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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

May 2015

May 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

 

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)May has been a good month all round, with an extremely entertaining and informative trip to the CrimeFest international crime writing convention in Bristol, and a plethora of good reading. Read my tongue in cheek review of CrimeFest  here, with the added bonus that I have now discovered a clutch of new authors, that I will be catching up with over the next few months (no, my to be read pile has not diminished that much). At a cursory look, there appear to be over 20 books requesting my attention in June, so I will endeavour to get through as many as possible, and will obviously be focussing on the debut, and less familiar authors amongst them for you. Also hosted four blog tours this month:

 Guest Post- M. J. Carter on Edgar Allan Poe

 Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

 Cal Moriarty- The Killing of Bobbi Lomax- Review

Christoffer Carlsson- The Invisible Man From Salem- Extract and Giveaway

and there are another batch of blog tours scheduled for June including William Shaw and Gunnar Staalesen so watch this space. Have a good June everyone, and hope you’re all reading some great crime fiction!

Books read in May:

Andy Boot- No Doves (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind

Cal Moriarty- The Killing of Bobbi Lomax

Christoffer Carlsson- The Invisible Man From Salem (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liad Shoham- Asylum City

Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder

I also went on a little detour to the mean streets of Los Angeles with the gritty debut All Involved by Ryan Gattis and Ghettoside (Invesigating A Homicide Epidemic) by Jill Leovy. With both books attracting a huge amount of critical praise from writers and reviewers far more eloquent than myself, I can only say that both present a sharp focus on the societal ills and problems of this multi-cultured and troubled city, from the LA riots of the 90’s so vividly recreated by Gattis, and the more contemporary picture of street violence, and gangs depicted by Leovy, both focussing with an unblinking and critical eye on the LAPD along the way. All sides of the human experience are captured with them, balancing their books with hope and desperation, but all the more potent for being so firmly grounded in truth.

Raven’s Book of the Month:

shohamWithout a doubt the most mesmerising and heartfelt read of the month for me, despite some stiff competition. As I read more and more crime fiction, it is wonderful to tread new paths with an unfamiliar author, whilst also gaining a window into a world that I am completely unaware of. This book not only encapsulates the elements of a suspenseful thriller, but addresses much larger issues, through its superb research and vibrant characterisation. Pretty perfect all round.

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Blog Tour- Christoffer Carlsson- The Invisible Man From Salem-Extract

Invisible Man Blog Tour imageIt’s the last stop on the official blog tour to celebrate the release of Christoffer Carlsson’s debut Scandinavian crime thriller, The Invisible Man From Salem. If you’ve been following the tour, I hope your curiosity has been whetted to discover the world of Swedish detective Leo Junker for yourselves, through the reviews and features posted this week. To tempt you further, here is an extract where we gain an insight into the socially deprived area- Salem- where Junker spent his formative years, and which so influences the events in the book.  

“I remember this, that on the outskirts of Salem there were nice detached houses and small row houses with well-kept lawns, and when you went past in the summer you’d smell barbecued meat. The closer you got to the train station, the more the little houses gave way to heavy concrete blocks and tarmac, graffiti. Young and old, small-time criminals, teenagers and hooligans, electro fans and ravers and the kids into hip-hop — this was where we all hung out, and I remember a song I used to hear a lot, a sharp voice that sang about a head like a hole, black as a soul. We sat on benches and drank spirits, and tipped over soft-drink vending machines, and ones with sweets in, and sprayed them with paint. Quite a few others got done for threatening behaviour, assault, and vandalism, but we always got away with it by running into the shadows that we knew so much better than the people who were chasing us. In the adults’ eyes, we were all aspiring gangsters.

Things had been bad in Salem for a long time, but not this bad. Even Salem Church had been broken into, and they’d had a party inside. I heard about it at school — I hadn’t been there myself, but I knew who’d done it, because they were in the parallel class and we did Swedish together. A few weeks later, the church was broken into again, and they hung a Swedish flag the size of a cinema screen with a big black swastika on it. No one could see the point of it — maybe because there wasn’t one.

Salem. At school we were taught that it had once been called Slaem, which was a compound of two words meaning sloes and home. Then, at some time in the seventeenth century, the name was changed; no one really knew why, but the teachers and local historians liked the notion that it had something to do with the biblical Salem, as in Jerusalem. It made Salem sound like a peaceful place, since the word means ‘peace’ in Hebrew — a place our parents had moved to, long before it got this bad, in search of a happy life.

And in our blocks on the estate we would stand at the windows when we couldn’t go out, observing each other at a distance. Once we were out, we kept away from people who could hurt us. We were drawn to those like us, like me and John, who hung around outside the entrances to each other’s blocks when we had nowhere to go but didn’t want to go home; in the distance you could hear shouting, screaming, and laughter, and car alarms echoing through the night.”

© 2013 Fotograf Anna-Lena Ahlström +46-709-797817 Christoffer Carlsson has published four critically acclaimed novels and was awarded Best Crime Novel of the Year in 2013 by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy for his first book in the Leo Junker-series, The Invisible Man from Salem. The second installment in the series, The Falling Detective, was released in August 2014. Follow on Facebook and on Twitter @CCarlssons

  51UCAUPnWOL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Late summer. Police officer Leo Junker is awoken in the middle of the night by bright police lights flashing outside his bedroom window. His curiosity draws him downstairs to the shelter located on the ground floor of his apartment building where a young woman has been found murdered. Though on a leave of absence from the police force due to a failed mission where he fatally shot a colleague, Leo bluffs his way onto the crime scene. He examines the dead woman and sees that in her hand she is clasping a thin gold necklace – a necklace Leo recognizes. Leo, who is struggling to control both his feelings for his ex-girlfriend Sam and his addiction to prescription drugs, sets out on a rouge investigation that quickly becomes personal as the murderer’s motives force Leo to confront ghosts from his past.In a parallel narrative, we are told the story of Leo’s youth. He was raised in Salem, a blue-collar suburb of Stockholm, where social and racial tensions run high and children are forced to grow up fast. Leo comes to know a boy named Grim and his sister Julia, two people who will forever change his life…

Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder

 

23257047Edinburgh, 1888. A virtuoso violinist is brutally killed in his home. Black magic symbols cover the walls. The dead man’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing before the murder.But with no way in or out of the locked practice room, the puzzle makes no sense…
Fearing a national panic over a copycat Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss – Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray – actually believes in such nonsense.
McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Regular readers of my reviews should be strongly aware that I very rarely read historical crime fiction despite my love of Poe and Conan Doyle. I rarely stray further back than the 1940’s, so sirens should be sounding that this was something special to tempt me out of my historical boundaries. In the first instance, this was recommended to me by a crime author, and then I had the delight of seeing Oscar de Muriel at the CrimeFest crime writing convention in Bristol recently. Feeding off his enthusiasm and passion for the crime fiction genre, and intrigued by how a young author of Mexican heritage would go about writing a Victorian supernatural thriller set in London and Edinburgh, I couldn’t refuse a read of this one…

The author’s love of, and passion for, Victorian crime fiction comes shining through the book, garnered by his childhood reading, growing up in Mexico, of Sherlock Holmes. He recreates with ease all the sights, smells and atmosphere of London and Edinburgh, as the story pivots between the slums and gentrified locales of both cities during this period. Indeed, sometimes the writing is realistic enough of the lowdown dirty streets, to make your nose wrinkle, as our indomitable detectives, Frey and McGray, navigate their way through the filthy highways and byways, and the equally malodorous residents. Equally, de Muriel perfectly captures the snobbery and superiority of the upper classes, as they become inveigled in this testing investigation, which revolves around ghastly murder, and haunted violins…

The plotting is superb throughout, suffused with all the familiar tropes of a traditional locked room mystery, with a good smattering of red herrings and false alleys along the way. I remained in blissful ignorance of how the crimes were committed until close before the end of the book, and enjoyed the air of ghostly goings-on, and twisting plot reveals that drove the action on throughout. My enjoyment of the book was further compounded by the brilliant characterisation of de Muriel’s ill-matched detective duo. He played them off against each other beautifully, pitting the uptight namby-pamby London detective, Frey against the rough, plain-speaking Scottish detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray. The ill tempered banter, and rivalry between the two was beautifully played throughout, even extending the north-south divide to their quibbling servants, and the way that they were perceived by the more well-to-do members of the cast in the course of their investigation. With de Muriel’s liberal use of the Scottish vernacular in the case of McGray, compared with the southern nicety of Frey, their voices rang loud in my head as I was reading, and I learnt some wonderfully earthy Scottish insults along the way! By depicting these two so colourfully throughout the book, there can be little doubt that this partnership will run and run, underscored by the resentment but grudging respect that defines their personal and professional relationship.

Being a musician himself, has also added a terrific sense of realism to the plot in the way that the world of music, and more specifically violins, feature in the story. Drawing on real life virtuosos, esteemed makers of musical instruments, and the fantastical stories that have accompanied some of these instruments along the way, there is an added depth and interest to the central plot, at their role within it. Indeed, a friend of mine, an adept violinist himself, was thoroughly intrigued when I mentioned this book, and was quick to verify the veracity of the facts that de Muriel interweaves into the story. So more brownie points for de Muriel…

So all in all a bit of a find this one, threaded with humour, intrigue, colourful characters, and a real sense of time and place. A very impressive debut, and I cannot await the further adventures of Frey and McGray. A cracking good read, and a case that Holmes himself would love to have flexed his detective skills with.

(I bought this copy of The Strings of Murder and it is published in the UK by PenguinRandomHouse)

 

Just for fun I thought I’d post de Muriel’s biography from his website Oscar de Muriel.com here too. One of the most amusing I have read…

“I was born in Mexico City in 1983, in the building that now houses Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum (some people claim to see a connection there…). I had a very happy childhood even though I did not try refried beans until I was six (I refused to eat anything brown and gooey).

My first attempt at writing stories, aged seven, was a tale about a triceratops and a stegosaurus battling a very hungry T-Rex. Their three-page, ten-line long adventure was profusely illustrated by the author. Stegosaurus was extinct millions of years before the first T-Rex hatched, but I still consider it a milestone.

When I was ten, Jurassic Park (the novel) scared the Jesus out of me – reminiscent of that Friends’ episode where Joey Tribiani hides his books in the fridge (I blogged about that here). I’d never thought that written stories could have such a thrilling effect, and as soon as I got JP out of the freezer I decided I wanted to become a writer.

After a few fiascos and blatant steals, I managed to produce a few decent novels in various genres. However, I found myself particularly comfortable writing historical fiction.

I came to the United Kingdom to complete a PhD in Chemistry, working as a free-lance translator to complement my earnings (I was responsible for some cool Johnnie Walker’s ads for Colombia). During this time I produced a handful of academic papers, and the idea of a spooky whodunit started to take roots in my head.

After several visits to Edinburgh, the city struck me as the perfect setting for a crime mystery. The entire concept of Nine-Nails McGray came to my head while eating pizza with a couple of friends [guys, do you remember Cantina Los Perros and the sea monster?]. For years I’d been meaning to write a story about the Devil’s sonata (I am a violin player myself, which I should have probably mentioned earlier…) and it fit perfectly as McGray’s first case – hopefully the first of many.

I went through the literary agent hunt (I will definitely blog about that some day!) until Maggie Hanbury rescued me from the slush pile and lent me her very professional hand. I currently live in Lancashire in a lovely house that overlooks Pendle Hill, a field of limping sheep, and a very creepy-looking manor I aspire to own one day.”

 

 

Liad Shoham- Asylum City

shoham

When social activist Michal Poleg is found dead in her Tel Aviv apartment, her body showing signs of severe violence, officer Anat Nachmias is given the lead on her first murder investigation. Eager to find answers, the talented and sensitive cop looks to the victim’s past for clues, focusing on the last days before her death. Could one of the asylum-seekers Michal worked with be behind this crime?

Then a young African man confesses to the murder, and Anat’s commanders say the case is closed. But the cop isn’t convinced. She believes that Michal, a tiny girl with a gift for irritating people, got involved in something far too big and dangerous for her to handle.

Joined by Michal’s clumsy yet charming boss, Anat is pulled deep into a perplexing shadow world where war victims and criminals, angels and demons, idealists and cynics, aid organisations and criminal syndicates intersect. But the truth may be more than Anat can manage, bringing her face to face with an evil she’s never before experienced…

By sheer coincidence, I was pitched this book about the Eritrean and Ethiopian refugee crisis in Tel Aviv, having been absolutely oblivious to this sensitive social issue. In an interesting instance of art imitating life, I encountered an in-depth newspaper feature within days of starting this book, focussing on this very issue, and the depth of feeling within Israel on this emotive and opinion-splitting aspect of contemporary Israeli society. Likewise, in the author’s acknowledgements, Shoham undertook an enormous amount of research into the social, political and economic aspects of the refugee experience, and those that work so tirelessly on their behalf, with little funding or support from the government. Hence, this proved one of the most thought-provoking and deeply poignant crime novels that I have ever read, being so rooted in reality.

The author’s depth of research comes shining through and Shoham neatly balances all sides of this multi-faceted thriller, both in terms of the contentious central social issue, and in providing an intriguing criminal investigation. Whilst Shoham does not adopt a completely dispassionate tone to the larger issues of the book, there is an incredible sense of authorial balance to the story he presents, as he encapsulates the experiences of all sides through the characters he presents. Hence, we as readers, see the unfolding events through the eyes of the refugees, those that work with them, and the police, whilst also incorporating the less than noble actions of the people smugglers and the Israeli political fraternity. Shoham interweaves all these aspects effortlessly, never resorting to mawkish sentimentality, or adopting a preachy tone as to how we should view the issues he presents. With his rounded view, the reader is encouraged to form their viewpoint, and to gain a greater sense of where their empathies lie, in relation to the characters and the problems they find themselves confronted with.

I found myself quite emotionally spent at times, particularly through certain characters in the book. I thought the characterisation of the Eritrean refugee, Gabriel, who confesses to the murder in a pay-off to ensure the safe passage of his abused sister from some ruthless Bedouin people smugglers, was incredibly emotive. With his artistic bent, and strong moral decency, his plight was incredibly affecting. Likewise, the endeavours of others to protect him, most notably the charity worker, Itai, and police detective, Anat, added a real depth to the plot. The problems that Itai faces as a NGO worker, dealing with the well-being of refugees, and Anat, as a female police officer in charage of her first big case, allows Shoham to embrace the larger issues of racism and sexism at play in their everyday working lives. Both characters are written extremely sensitively, and their faltering attempts to gain justice for Gabriel, whilst negotiating the insidious political powers that be is powerfully wrought throughout. I liked all three of these characters enormously, and admired their moral core and interactions with each other, more and more as the plot progressed.

I have a strong belief that if you want to really gain insight into the way any society functions, crime fiction is the perfect conduit for this, and books such as Asylum City only strengthen this belief for me. With its unwavering critique and observation of society in Tel Aviv and the burgeoning refugee crisis, compounded by a striking and deeply involving murder investigation, Shoham balances every facet of his narrative effortlessly. I cannot recommend this thriller highly enough if you enjoy your crime fiction with a more socially aware edge, as well as adhering to its central tenet of being a highly effective thriller, setting it apart from the more throwaway mass market crime fiction. Excellent.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Cal Moriarty- The Killing of Bobbi Lomax- Review

 

Former private eye turned debut novelist, Cal Moriarty, surprises and wrong-foots the reader at every turn in The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, her refreshingly different blend of police procedural and conspiracy thriller. She also succeeds admirably in giving reviewers a tough time in explaining the plot without giving anything away…

This is the first part of what Moriarty describes as a loose trilogy, takes us on a trip into the American religious heartland, setting her book in the god-fearing community of the fictional Abraham City in Canyon County. The story opens in 1983 with the death by incendiary of Bobbi Lomax, the much younger wife of Arnold Lomax, a prominent figure in the local church The Faith, which influences and controls every aspect of this small, quiet community. The investigation into her death is led by detectives Marty Sinclair and Alvarez, two former city cops relegated to this veritable backwater for reasons as yet unknown, and how local book dealer, Clark Houseman, a casualty of another bombing incident, (one of the three that occur in 24 hours) may, or may not, be linked to the central crime. The story then pivots between the present and a year previously taking us on a cerebral trip into the world of religious fundamentalism, and the counterfeiting of literary and religious documents, that expose the less than Christian underbelly of The Faith but,  just what has the bookish Houseman to do with it all, and could he really be a stone cold killer?

Obviously, any overt dwelling on the plot, would be detrimental to you, the reader, so I will just say that the labyrinthine plotting, and clever and surprising plot turns, work incredibly well throughout. This is a real novel of smoke and mirrors, particularly in the character of Houseman, who stands at the front and centre of this book, navigating the waters of religious fervour, and turning a quick buck. However, Moriarty neatly uses him as a prism, consistently presenting different versions of himself to not only his fellow protagonists but, also delighting the reader with the differing shades of his character. This more tricksy character is pitted against the solid characterisation of Sinclair and Alvarez, who although reminiscent of a couple of other detective duos I have encountered, admirably hold together the straight police procedural aspect of the plot, and I rather enjoyed the less well-drawn picture of their previous career, making me intrigued to find out more in future books. Likewise, Moriarty got me on side instantly with her playful probing of the nature of organised religion at work in the cult of The Faith and the moral outrage they display towards counter-church The Real Faith, and the characters within are as bullish and misguided as one would expect of two religions divided by the arcane concept of polygamy. As Houseman and our intrepid detectives, seek to infiltrate these groups for differing reasons, Moriarty plunges us deeper into the the secrets and lies these supposedly upright citizens are desperate to conceal to great effect, with a plausible and thoroughly enjoyable outcome.

This is an unerringly clever crime novel, packed with literary allusions, cold-blooded murder and sociological musings. Underpinned by the author’s familiarity with the location of the religious heartland of America, and the pivoting timeline Moriarty brings us a tale that tricks and surprises the reader, this is a welcome diversion from the more familiar tropes of crime fiction. An excellent read, with I’m delighted to say considering my nom de plume, with plenty of  Poe time too…

Cal Moriarty also writes for film and theatre, and previously worked as a private eye. She attended both the ‘Writing A Novel’ and ‘Edit Your Novel’ courses on the Faber Academy in 2012-13. Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @calmoriarty

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

CEzOtOfXIAAi4RvExtremely keen to add my voice to the exceptionally positive response to this Scandinavian crime debut from Ragnar Jonasson. Snowblind is the first of his Dark Iceland quintet, with a pitch perfect translation by Jonasson’s fellow Scandibrit crime author, Quentin Bates, for the UK market. Snowblind has given rise to one of the biggest buzzes in the crime fiction world, and refreshingly usurps the cast iron grip of the present obsession with domestic noir. Introducing Ari Thor, a young police officer from Reykjavik, who takes up a posting in the small northern community of Siglufjordur, leaving behind not only the city, but his girlfriend too, and immersing him in a complex and perplexing case, in a claustrophobic and chilling setting…

9781910633038-275x423Having recently had the delight of seeing Jonasson at CrimeFest, an international crime convention in Bristol UK, it was very interesting to hear that outside of his career as a lawyer, he has previously translated a clutch of Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. The shadow of Christie looms large, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her reputation for sublime plotting is flawlessly mirrored by Jonasson in his exceptionally well-executed novel. By using the claustrophobic confines of this small community in Siglufjordur, and its relative inaccessibility due to location and inclement weather, Jonasson cleverly manipulates the compressed cast of characters. The book takes on the real feel of a locked room mystery, with a finite group of possible perpetrators of the violent crimes, in this case a severe physical assault and a suspicious death, and giving the reader a puzzling conundrum as we attempt to identify the guilty party or parties ourselves. Speaking as a crime reader, this is always one of the essential thrills of this nature of crime book, playing detective and navigating the red herrings along the way. Jonasson provides this in spades, and due to a series of tricks in the narrative, all is not as it appears, confusing not only Ari Thor, but also the humble reader along the way. A whodunnit that really hits the spot, whilst also cleverly concealing the how and the why…

With the author being so familiar with the isolated setting of this book (Jonasson’s relatives hailed from the town) the overarching cold and sinister darkened atmosphere in the grip of a harsh winter is powerfully wrought throughout. Indeed, I felt that I should have been reading this neatly tucked up in a blanket in front of a roaring fire, such is the pervading nature of cold and bleakness within its pages. Equally, the situation and closed feel to the community seen through Thor’s eyes is tangible throughout, as he encounters for the first time some of the more eccentric inhabitants, the trust of being able to leave your door unlocked, and the more laidback style of policing by his fellow officers. I particularly enjoyed the way they were propelled into a situation they had rarely encountered as if they were saying- “A murder in Siglufjordur? Impossible!” and being reluctantly spurred on by our rookie police officer’s enthusiastic theories, that did at times fall on fallow ground.

The characterisation is well-realised, with an intriguing blend of the eccentric, the straight-laced and the emotionally damaged, working beautifully in tandem as the plot progresses. With the wide-eyed, and sometimes baffled incomer, Ari Thor, steadily encountering and interacting with them, again the Christie connection comes into play, as their dark secrets and murderous intentions come to light. This is truly a community where not everyone is as they at first appear, including Thor himself, heightening the sense of intrigue, and in some ways displaying all the well loved familiarity of a good old murder mystery, underscored with all the dark psychology of contemporary crime fiction.

So, all in all, as you will probably gather, I rather enjoyed this debut with its intriguing cast, terrific use of location, confident plotting and lively translation, but don’t just take my word for it. A certain Mr Child was equally keen to get his hands on this one…

CFI-19XWYAEMYu1

EXTRACT:

I know, it’s unbelievable. I hadn’t expected anything so soon.

Loads of us are graduating in December and there aren’t many jobs

to be had.’

So where is this job? Here in town? A relief post?’

No, it’s a two-year contract … at least.’

In town?’ Kristín repeated, and he could see for her expression

that she suspected it might not be.

Well, actually, no.’ He hesitated before continuing. ‘It’s up north.

In Siglufjördur.’

She was silent and each passing second felt like an hour.

Siglufjördur?’ Her voice had lifted and the tone gave a clear

message.

Yes, it’s a great opportunity,’ he said mildly, almost pleadingly,

hoping that she would see his side, that it was important to him.

And you said yes? Without even thinking to ask me?’ Her eyes

narrowed. Her voice was bitter, verging on anger.

Well …’ He hesitated. ‘Sometimes you just have to grab an

opportunity. If I hadn’t made a decision on the spot, then they

would have taken someone else.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘They

picked me,’ he added, almost apologetically.

Ari Thór had given up on philosophy and then he had given up

on theology. He had lost his parents far too young and had been

alone in a hard world since childhood. Then Kristín had picked him.

That had given him just the same feeling he was experiencing now.

They picked me.

This would be his first real job, and one that would carry responsibility.

He had made an effort to do well at the police college. So

why couldn’t Kristín just be happy for him?

You don’t decide to move to Siglufjördur just like that, without

talking it over with me, dammit. Tell them you need to think it over,’

she said, her voice cold.

Please, I don’t want to risk this. They want me there in the middle

of November, I’ll take the last couple of exams there, and be back for

a break at Christmas. Why don’t you see if you can come as well?’

I have to work here as well as studying; you know that perfectly

well, Ari Thór. Sometimes I just don’t understand you.’ She stood

up. ‘This is bloody ridiculous. I thought we were partners, doing

all this together.’ She turned aside to hide her tears. ‘I’m going for

a walk.’

She left with rapid steps, out of the bedroom and into the passage.

Ari Thór remained rooted to the spot, dumbstruck that he had

completely lost control of the situation.

He was about to call out to her when he heard the front door

slam shut…

Author of the bestselling Dark Iceland crime series, Ragnar Jonasson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1976 and works as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before becoming a writer, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had short stories published in international literary magazines. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir (www.icelandnoir.com), which was selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar has appeared on panels at festivals worldwide, and he lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @ragnarjo

 (With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC and Liz Loves Books)

A Raven’s Eye View of CrimeFest 2015- with added hilarity…

bHaving posted an eminently sensible round-up of some of the highlights of CrimeFest 2015 at Crime Fiction Lover  including the terrific interview by Lee Child of Scandinavian crime legend Maj Sjowall, the announcement of a plethora of awards, and some fascinating debut novelists’ panels, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more light-hearted moments to entertain you. I endeavoured to attend as many panels as possible to bring you some more highlights. Hope you enjoy…

#1. A large percentage of the Icelandic population believe in elves, and in precise statistical terms there are on average 1.5 murders a year. Yes, 1.5…. The elves are invariably convicted.

ONLINE REVIEWS: One panel was asked to bring along to their event, their favourite 1* review posted online. Inevitably “the book arrived late” or “the courier dumped it in my next door neighbour’s garden” featured, but my personal favourite was “I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop”….

#2. One author revealed he has a ‘f**k radar’, to judge the potential response of the assembled throng to potential profanity….

GETTING PUBLISHED: There was a terrific selection of Fresh Blood panels, featuring debut authors, with an incredibly interesting collection of tales about the road to publication. Blood, sweat and tears (and more) featured heavily, but the general consensus was DON’T GIVE UP, the road may be difficult but the end result cannot be beaten, and you will not regret it. The fact that I’ve come back with a list of debut authors to read now is testament to this.

#3 It was possible during WW2 to steer a certain make of Russian tank with your feet resting them on another person’s shoulders. Bet not many of you knew that….but why would you?

THE MOST HILARIOUS PANEL: CFIwGa_WYAAjsMG Moderated by bon vivant crime and YA author Kevin Wignall, I had a feeling that this one would be full of laughs. Stepping bravely into the breach were A. K. Benedict, J. F. Penn, Oscar de Muriel Mark Roberts to talk about Things That Go Bump In The Night– the blending of crime with the supernatural. Peppered with probing questions such as ‘Do you have pets and what are their names?’ accrued from Wignall’s children’s events, and the left field responses particularly from the quirky Roberts, this panel quickly descended into comic chaos. Rest assured though, we did find out enough about the panellists’ passion for the supernatural to seek out their books, and a round of applause to them all for the entertainment!

#4. It is recommended to do one hour of yoga before your first CrimeFest appearance to calm your thoughts…(or even before attending one of Kevin Wignall’s panels- see above)

THE MOST CONTENTIOUS PANEL: There was an extremely feisty discussion at the Playing God With Your Characters panel comprising of Stav Sherez, Amanda Jennings, David Mark and Linda Regan, moderated by Christine Poulson. When discussing how your characters’ voices and actions dictate how they appear in the plot, we were taken on a strange flight of fancy about how the characters appeared to be real in one case with no control over them whatsoever, pitted against the more down to earth opinion that you control your characters, and use their characteristics to drive and inhabit the central plot. It got a little heated, until tactfully diffused by another member of the panel.  But we loved it. As did, I suspect, others on the panel too.

#4. You could be routinely called upon to hold the reins of a police horse while the officers nip into the venue to use the facilities…

FANGIRL MOMENTS: I’m sure that most attendees had a list of authors that they were bursting to meet, but equally to retain a certain decorum in the face of those that you particularly admire. No squealing. So, in this spirit, can I say a personal thank you to Anthony Quinn, Tom Callaghan, Grant Nicol, Thomas Mogford, Steve Cavanagh and William Shaw, amongst others, for their good-natured and friendly response at being cornered by me trying not to gush about how brilliant they all are. Thank you chaps! (Be sure to check out my reviews in the Reviews 2014/15 tabs).

#5. Crime authors drink..a lot…

HEARTWARMING MOMENTS: CFIdK0GWYAAG0jmIn the interview with Lee Child there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Maj Sjowall spoke so movingly about the loss of Per Wahloo, and how her writing could not continue without his presence in her life. Also the refreshing wide-eyed and humble response of Ragnar Jonasson at gaining the No. 1 spot in the Amazon book chart, during the festival, for his exceptional debut Snow Blind. It was a delight to witness, and congratulations. On a personal note, I would like to thank William Ryan (I tip my hat to you sir!) , David Mark, Quentin Bates (great curry!), Stav Sherez (have I met you?!), Simon Toyne, Steve Mosby and others for remembering me, and greeting me like an old friend, despite not having seen them all for a while. Likewise, the warm glow of meeting up with fellow bloggers old and new, made for an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable time. We rock! And finally, the hardiness of the Icelandic contingent in the face of a 4am flight from Bristol on Sunday morning, and lasting so long in the bar on Saturday night.

Lastly, a big thanks to the organizers, authors, publishers, bloggers and readers for one of the best CrimeFests to date. It was a blast, and if you’re a crime fiction fan and you’ve not been, you should. You’ll love it. Piqued your interest? Visit the CrimeFest website here

Guest Post- M. J. Carter on Edgar Allan Poe

carterThe Infidel Stain is the second book in M. J. Carter’s Blake and Avery mystery series, following on from CWA New Blood Dagger shortlisted and Bailey’s Women’s Prize long- listed The Strangler Vine. In this special guest post Miranda shares her thoughts on all things Poe, and his influence on the early days of the detective fiction genre…

“The Infidel Stain is set in 1841, the same year—not altogether accidentally—that what is arguably the first detective story was published. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ was written by Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer, poet and genius known best for his brilliant gothic short stories and poems and—quite unfairly as it turned out—for his short, syphilitic, drug-addled, mad life. But that’s another story. This very blog is named in honour of his great poem, ‘The Raven’.

At the heart of the story is an impossible crime: two women brutally murdered in a 4th floor room locked from the inside. Neighbours think they heard the voice of the murderer but they cannot agree what language was spoken. C August Dupin, gentleman of leisure who lives in self-imposed seclusion with his friend the narrator, and goes out only at night, is intrigued by reports and offers his services to the Chief of Police. The solution is clever, extremely creepy, entirely satisfying and Dupin arrives at it with a succession of brilliant imaginative deductions.

Poe wrote two more stories about Dupin. He called them his ‘tales of ratiocination’, Dupin’s name for his method —the idea that through close observation, careful research, the ability to put himself in the mind of the criminal, and deductive reasoning, he can see connections where others cannot.

The point about ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ —apart from the fact that it is still a terrific read—is that in it Poe invented so many of the classic ingredients of the mystery story as its come down to us: the conundrum of the unsolvable crime (‘locked-room mysteries’ are themselves a whole sub-genre), the atmosphere of claustrophobia and night, the clod-hopping police, the clues which the reader can follow, the solution announced at the end and then the reasoning behind it explained. And of course the prototype of the brilliant amateur detective —years before the word ‘detective’ was actually coined. Dupin is an eccentric gentleman outsider who likes puzzles and codes, and closes himself off from human interaction—apart from his unnamed friend who tells the stories. He regards the cases as intellectual challenges to which he applies his method. You can immediately see him in Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Margery Allingham’s Campion and a slew of others. Conan Doyle acknowledged the debt. He wrote of Poe: ‘Each (of his stories) is a root from which a whole literature developed.’

Even today it is, I think, almost impossible for a mystery writer to completely avoid Poe’s long shadow. Almost inadvertently I find in my own books that I’ve followed him. I have a brilliant detective and a less smart narrator. I made my detective deliberately working class and grouchy, but he is still a classic outsider and I prize his cleverness, his ability to read faces and tells, his creative imagination, and his ability to put himself in other’s shoes. Vive Mr Poe!”

M. J. Carter is a former journalist and the author of two acclaimed works of non-fiction: Anthony Blunt: His Lives and The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One. Follow on Twitter @MJCarter10

Check out a Guardian feature here on Carter’s penchant for historical crime fiction.

Reviews of The Infidel Stain can be found at:

For Winter Nights

Crime Fiction Lover

9780241146231Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure. What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy? In the dark heart of Company India, Avery will have to fight for his very life, and in defence of a truth he will wish he had never learned…

9780241966631It’s 1841, and three years after we left them at the close of The Strangler Vine, Blake and Avery are reunited in very different circumstances in London. There has been a series of dreadful murders in the slums of the printing district, which the police mysteriously refuse to investigate, and Blake and Avery must find the culprit before he kills again…

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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Need to take a breath after the cut and thrust of a busy month of reading, reviewing, and blog touring! Started the month with Joanna Briscoe talking about her new book Touched, a quick stop on the blog tour for Graeme Cameron’s quirky crime thriller Normal, an extract from Liz Nugent’s Highsmith inspired debut Unravelling Oliver, a cover reveal for Tim J. Lebbon’s The Hunt, a birthday bash for Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and a guest post by M. J. Carter celebrating the release of The Infidel Stain. All accompanied by a great month’s reading, which has given me an incredibly tricky dilemma for nominating my book of the month. May is sure to be an equally busy month as there are four blog tours on the horizon, my annual outing to the brilliant CrimeFest event in Bristol, and a teetering stack of review copies in need of some serious reading. Can’t wait…

Books read and reviewed:

Graeme Cameron- Normal

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

Thomas Mogford- Sleeping Dogs (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Bernard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

Bill Daly- Double Mortice (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

Tod Goldberg- Gangsterland

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

Dolores Redondo-The Invisible Guardian

Mark Henshaw-The Snow Kimono

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

berEven stevens, level pegging and totally impossible to decide between aredeath Bernhard Aichner’s gritty and spare Woman of the Dead, alongside Anna Jacquiery’s Death In The Rainy Season, an evocative and emotional follow up to her accomplished debut The Lying Down Room. Two very different reading experiences for different reasons, but both completely compelling and thought provoking. European crime fiction at its finest…

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