest offering from Steve Mosby. A stalker- The Creeper- is breaking into women’s homes and attacking them, with very little for the police to go on, and leaving little clue into how the victims are selected and who will be next…

Although not consistently exhibiting the usual deep-seated and unflinching focus on the human psyche so readily displayed in Mosby’s previous book, The Dark Room (which now ranks among my favourite crime reads of all time) there is still plenty to entertain and perplex the reader. With a feisty and solidly characterised female detective protagonist, DI Zoe Dolan, Mosby has constructed a tense and chilling crime thriller that unfailingly captures the fear and suspicion wrought by a killer at large and the failing of the police to bring him to justice. In a nifty subplot, the killer, exhibiting his twisted mentality, makes contact with a local helpline, and there is an interesting exploration of the bounds of confidentiality in such a scenario. As Mosby ramps up the tension through the escalating behaviour of The Creeper, suspects come and go, and annoyingly I had my eye on one guy as the bad guy and I was right. A total creep in all senses of the word!

The central investigation folds out satisfyingly, but by the same token not really stretching the boundaries of the serial killer thriller genre per se. The real strength of the piece lies in Mosby’s innate handling of characterisation and DI Dolan is a case in point. During her interaction with her now retired boss John Carlton, who has exerted a great influence on both her personal and professional life, the reader gets a real insight into her journey from an unsettled adolescence to her current career. From a fledgling propensity for bad behaviour and her upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks, her relationship with Carlton has proved a hugely significant influence in her life, and I loved the shift in narrative throughout the book that captured the importance of this relationship and the pathos-filled depiction of the potential loss of this friendship. This is where Mosby excels, delving deeper into the finer and more emotional aspects of the human condition, and aside from a very touching interlude focusing on another character’s short-lived harmonic relationship with an aspect of the natural world, Dolan is the main conduit for this authorial skill. As I said, the main plot was intriguing enough, but these little vignettes of human experience really lift the piece from the realms of a bog-standard police procedural.

As a firm fan of Mosby, I did detect a little dip in quality from his usual fare, but not enough to seriously impact on me recommending this as a good read. With little glimpses of the more thoughtful and introspective qualities readily apparent in his previous books, and a plot that creeped me out almost as much as the TV crime drama, The Fall, The Nightmare Place, ticked most of the boxes overall. A crime thriller that will leave you suspicious of your bedroom and who may be lurking uninvited within…

Steve Mosby lives and works in Leeds. He is the author of THE THIRD PERSON, THE CUTTING CREW, THE 50/50 KILLER, CRY FOR HELP, STILL BLEEDING, BLACK FLOWERS and THE DARK ROOM . His novels have been translated widely and longlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award. Find out more at: www.theleftroom.co.uk. Follow on Twitter @stevemosby

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)


William Shaw- A House of Knives

SHAWThe decade is drawing its last breath. In Marylebone CID, suspects are beaten in the cells and the only woman has resigned. Detective Sergeant Breen has a death threat in his in tray and two burned bodies on his hands. One is an unidentified, unmourned vagrant; the other the wayward son of a rising politician. One case suffers the apathy of a depleted police force; the other obstructed by a PR-conscious father with the ear of the Home Office.

But they can’t stop him talking to Robert ‘Groovy Bob’ Fraser – whose glamorous Pop Art parties mask a spreading heroin addiction among London’s young and beautiful – nor to a hippy squat that risks exposing it. Then the potential perpetrator of his death threats is murdered and Breen becomes a suspect. Out in the cold, banished from a corrupt and mercilessly changing system, Breen is finally forced to fight fire with fire…

A House of Knives sees the more than welcome return of DS Cathal ‘Paddy’ Breen, and his amiable sidekick TDC Helen Tozer in this London based thriller at the latter end of the Swinging Sixties. The first book from William Shaw, A Song From Dead Lips was one of  favourite reads last year, so how does this new one shape up?

A House of Knives sees both our main protagonists in a time of enforced transition. Tozer is on the cusp of leaving the police force, in part due to the events at the close of the last book, and also by familial demands back home in Devon. Breen is thrust into a sinister murder case, but in the light of the recent death of his father, and the iminent decampment of Tozer, with their unresolved personal attatchment, has emotional issues of his own. This is where Shaw excels, in both this and the previous book, with his depiction of the both the personal and professional relationships of Breen and Tozer. He perfectly spotlights not only the natural bandiage and joshing of the two with their police colleagues, but also, and in one storyline in particular, highlights the petty jealousies and blatent sexism and racism that was inherent in the police force at this time. As Tozer deals extremely calmly with the sexist observations of her colleagues, Breen is dealing with his part in the enforced resignation of a bent colleague, spiked jibes on his Irish ancestry, nasty articles being left in his work desk and then a real dice with death. Add into the mix, a very misjudged romantic entanglement, and a murder investigation reaching up into the highest echelons of British society and it is all- as we say in common parlance- kicking off for Cathal.

Shaw’s easy and fluid style of writing keeps every thread and nuance of these interweaving storylines and character development, flowing harmoniously as the central murder investigation becomes ever more complicated and threatening for our intrepid duo, yet with no reduction in either this plot or the little vignettes of the character’s personal lives that we are given a window into. Recently, the crime genre has been criticised by a certain quarter for lacking ‘heart’ in its protagonists, but I see no evidence of that here, as the reader cannot fail to become emotionally involved with both Breen and Tozer, whether through their humour, stoicism, bravery or sheer bloody-mindedness, counterbalanced by the more introspective and caring sides of both their characters. Taken in tandem with a wonderfully sordid storyline involving drugs, spoilt rich boys, dodgy art dealers, misguided hippies, and crooked politicians, I found this a thoroughly entertaining read, imbued with the spirit of the sixties with all its highs and lows. Groovy.

A review of A House of Knives from Crime Thriller Fella

William Shaw talks about the 60’s with – Reader Dad

Read my review of A Song From Dead Lips here

William Shaw was born in Newton Abbot, Devon, and lived for sixteen years in Hackney. For over twenty years he has written on popular culture and sub-culture for various publications including the Observer and the New York Times. www.williamshaw.com Twitter@william1shaw

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)