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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

April 2015

A trio of tempting crime treats- Gangsterland/The Invisible Guardian/The Snow Kimono

Realising that the official April monthly round-up is but a few hours away, thought I best get a wiggle on tidying up the read pile for the month. Despite powering through a stack of advance reading copies, all of the books below I very naughtily bought during the course of the month, despite my initially extremely noble intention to walk around my place of work with the blinkers on, and to NOT BUY ANY BOOKS! Well, best laid plans and all that. As it happens May is a congested month for reading and reviewing, so much less time to indulge in book buying, and to concentrate on those review copies. Raven says. Hopefully…

todFirst up was Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg: Sal Cupertine is a legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, known for his ability to kill anyone, anywhere, without leaving a trace. Until now, that is. His first-ever mistake forces Sal to botch an assassination, killing three undercover FBI agents in the process. He knows this could be his death sentence, so he agrees to a radical idea to save his own skin. A few surgeries and some intensive training later, and Sal Cupertine is gone, disappeared into the identity of Rabbi David Cohen. Leading his congregation in Las Vegas, Rabbi Cohen feels his wicked past slipping away from him. Yet, as it turns out, the Mafia isn’t quite done with him yet. And that rogue FBI agent on his trail, seeking vengeance, isn’t going to let Sal fade so easily into the desert…

Normally I’m wary of any crime book labelled as funny, and effusive taglines testifying to the scale of hilarity contained within, but this was an absolute hoot from start to finish. Arising from a short story entitled Mitzvah, the book is not only a dark and sinister crime caper, set in Las Vegas, but contains some of the sharpest wiseguy humour so reminiscent of the old master Elmore Leonard. The whole set-up for the plot with a sadistic Chicago hitman having to re-invent himself as a rabbi in Vegas, is wacky enough, but I more than bought into this gun-toting, sharp talking and endlessly entertaining read. The characters are brilliant and earthy  whether bad guy, good guy, or those that gravitate between both camps of legality, and the action is fast-paced and totally engaging. If you love Leonard, Hiaasen or Dorsey this will tick all the boxes.

igNext was The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo: The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology? 30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a dark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her. Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition…

Another slice of literary European crime, set in the Basque region of Spain. Although I did find a certain familiarity with the style of the writing, the historical and social detail of an area largely unknown to me, more than compensated for the more linear aspect of the plotting. I found the exploration of local superstitions woven into the plot incredibly interesting, and likewise the references to the Spanish Inquisition added another layer to the sometimes pedestrian characterisation of the police protagonists. Salazar was a strong enough lead for the investigative strand of the plot, and I enjoyed the trials and tribulations of her fiery family that punctuated the book, and the visitation of the past that occurs for her, but overall she was too similar to many female detectives that have proceeded her in the genre to really make much of an impact. Well written and engaging enough overall and would still recommend for the insight into the Basque history and region.

 

snowAnd finally The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw: On the same day that retired police inspector Auguste Jovert receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he returns to his Paris apartment to find a stranger waiting for him. That stranger is a Japanese professor called Tadashi Omura. What’s brought him to Jovert’s doorstep is not clear, but then he begins to tell his story – a story of a fractured friendship, lost lovers, orphaned children, and a body left bleeding in the snow. As Jovert pieces together the puzzle of Omura’s life, he can’t help but draw parallels with his own; for he too has lead a life that’s been extraordinary and dangerous – and based upon a lie…

To be honest, this is one of those books that I could simply list appropriate adjectives for. This book is poignant, evocative, moving, heartfelt, shocking and, unerringly beautiful in equal measure. Such is the complexity of the writing and plotting, that it almost defies its own inclusion into the crime genre, as its literary credentials are plain to see, and the pace and lyrical intensity of the slowly unfurling plot, take the reader on a wholly mesmeric journey. With each strand of the narrative pivoting between separate characters telling their story, and the shifting location from France to Japan, and the unique characteristics of these two societies, rural and city, weaving in and out of the plot, the reader is constantly kept on the back-foot, and deliciously toyed with as to how the plot will develop. Henshaw cleverly harnesses the haunting simplicity of Japanese fiction, with all the style and impetus redolent of European crime fiction, in this utterly enthralling and highly original novel. Wonderful writing, and a book that I cannot urge you strongly enough to discover for yourselves.

 

#DayOfTheGirl- Happy Birthday Lisbeth Salander

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Today marks the birthday of Lisbeth Salander, the feisty and bewitching heroine of the late Stieg Larsson’s hugely successful Millennium trilogy, comprising of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. In celebration of all things Lisbeth, today has been dubbed Day of the Girl, to remind everyone why she captured the world’s imagination, how she broke the mould of crime fiction heroines and why everyone across the world should be excited that she’s coming back. Take a trip around the blogosphere today, as we all celebrate Salander, and just what Larsson’s trilogy meant to us…

As an avid crime reader, Lisbeth was a breath of fresh air, a highly intelligent but emotionally disturbed young woman, who is the real lynchpin of the whole series, and whose professional and personal relationship with the more grounded and steady journalist Mikael Blomkvist, delighted from the outset. In Lisbeth’s character, underscored by a steely determination shaped by the violent episodes of her past, Larsson provided the crime genre with one of the most compelling and complex heroines. With her unconventional appearance, her resilience born out of her instinct to survive, navigating the harsh realities of life she has experienced, her strong moral core, and her natural aptitude for technological wizardry and disguise, she is one of the most intriguing female protagonists the crime genre had produced. I remember seeing a great quote saying something along the lines that in Lisbeth Salander, Larsson had bottled lightning, and I can only agree. She is mercurial, strident, brave and intuitive, and compounded by the depth of the plots in terms of socio-political detail that Larsson brings to these thrillers, it is little wonder that the trilogy so captured our imaginations, and proved such a publishing phenomenon.

CDwgTJpW0AIyvQDHowever, it is perhaps as a bookseller, that I felt the biggest effect of Larsson’s arrival on the crime scene. As word spread about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, being the must-read book, I was extremely gratified as to how this book in particular enabled so many non-crime readers to embrace the genre. Time after time, book buyers who would never countenance reading crime books, shared with me that this was the first crime book they had read, and more importantly, enjoyed, and who then discovered a whole world of new delights, not only in the Scandinavian crime genre, but in the realm of crime fiction generally. Thanks to Larsson’s more literary style, and vivid evocation of Scandinavian society, hardcore fiction readers, suddenly discovered that crime fiction casts the most real and compelling window on the world. Even now, when I’m approached for crime recommendations, I more often than not here the words, “I loved the Stieg Larsson books”, which is always a great springboard for conversation and new books for them to discover. Hence, I am delighted that this year will see another addition to the series, despite the sad loss of Larsson himself, and am already feeling a sense of anticipation growing as we await the fourth instalment, with David Lagercrantz’s The Girl In The Spider’s Web

Find out more about #dayofthegirl  by following the Twitter hashtag, and by following @QuercusBooks and @MacLehosePress. And here’s the trailer below for The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

 

 

 

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

deathAlways a tense time to be reviewing a second book from an author whose debut you absolutely loved. Anna Jaquiery’s haunting debut The Lying Down Room was a joy to read and review, so much so that it was second in my Top Read of 2014, and is one of the books that I most consistently recommend in my day job as a bookseller, when people are looking for a new slice of Euro crime.

Death In The Rainy Season is the next book to feature Jaquiery’s charismatic and thoughtful French detective Commandant Serge Morel, and marks a change of location from France to the hot climes and unique atmosphere of Cambodia, where the modern socio-economic problems of this country are counterbalanced by its spiritual core. Morel is taking a well-earned sojourn after the vents of the previous book, a welcome break from caring for his father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and a chance to further come to terms with a failed relationship. He finds himself unwillingly drawn into a local murder investigation, when the son of a prominent French minister is found murdered in a down-at-heel hotel room. The victim, Hugo Quercy, oversees a local NGO providing charitable support to street children, and is generally a well-regarded figure in the local community, and  respected by his colleagues. However, as Morel under pressure from his boss back home, joins forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit, also enlisting the help of grumpy local medical examiner Sok Pran, it quickly becomes clear that Quercy is not quite the man everyone had perceived him to be, and that the conspiracy behind his murder reaches further than Morel and his cohorts could possibly imagine…

Perhaps my first point of reference for my enjoyment of this book should be an appreciation of Jaquiery’s style of writing. Throughout the novel the sense of serene simplicity that her narrative style evokes in the reader is beautifully evinced not only in her evocation of location, but also through the character of her police protagonist Morel. The multi-dimensional facets of the Cambodian setting are sublimely juxtaposed, as Jaquiery carefully balances not only the deep spiritual core of this intriguing country, with the social ramifications of political corruption and misguided economic policies on the Cambodian populace. Where some authors blatantly crowbar in the depth of their research at the expense of the needs of the plot to keep the reader’s interest, Jaquiery intertwines her social detail simply, adding to the richness of the strong central plot, and I learnt much from the quality of this research.

As Morel becomes immersed in the pulsating and bustling atmosphere of Phnom Penh after his initial calm retreat in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional way of life, the sights and sounds of the city form a vital backdrop to his investigation. Likewise, the change of location impacts on Morel himself, as he wanders deeper into the underbelly of the city, and the pressure of the investigation and the demands of home, begin to unsettle his formerly peaceful equilibrium. He is a mesmerising character throughout and one cannot fail to find him empathetic, morally strong and entirely likeable. As he deals with the wife, friends, and colleagues of the victim, whilst slowly establishing a close working relationship with his Cambodian counterpart Sarit, the strength of his character always stands front and centre. Sarit too was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book, as his initial reticence and secrecy at the beginning of the investigation is slowly broken down by his interaction with Morel, and brings instead a sense of understanding and respect between the two men. We share in their frustrations as the investigation progresses, and I loved the slow reveal of the various dynamics of Quercy’s relationships with the possible suspects, and the gradual unfolding of Quercy’s true character as the man behind the myth.

I really cannot fault Death In The Rainy Season in any way, as it contains so many aspects of human interest, emotion, and intrigue along the way. Not only is it a intelligent and compelling tale of murder and corruption, but the quality of the writing and the evocation of its setting and characters make it a rich, multi-layered and totally rewarding piece of crime fiction. I am singularly impressed once again, as I was with The Lying Down Room, and have no hesitation in wholly recommending this one too.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

9780241965641With the current trend in domestic noir exerting a firm grip on the crime genre at the moment, I must confess that I have started and failed to finish a number of recent offerings. Having recently taken part in the blog tour for Unravelling Oliver  by Liz Nugent, my interest was, however, piqued by this one, reading the first chapter over five days on five blogs. Billed as being similar in style to both Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine (two authors that I admire greatly) I did embark on this book with some excitement, so how did it fare?

The book opens with a snapshot of a violent attack by a husband, successful children’s author, Oliver Ryan on his docile wife Alice, who illustrates his aforementioned books. Their marriage has seemingly been one of relative comfort and bliss, so how on earth can such a violent event have come to pass? The novel then takes us back through five decades to chart the events of Oliver’s life, leading up to this point, through his own eyes, and through the viewpoint of other people he encounters along the way. As we become immersed in the formative years and experiences of Oliver Ryan, it turns out that there is much more to him than Alice or others have ever seen, and as his past catches up with him, will we ever truly unravel the mystery of Oliver?

This is a relatively slim read, so much so that I read the book in two sittings, but what Nugent so effectively does throughout the book, is make it practically impossible to put down. With the changing narrative voices, each melds seamlessly together, revealing the mercurial Oliver as a human prism, of different moods and motivations, so you are practically champing at the bit to find out piece by piece as to how his character has been shaped by events. There is a glorious sense of claustrophobia to Nugent’s authorial style, so reminiscent of both Highsmith and Vine, so this comparison is more than justified. Nugent subtly manipulates our perception of Oliver throughout, both in her characterisation of him, and in the reportage of other more empathetic characters that provide a deeper insight into his psyche. The story pivots between Ireland and France (the scene of some particularly unsettling events) as the story of Oliver develops, sweeping us effortlessly from one location to the other. This provides an opportunity for us to see Oliver from all sides be it through his unsettled childhood, his life as a relatively carefree graduate, and his later success as an ostensibly happily married man with a solid career as an author. As each delineation of his life unfolds, with a good dose of human tragedy, his disregard for the feelings of others (particularly potent in his ‘stealing’ of Alice from all round good-egg Barney), and a strong sense of psychopathic leanings in his psyche, Oliver is revealed as a fascinating character, and sure to manipulate your sympathies. The novel also providing an intriguing exploration of the old adage of nature vs nurture, as the harsh reality of Oliver’s gradually familial connections come to light.

I think Liz Nugent is to be congratulated in producing such a well formed, compelling and utterly intriguing psychological thriller, little wonder that reviewers everywhere have been so effusive in their praise. The assured narrative, the engaging cast of characters, the seamless changes of location, and a series of perfectly well-placed reveals, leads to an immensely satisfying read. I heartily recommend this one…

 

Bernhard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

ber Billed as a tantalising combination of Dexter, Kill Bill and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, here for your delectation and delight, is another highly enjoyable slice of European crime fiction. Focussing on the character of Blum, the widowed mother of two young daughters, and the owner of a funeral home, The Woman of the Dead, is a singularly intriguing thriller, that opens with an extremely unsettling scene eight years previously, and then transporting us to the present to a scene of domestic bliss. This picture of homely comfort- a mother, father and two young daughters- is then forcibly shattered when Blum’s police officer husband, Mark, is killed on the road outside of their home, in an apparent hit-and-run. Fighting against the tidal wave of loss this produces, Blum discovers through a series of her husband’s recordings of an interview with a young immigrant woman, that his death is inextricably linked to his investigation into this young woman’s experiences as a formerly imprisoned sex slave. What Blum further discovers is that the men who are guilty of this abuse are notable figures in the local community, and with revenge boiling hard in her veins, Blum seeks to track down this woman, and exact revenge on her abusers, and her husband’s killer. Blum’s role as the avenging angel is clear to see, but what of her own murky past and the secrets she carries within? It was gratifying to see that Aichner had spent six months as an undertaker’s assistant to add credence to the more visceral details of the story, as there is a wonderfully sensitive handling of the everyday business of Blum’s handling of the dead. This sensitivity is beautifully balanced with Blum’s one woman bloody mission to track down and punish her husband’s killer or killers, where her retribution is swift and uncompromising. This is a brutal, and unrelenting read, peppered with vivid scenes of violent that by turns shock and jolt the reader, and with the added frisson of many of these being committed by a woman, the shock value intensifies. Despite the more graphic details (which some readers may struggle with) I was not unduly disturbed by them, and found the balance between Blum’s family life and professional standing, was perfectly weighted with this completely opposite picture we get of her. She is a completely intriguing character, encompassing a blend of strong morality which is then shaken by the slowly revealed less savoury aspects of her past, giving the reader a multi-faceted woman, who will challenge your empathy, as your opinion of her will undoubtedly change and change again as the book progresses. As I have said Aichner pulls no punches where the subject of sexual and physical violence arises, and this merely compounded for me his wider comment on the subject of sex-trafficking and abuse that young women immigrants can encounter in their search for a better life. The fact that Blum as a woman, later aided by Reza an employee at the funeral home, who himself has a back story of violence and immigration, adds a karma-like feel to their pursuit of the guilty, compounding the intensity of Aichner’s sociological observations on the plight of immigrants throughout Europe. It’s a strong message, strongly delivered, of the damaging effects, and the all too common danger and violence that these protagonists encounter, adding again to the power and intensity of the book. Likewise, the simple and dispassionate feel to Aichner’s prose, heightens the emotionally intense and claustrophobic feel to the novel. Perhaps a nod to the translator Anthea Bell is warranted here for the exact and compelling translation that fuels this intensity throughout. I am a huge fan of spare, pared down prose and curtailed dialogue, more commonly observed in American crime fiction, and so this was a eminently satisfying style for me. Overall, this was a brave, unsettling, but hugely compelling crime thriller that I can’t recommend highly enough if you are of stout heart and stomach. European crime fiction at its best. Bernhard Aichner was born in 1972 and lives in Innsbruck, Austria, where he works as an author and photographer. Visit his website here  Anthea Bell has won numerous awards for her translations. Best known for her translation of the Asterix series, Bell was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to literature. (With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

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They don’t call her Karla anymore. She’s Charlotte Alton: she doesn’t trade in secrets, she doesn’t erase dark pasts, and she doesn’t break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she’s been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn’t officially there. It’s a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up. So why can’t she say no?

Can I just start by saying how I would love to fling my arms around Helen Giltrow and give her a jolly good hug. And here’s why. Over the course of the last couple of months, I have started and failed to finish at least half a dozen thrillers, soon becoming bored with the all too familiar set-ups, and predictable plots. What Giltrow has done is to construct an intelligent and thought provoking thriller that not only provided a slow-burning build up of tension, but was chockful of credible characters, and a tightly plotted narrative that never once made my attention falter. I was in this one all the way…

Starting with the intriguing premise of breaking someone into an experimental prison complex called The Program, to perform a hit, I was instantly intrigued by the depiction of this location. The Program works as an almost self-sufficient prison community, constructed around a run down neighbourhood of houses with its own places of business and rules, but is a nightmarish place to be incarcerated if you are not aligned with the head honchos. Hence, the idea of a professional hitman, Johanssen  needing to be placed within this complex to track down someone who may or may not be there, instantly provokes a taut tension to the story. With his actions overseen by the mysterious intelligence operative Charlotte Alten aka Karla, who has spent years selling secrets to shady criminals. Giltrow neatly builds up Karla’s reservations and fears for her former client Johanssen’s safety as he becomes a brutalised inmate of this violent jail- an excellent cast of baddies are at work here- seeking to avoid detection by those he has tangled with in the past. The depiction of his experience are violent and uncompromising, but this adds to inherent tension of the plot, as Johanssen seeks the elusive Cate, but why is she so hard to find and who wants her dead?

Alongside this taut and utterly riveting storyline, Giltrow ramps up the narrative structure with an exploration of Karla’s chequered career in the realm of secret intelligence, and weighting both plots perfectly, Giltrow retains an assured grasp throughout. Attention must be paid I found as this book in no way resembles the usual linear, and frankly quite boring, liturgy of espionage thrillers that currently populate crime and thriller sections throughout the land. Indeed, to my mind, the style of Giltrow’s writing can be viewed as a contemporary version of Helen MacInnes, which is no mean feat. Likewise, the characterisation of Karla herself, and Johanssen, are absolutely paramount to the engagement of the reader. Both are incredibly well-drawn with the necessary balance of steely-eyed determination, masking their dark secrets and ulterior motives, but with those wonderful moments of clarity that draw us closer to their true characters, despite their criminal tendancies. These are not your standard cardboard-cutout characters, and you will find your perception of both changing chapter by chapter, and I guarantee that Cate will also have you on tenterhooks throughout, as her life outside and inside The Program come under closer scrutiny. That’s all I’m saying…

As you can probably tell, I was really quite keen on this, and despite how long it has taken me to get round to reading the book, it was more than worth the wait and delivered in spades. Can’t wait to see what Giltrow produces next. Highly recommended.

Helen Giltrow was born and brought up in Cheltenham and read Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford. She has worked extensively in publishing, including ten years as a commissioning editor for Oxford University Press. She went freelance as an editor in 2001 and has since worked on a range of fiction, non-fiction and education titles. THE DISTANCE is her first novel. Helen’s writing has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and the Telegraph ‘Novel in a Year’ Competition. Follow on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

Blog Tour- Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver- #MeetOliver – Extract 3

CCI0PtgW4AA3BbkIt’s day three of the special ‘Meet Oliver’ blog tour, which gives readers the chance to sample the first chapter of Liz Nugent’s debut crime thriller, Unravelling Oliver, across five blogs in five days.  Following on from yesterday’s extract at Keith B Walters’ site, the story continues here, with the next extract tomorrow at  The Welsh Librarian …

“My wife had finally brought out the worst in me. It was most unexpected. I had always been fond of her, in my way. She was a marvellous cook, for example, after all the gourmet cuisine courses I made sure she attended. Also, she could be very athletic in bed, which was nice. It is terribly sad to think of such things now, considering her current state.

We met at the launch of a book she had illustrated back in 1982. My agent wanted me to meet her with a view to her doing the illustrations for a children’s book I had written that he was pushing around to publishers. I resisted the idea of illustrations initially. They would just distract from my text, I thought, but my agent, I admit it, was right. The drawings made my books far more marketable. We were introduced and I like to think there was an immediate . . . something. Spark is not the right word, but an acknowledgement of sorts. Some people call that love at first sight. I am not so naïve.

Neither of us was in the first flush of youth. Both in our late twenties, I think. But she was lovely in a soft way. I liked her quietness and she made few or no demands on me. She just accepted whatever attention I gave her, and then withdrew into the background without complaint when I did not require her presence.

The wedding happened very quickly. There was nothing to be gained by hanging about. Her frail mother and half-witted brother stood behind us at the altar. No family on my side, of course. We didn’t bother with the palaver

of a hotel reception. We had a rowdy meal in a city-centre bistro owned by a former college friend, Michael. Barney was there. Back then I quite liked him. He was very emotional at the wedding, more than anybody else. One couldn’t blame him, I suppose.

We rented a spacious flat in Merrion Square for a few years. I insisted on a big place because I needed privacy to write. I can only write behind a locked door.

Those were good times. We made a bit of money when nobody else did. It made financial sense that we would collaborate on what was becoming quite a successful series. During the day we would retreat to our separate corners to work. Me, producing my books. She, cleverly matching pictures to my words. She was good at it too. Her work flattered mine appropriately.

I became quite well known as a critic and occasional scribe for the weekend newspapers and for an infrequent guest spot on televised chat shows. In those days, everyone was more discreet and low key about their achievements, their successes. Not like current times – I can’t tell you how often in the last decade I was approached about partaking in a ‘reality’ show. Heaven forbid. Alice avoided all of that, which suited me really. She did not like the limelight and she underestimated her own contribution to the success of my books, insisting that my work was more important, that she was just a doodler. She was timid and didn’t even want it known that we were a husband and wife team in case she would be ‘forced on to the telly’. Rather sweet, and it meant that for a lot of the time I could continue my life as a seemingly single man. It had its rewards. Truthfully, she could not have been a better helpmate….”

 

9780241965641Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel. Visit her website here and join in the chat on Twitter #meetoliver

BLOG TOUR- Graeme Cameron- Normal

 

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Welcome to day four of the Normal blog tour to mark the release of Graeme Cameron’s darkly witty and quirky serial killer thriller. Written in the first person, Normal is narrated by an unnamed man- a man who happens to take great pleasure, at first, in the torture and murder of young women. With his latest victim, Sarah, swiftly despatched and ready to be disposed of, his murderous plan is intruded on by the victim’s friend, Erica, who he is forced to abduct and keep imprisoned in his exceedingly well- constructed basement (used on previous occasions) whilst deciding her fate. And here the fun begins, as our killer beginning to question his own twisted inclinations, comes to realise that Erica may not be such a passive victim in the face of this particular killer…

I will quickly draw a veil over the unavoidable comparisons to Jeff Lindsay’s hugely successful Dexter series, as Normal felt so singularly British. Our killer displays a wonderfully blunt, down-to-earth and self-deprecating humour, that brought more than a few wry smiles to this reader’s lips. Indeed, such is the understated hilarity of certain vulgar observations he makes, that I found myself re-reading certain deadpan remarks, and thinking, “crikey, he really did say that!”. Cameron lightly probes the whole tenet of nature vs nurture in the killer’s mind but, as he tussles with the immorality inherent in his mental and genetic make-up, he actually comes across as rather a nice chap, which perhaps explains his ability to embark on a friendship outside of his killing impulses, with the slightly unhinged Annie. He even undertakes a romantic liaiason with Rachel, who offers some semblance of stability in his psyche, even if he does confuse her at times with a previous victim. Some reviewers have questioned this sea change in his character, and, yes, it does feel a little strange in the overall narrative. To go from a natural born killer to a man so seemingly desperate to establish a firm emotional connection with Rachel did rather hinder the final third of the book, but perhaps to be generous to the author, he was really making this a journey for the killer from his twisted normality, to his acceptance as being normal in the traditional sense of the word. I would like to think so anyway.

I tell you what else was incredibly refreshing, and set this apart from the routine serial killer fare, and that was Cameron’s portrayal of his female protagonists. I would cite the erratic Erica, eccentric Annie and feisty female detective Ali Green as the notable stand-outs. Each contribute significantly to the plot, and are central to the unravelling of our killer as the plot progresses. I think Cameron achieves a difficult balance between the inevitability of depicting violence towards women that our killer has previously engaged in, and his gauche attitude to despatching them off this mortal coil, but this is assuredly counterbalanced by the strength Cameron imbues in these three female characters. Chief among these is Erica who is a complete gem, with her potty mouth, arrogant attitude and proclivity for violence. I loved Cameron’s presentation of her disharmonious almost marital role in our killer’s life, and the moments of sheer entertainment that arose from this. Nicely done.

All in all, I really quite enjoyed this debut with its wry humour, over the top violence, and the way that Cameron continually plays with the reader’s perceptions of his characters and their actions. It made me laugh, kept me hooked, and despite the slight weakness of the final denouement , I would be happy to recommend this as a quirky thriller, and definitely way, way, outside the normal!

Graeme Cameron lives in Norfolk, England. He has never worked as a police detective, ER doctor, crime reporter or forensic anthropologist. Visit his website here

Don’t forget to follow the tour tomorrow at Rebecca Bradley Crime and Shotsmag

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The Touched Blog Tour- Guest Post- Joanna Briscoe

 

Joanna BriscoeRaven Crime Reads is pleased to welcome Joanna Briscoe , whose latest novella Touched is out now.  Joanna is the author of Mothers and Other Lovers, Skin and the highly acclaimed Sleep with Me which was published in ten countries and adapted for television.

With her new book,  Touched, Joanna has produced an unsettling and gripping tale set in a small rural community in the 1960’s. Rowena Crale and her family have recently moved into an old house in a small English village. But the house appears to be resisting all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp. Stains come through layers of wallpaper. Ceilings sag. And strange noises – voices – emanate from empty rooms. As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife to her husband and a good mother to her five small children, her life starts to disintegrate. And then her eldest and prettiest daughter goes missing. Out in the village, a frantic search is mounted – while inside the house reveals its darkest secret: a hidden room with no windows and no obvious entrance. Boarded up, it smells of old food, disinfectant – and death…

Here’s Joanna to tell us more…

JoannaBriscoe_jalden“While I was writing my fifth novel, Touched – a story with a paranormal aspect commissioned by Hammer Books – one of the elements that most fascinated me was that the humans became nastier and the unexplained presences more benign as the novel progressed.

I hadn’t planned for it to work out that way, but though the reader’s tense focus remains on unexplained smells, stains, faces half seen at windows, and an ‘imaginary friend’, what’s really going on beneath that surreal, supernatural surface is that the living, breathing humans are wreaking havoc. The criminals of the piece are the Pollards, a benign seeming couple who undoubtedly do a lot of good and are much loved, but who think they can behave outside the law.

I also set the novel in 1963, when Britain was in time warp of 1950s culture, and when children were still allowed to roam the countryside. My younger characters are allowed a freedom and independence that only a ‘neglected’ child would be granted today, and so there is space and opportunity for dark acts.

The supposedly perfect Hertfordshire village of Crowsley Beck, with its bright grass green, its pretty children and lovely cottages is the setting, and again, I wanted to explore what happens beneath the surface of such an ideal place. The novel deals with physical beauty in terms of both place and person. One of the children, Jennifer, is spectacularly beautiful, but it is that very beauty that provides her downfall.

The crossover of crime and the supernatural was an interesting one for me as a writer. While the spectral suggestions play on minds – or are created by those minds themselves – the real criminals play with actual human lives, with disastrous consequences. Beauty is power, but it can also mean that people lace their frustrated fascination with punishment, with possession, and warp its innocence. Writing Touched made me plunge into some of the darker recesses of my mind and come up with events that surprised me….”

Touched by Joanna Briscoe, published by Hammer, is now out in paperback. To find out more visit Joanna Briscoe’s website at www.joannabriscoe.com . Follow her on Twitter @JoannaBriscoe

 

 

 

 

 

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