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March 2015

BLOG TOUR- Luca Di Fulvio- The Boy Who Granted Dreams- Extract

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Welcome to the second stop on this week’s blog tour coinciding with the release of Luca Di Fulvio’s UK debut, The Boy Who Granted Dreams. If, like me, you have a fondness for films such as The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America or Gangs of New York, I can pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy this novel greatly. Tracking the immigration of fifteen year old Cetta, and her young son, Natale from rural Italy to New York in search of a better life, Di Fulvio has constructed a vivid and powerful portrait of life in America at the turn of the twentieth century. In their new home, they find the merciless laws of gangs rule the miserable, poverty-stricken, and crime-filled Lower East Side. Only those with enough strength and conviction survive. As young Natale grows up in the Roaring Twenties, he takes a page from his crippled mother’s book and finds he possesses a certain charisma that enables him to charm the dangerous people around him. Weaving Natale’s unusual life and quest for his one true love against the gritty backdrop of New York’s underbelly, Di Fulvio proves himself a master storyteller, as he constructs enticing characters ravaged by circumstance, driven by dreams, and awakened by destiny. Although I confess to only being some way into the book at the time of writing this, I am already hypnotised by the journey to adulthood Natale is experiencing, and intrigued by his incredibly natural feel for manipulation and charm to protect himself, and yet stealthily achieve his long term ambitions. I love the real sense of time and place that Di Fulvio is weaving as a backdrop to the story, and the colourful and vital characterisation that leaps from the pages. But don’t just take my word for it, and feast your eyes on the first part of an extract (to be continued on Friday by Cara at The Tattooed Book ) to enter the world of The Boy Who Granted Dreams…

At first there were two of them watching her grow up — the mother and the padrone. One of them watched with dread, the other with a lazy lustfulness. But before she could become a woman, the mother made sure that the padrone wouldn’t look at her any more.

When the child was twelve years old, her mother mashed a thick juice out of poppy seeds, as the oldest women had taught her. She made the girl drink it, and, when she saw her start to stagger and grow drowsy, she picked her up and carried her on her back across the dusty path in front of their hut — on the padrone’s land — down to the dry stream bed and the dead oak tree. She broke a big branch off the old tree, then ripped the little girl’s dress and struck her forehead with a sharp stone, there where she knew much blood would flow. She pulled her daughter into an awkward pose on the stony riverbed — as if she’d rolled down the bank, falling from the dead tree — and left her there, with the broken branch on top of her. Then she came back to the hut and waited for the men to return from the fields, while she kept on stirring a pot of soup with onions, and lard. Only then did she tell one of her sons to go and look for Concetta, the little girl.

She went on grumbling, saying that girl was always running off to play, maybe down by the old oak. She complained to her husband that that child was a curse, moving like quicksilver but with her head always someplace else; she couldn’t give her a task because she’d start out and then forget it halfway through, and she was no help in the house, either. Her husband called her names and told her to shut up, and then he went outside to smoke. She — while her son went across the path that led down to the riverbed and the dead oak — went back to stirring the pot of soup with its lard, and onions; her heart hammering in her breast.

While she was waiting she heard, as she did every evening, the padrone’s automobile pass in front of their house. He always sounded his horn twice, because, he said, the little girls liked it so much. It was true that Concetta was drawn by that sound every evening, even though for the last year her mother had forbidden her to run out of the house to greet the padrone. She would go to the window and peep out. And the mother would hear the padrone laughing from inside the cloud of dust raised by his automobile.

Because Concetta — everyone said this, but the padrone said it too often — was a really beautiful child and was going to be a beautiful big girl….”

to be continued….

LUCA_D~1Luca Di Fulvio was born in 1957 in Rome where he now works as an independent author. His versatile talent allows him to write riveting adult thrillers and cheerful children’s stories (published under a pseudonym) with equal ease. One of his previous thrillers, “L’Impagliatore,” was filmed in Italian under the title “Occhi di cristallo.” Di Fulvio studied dramaturgy in Rome where he was mentored by Andrea Camilleri. The Boy Who Granted Dreams is published 23rd March by Bastei Entertainment and is available as an e-book from online retailers.

The blog tour for The Boy Who Granted Dreams continues tomorrow at Liz Loves Books

BLOG TOUR: SJI Holliday- Black Wood Review and Extract

Blog-Tour-URLs[3]Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be the first stop on the SJI Holliday Black Wood blog tour- a debut crime novel that more than lives up to the promise of being a dark and extremely compelling psychological thriller. Inspired by a disturbing incident in the author’s own childhood, Black Wood explores the lives of two young women, Jo and Claire, deeply affected by an event that happened to them in their younger years in the local woods. This distressing incident left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars, but due to Claire’s memory loss, how much is Jo’s version of what happened to be trusted? Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the local bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for revenge. At the same time, popular local police officer, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a man who is attacking women near the disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But how is this man connected to Jo’s unwelcome visitor, and will the dependable Gray unravel the tangled web of secrets and lies to keep Jo safe and give her justice? And just who will survive the violence that must surely follow?

blI should really start by saying how much I applaud Holliday in taking the decision to present us with a cast of characters who are all so singularly dislikeable. They range in character from self-absorbed, to screwed-up, from emotionally crippled to inherently evil, and all the worst points in-between. If I were to encounter any of them in real life, I would not seek their company again, but within the confines of this book, I liked them all immensely. I loved the premise of having this collection of oddball personalities, whether shaped by unfortunate experience or just as a result of their natural weirdness, in this claustrophobic community, and the fact that as a reader you could remain largely unaffected by their trials and tribulations. I was very much put in mind of a brilliant drama series from years ago, Cape Wrath, which instilled a similar feeling as to the largely nasty characters within it, but remained compulsive viewing. I liked the feeling of being unencumbered by empathy with Jo, in particular, and rather enjoyed the fact that she inhabited the role of victim, but had a rather unpleasant and manipulative streak to her. She seemed to wield some strange hypnotic effect over most of the male characters, including the dogged Sergeant Gray who was probably the only character registering at all on the niceness scale. The assured characterisation of such a cast of dark and twisted people was a real strength of the book overall, and as much as I disliked them, I derived great satisfaction from seeing into their lives- the good and the bad.

I liked the unfolding complexity of the characters connections to one another within the central plot. I did read quite a way into the book with not the faintest clue as to how it would pan out, and I thought Holliday’s control of reveals was incredibly well-handled, keeping my interest throughout, as we became further embroiled in the nasty dark secrets and lies at the heart of this community. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the explosion of violence towards the end of the book, but no matter, as what proceeded it was more than satisfying. Oh- and there is a good twist right at the end of the book. I love it when that works, and this one did. All in all, a good debut, that contains all the necessary tension, and unwelcome surprises of a thoroughly enjoyable psychological thriller. Seek this one out and you won’t be disappointed I’m sure. Here’s an extract to tempt you further…

THE WOODS

He spots the two girls through the cracked screen of beech, sycamore and leg-scratching gorse: a flash of red skirt and a unison of giggles.

He waves a hand behind him, silently gesturing for the other boy to stop walking.

They hunker down behind a giant felled oak, and watch. The one with the red skirt sits astride a rusty water pipe that juts out through the hard-packed mud on either side of the burn. Her long, skinny legs dangle like the branches of a weeping willow, her sandalled feet almost skimming the water that bubbles beneath.

‘Come on, scaredy-cat!’

Her face is turned in the direction of the far bank, watching the path that runs down the side of the neat little row of square seventies housing where all the nice families live with their panel-fenced back gardens and their rabbit hutches and their Swingball sets. Where the other girl stands: shorter, plumper and dressed in denim dungarees and a pair of blue wellingtons.

‘I can’t. It’s too fast.’

The water is high from the rain that has barely stopped for weeks. The ground is soggy, and the boys’ footsteps have disturbed the mulch on the floor of the wood, releasing a stink that reminds him of clothes that’ve been left too long in the washing machine mixed with the tang of fresh grass from the bucket on his dad’s lawnmower.

He hears the snap of a twig close behind him and whirls round.

‘Ssssh, you idiot. Don’t let them hear us.’

The other boy mumbles a sorry.

The girl with the red skirt turns back to face the wood and he holds his breath, desperate not to make a sound. She frowns and shakes her head and dark little curls bob around her face. She is younger than he is. A couple of years. Maybe the same age as the pudgy-faced one in the dungarees, but even from this distance he can tell she’s going to be a heartbreaker before long. He stares at the long bare legs straddling the pipe and feels the stirring in his trousers that’s becoming increasingly familiar.

The other girl takes a tentative step towards the pipe.

‘I’m not going over it like you,’ she says haughtily. ‘I’ll get my dungarees dirty.’

The other girl lets out a dirty little laugh and shuffles over to the end of the pipe, then leans forward and grabs the protruding roots of the ancient oak that overhangs the waterway. As she pulls herself up, the front of her baggy T-shirt gapes open and he strains his eyes to see what’s concealed beneath. The other one steps onto the pipe and, with arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, slowly makes her way across, until she is close enough to grab onto her friend’s outstretched hand.

He waits until they are both safely away from the bank before he grabs the sleeve of the other boy and they both stand up. The smaller girl sees them first and she lets out a strange little squeak and jumps back, grabbing onto the other girl’s T-shirt, revealing a flash of milky-white shoulder.

He grins.

Find out more about the author here

Don’t forget to visit The Welsh Librarian BlogSpot tomorrow for the next stop on the tour…

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

BLOG TOUR- Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes- Guest Post: Why I Write About Crime + Review

PASTCRIMES3 (1)It’s the last stop on the Glen Erik Hamilton blog tour to promote his debut thriller Past Crimes. I’m delighted to be hosting a special post by Glen on why crime is his chosen genre and my review of the book follows. It’s no exaggeration to say that you’re going to love this debut… 

Glen2961 v2 (1)Why I Write About Crime

“About as early as I can remember, I would look for the cameras. The bank cameras, that is, which used to be tucked away discreetly in the corners, watching and recording in case anyone decided to make an unauthorized withdrawal. As a boy, I found the whole concept of security from castle moats to bank vaults – fascinating. How do they prevent crime? Or, maybe more intriguingly, what are their limits?

Nowadays that spot-the-camera game isn’t much fun. The cameras are very obvious, even showing their feeds on monitors to the customers, to further discourage crime and promote paranoia. And the little black ceiling bubbles with eyes within are so ubiquitous that it’s a lot harder to count them than find them.

Still, the question lingers: How exactly could one solve that particular puzzle? Disguises? Smoke screen? Hoodies with stealth technology woven right in?

That example obviously had nefarious ends in mind. But not all flouting of the law is so nefarious. On my first trip to Ireland, I made some new friends (easy enough in that land famed for good conversation) and we went out after their workday for dinner and a pint. The pint turned into a few litres as the night went on, and I became acquainted with the brilliant custom of the lock-in.

I’m aware that I’m writing this for a readership largely in the UK, who may have understood lock-ins long before reaching their own drinking age. I hope those crafty veterans will bear with my naïve enthusiasm.

But for those readers who are unfamiliar: UK law states that pubs and other venues offering alcohol must stop serving at 11:00 at night, and of course, that’s the natural closing time for most. However, there’s nothing that says a pub owner can’t give drinks to a few friends after he or she closes up shop for the night. And if the friends happen to leave a few bills on the bar in appreciation, before the official closing time, that’s entirely up to them. The locked door simply makes sure that the private party isn’t interrupted by customers. Because that would be illegal. Occasionally a member of the Garda (the police) might pop by to share a drink, while off-duty of course, and make sure that the deadbolt on the door is working properly.

Illegal? Arguably, as it’s skirting the rules. Malevolent? Hardly. If anything, the shared wink at the formal law seems to bring small communities and neighborhoods together. In any event, I love the whole idea, and not just because it ends with me having another Guinness. It’s fun to break the rules, so long as no one suffers. Or goes thirsty.

I wouldn’t really want to hijack an armored car, or steal an entire warehouse, or melt the gilt off of cathedral spires. But it is hugely fun to think of solutions to puzzles like these, and then write about them. Breaking the rules, without anyone the worse off for it. And all my crimes confined to the page. Honest, Officer.

Now about that pint…”

A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family, punctuated by frequent visits to his hometown to soak up the rain. He is currently working on his second novel featuring Van Shaw and Seattle’s criminal underworld. Follow the author on Twitter @GlenErikH and visit his website here

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Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s the main suspect. The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.

I was really quite taken with this debut from Hamilton, I must confess. As regular readers of my reviews know, I am always keen to discover new American writers and what appealed to me about Hamilton was the way that his book neatly bypassed the more simple label of ‘thriller’ and instead, through the strength of his characterisation and observation, was on a par with the very best of American contemporary fiction.

With his main character returning from military service to his old stomping ground and Hamilton’s solid depiction of Shaw’s Seattle neighbourhood, I would have no hesitation in putting this in the same league as Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos, whose assured grip of the socio-economic representations of the neighbourhoods they depict, add another level to the reader’s experience. Supported by the extremely well-worked double timeline, I was utterly engaged throughout the whole book. The use of the contrasting timelines subtly speeded up or slowed down the reading experience, giving an undulating sense of pace to the book overall to great effect. Sometimes it is easy to be engaged more with one timeline than another, but I found that each enriched the enjoyment of the other, as truths were revealed and we got drawn deeper into the trials and tribulations of Shaw’s world…

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Hamilton slowly built up a complete picture of Shaw from his troubled childhood, to his teenage years kicking around with best friend Davey, and the ‘criminal’ schooling by his gruff grandfather Dono. Shaw’s formative years are a turbulent affair, interspersed by his grandfather’s criminal activities and incarceration, but we as readers, embark on a journey with Shaw as the light and shade of his character come into sharp focus. The oscillating moral compass of Shaw that we see formed from his youth to his army service adds a real depth to his character, and by extension makes him an incredibly empathetic protagonist. As he seeks to uncover the reasons for the vicious attack on his grandfather that greets his arrival home, Shaw uncovers the nefarious dealings of the old man, calling on some of his grandfather’s less than honest pals for assistance (who are another highlight of the book), and Shaw has to face up to the sins of his own past along the way, leading the book to an emotional and heartfelt conclusion. A highly recommended debut novel, and another name to keep a close eye on…

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

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Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.

Okay, as they say over the water, here’s the thing. I don’t do legal thrillers. As a rule they bore me intensely, and I’ve dabbled in the genre with little success. I’m the type of gal who only watches half of Law and Order. The first half, thus for me, the interesting half, where crimes are perpetrated and people get attacked or murdered. I have little patience for posturing people in judicial wigs or designer suits, impressing no-one but themselves within the confines of the courtroom. BUT a strange thing has happened, nay a miracle, and Mr Cavanagh must be fully congratulated for this. He has written a legal thriller- yes, the alarm bells were ringing- but what’s more, a legal thriller that I read in practically one sitting. And loved. Yes, loved. Here’s why..

The absolute stand-out feature of this book is Cavanagh’s characterisation of sharp-talking but reluctant lawyer Eddie Flynn. Flynn is a wonderfully flawed man with a chequered past, Mafia connections and fundamental human weaknesses, but equally a man of great integrity who has a strong moral core, anxious to avenge the sins of his own former professional career as a lawyer, and to fairly extricate himself and others from the predicament he finds himself in. I thoroughly enjoyed how Cavanagh interweaved the less than honourable aspects of Flynn’s past life as a grifter, albeit to seek revenge on those that had wronged himself and his family, with the great personal cost to himself when he also manages to get a clearly guilty man exonerated from a heinous attack on a young woman (the upshot of this case being his withdrawal from his legal career). Finding himself in the clutches of a dangerous conspiracy to dispose of a witness, we are held on the edge of our seats as to how Flynn will thwart the baddies, and ensure the release of his daughter, whilst manipulating the due process of law, and calling in some favours from some less than savoury cohorts. Flynn completely carries the weight of the plot, with the reader believing in him consistently throughout, and with his humour, integrity and quick thinking, there was little to disabuse me of my feeling towards him as a thoroughly believable and likeable character. Equally, Cavanagh’s characterisation of the Russian crew was spot-on, presenting us with a host of great baddies for us to despise, but also within the Italian Mafia offshoot, giving us another set of notably bad but affectionately flawed men who Flynn calls upon to help in his hour of need.

The plot moved at breakneck speed with a breathless quality to the whole affair. As Flynn gets even further mired in the Russian conspiracy, there are real hold-your-breath moments, as the clock ticks down to exonerating Volchek without the potentially explosive events that Flynn’s failure could cause in the courtroom, and which could compromise the safety of his daughter. The book is well balanced between the unfurling court case, and the cat and mouse defence and prosecution of Volchek, and the events outside as we begin to see the depth of the plot against Flynn, and even Volchek himself, in a series of well-timed reveals that consistently wrong-foot the reader. It’s sharp, clever and a brilliantly executed thriller. And it’s not often I write those words. The Defence is a great debut, and here’s hoping there’s more of Eddie Flynn to come.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Mari Jungstedt- The Dangerous Game

aaaFor one reason or another Mari Jungstedt had slipped off my reading list, so after a slight hiatus for me in the series it was good to embark on her writing again. This is the eighth of the series to feature detectives Anders Knutas and Karin Jacobsson, and is set against the backdrop of the Swedish fashion world, and all the petty rivalries and skulduggery within it.

The book opens with a vicious attack on fashion photographer, Markus Sanberg, a dislikeable lothario who seems to spend most of his time seducing the young models he photographs. His latest conquest is Jenny Levin, a fresh-faced and naïve girl from the rural backwoods, and the greatest focus throughout the book is her connection to Markus, and the murders that follow this initial attack. We also meet Agnes, a former model, now incarcerated in a clinic, suffering from acute anorexia, and for me, her narrative was probably the most engaging part of the book. We see through her eyes the inordinate amount of pressure put on young girls in the fashion business, and the traumatic aftermath she has experienced in not only her damaging relationship with food, but how her life has been ruined. Slowly, Jungstedt interlinks the experiences of both Jenny and Agnes as the murderer has connections to both, and how Knutas and Jacobsson enter a world largely unknown to them in pursuit of a murderer…

To be honest, I wasn’t completely enamoured with this book, and was thrown initially by the relating of two events that even at the close of reading, I could find no connection to what had happened in the main body of the story. Indeed, I was a little underwhelmed with the plot generally, so other aspects of the book became more important. The story largely consisted of a group of fairly dislikeable characters, arrogant Markus, limpid Jenny and so on, that I found increasingly difficult to care about. As I said previously, Agnes was the shining light amongst a fairly mediocre cast of characters, but probably more so in the fact that she revealed to us the dark side of the fashion world, and the daily difficulties she experiences in trying to overcome her eating disorder. I think most readers could not fail to be moved by her travails, and there is a huge amount of poignancy in Jungstedt’s portrayal of her, particularly in relation to the events near the close of the book. Detectives Knutas and Jacobsson do not seem to have moved on an incredible amount from the last time I read this series. There is still the air of unrequited love bubbling below the surface, but I did enjoy the sharper focus placed on Jacobsson’s reunion with the now adult daughter she gave up for adoption. Their handling of the investigation was fairly straightforward, unveiling few surprises along the way, and the murderer was not exceptionally well-disguised.

In fairness to Jungstedt, whose previous books I have largely enjoyed, I will file this one away as a ‘bridging’ book in the series, with the hope that the next outing for the likeable Knutas and Jacobsson is a good deal more fulfilling. A normally pleasing detective duo, but not given room to shine in this one.

(With thanks to Doubleday for the ARC)

February 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

 

 

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)What a strange month February was, and unfortunately due to the twin blights of much upheaval in Raven’s nest, and being seriously thwarted by technology, my reading has been slightly impeded over the last few weeks. Consequently, anyone waiting on reviews on PDFs or e-books will have to wait a little longer until my e-reader issues are sorted out. Sorry!

Anyway, all that aside I still managed to get a few reviews posted, and have made in-roads into March’s pile- there is some terrific stuff being published soon. I have also been reading outside the crime genre a little this month as a few crime titles I have picked up this month did not keep me in their thrall I’m afraid to say, so I had a wee break from murder and mayhem to re-focus. I’ve been dipping into Johann Hari’s Chasing The Scream, an excellent examination of the global war on drugs, and Chris Hadfield’s biography- An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth. I’ve also read Death In The Family by Karl Ove Knausgard-the first instalment of his six book fictional biography, the utterly enchanting The Red Notebook by Antoin Laurain,  and am a little way into Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. My performance for the  TBR Double Dog Dare has not gone terribly well as I have bought another 5 books and only read 2 from the TBR mountain- oh well- I still have a month to redeem myself!

As I’ve said March will be a month of reading delights, and as ever there a couple of rather funky blog tours on the horizon too. Have a good month everyone!

Books read and reviewed:

Karim Miske- Arab Jazz

William Giraldi- Hold The Dark

James Carol- Prey (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Torquil MacLeod- Meet Me In Malmo

Benjamin Black- The Black Eyed Blonde (www.crimefictionlover.com)

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

arab1KARIM MISKE- ARAB JAZZ

Absolutely no doubt about this choice as my favourite book this month. Miske’s thought-provoking, poignant, and intelligent study of the racial and religious melting pot of  Paris (particularly in the light of recent events) kept me totally enthralled. The social detail, sense of place and superb characterisation could not be faulted from start to finish, and I felt completely immersed in the lives and travails of his characters throughout. An absolute contender already for a place in this year’s Top 5.

 

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