Anya Lipska- A Devil Under The Skin


Having reviewed  Where The Devil Can’t Go and  Death Can’t Take A Joke , which were both excellent, I was awaiting the latest in the series with a keen sense of anticipation, as the ballad of Kiszka and Kershaw continues…

A Devil Under The Skin opens with contrasting fortunes for Lipska’s two main protagonists, Janusz Kiszka, a hard on the outside, soft on the inside, ‘fixer’ for the London Polish community, and Natalie Kershaw, a feisty police officer, recently assigned to the armed response division of the Met. Having been linked together by the events in the previous books, their paths are fated to cross again. Kiszka is floating on air at the prospect of his on/off married lover, Kasia, finally leaving her ne’er-do-well husband Steve, and them setting up home together. Kershaw, however, finds herself temporarily suspended from the force after taking down an assailant, with the inevitable investigation and obligatory counselling that follows. But then Kasia goes missing, and there are a series of brutal East End murders connected to his lover’s disappearance, throwing Kiszka into an intensely personal investigation. Kiszka seeks the help of maverick cop, Kershaw, to unravel the reasons for Kasia’s abduction, entering the seedy underbelly of the East End, and risking everything to ensure his lover’s safe return, but at what cost?

One of the joys of Lipska’s writing is the consummate ease with which she engages the reader into the lives and actions of both Kiszka and Kershaw. It is a delight to encounter such real and vibrant characters, who despite their inherent differences in gender, race and day to day lives, form such an effective duo, throughout this book and the series to date. In her depiction of the burly and taciturn Kiszka, Lipska is given free reign to not only pepper the plot with some wonderfully fruity Polish expressions (glossary included!), but to shine a light on the contrasting aspects of his character. She carefully uses his interactions with Kasia, and his best friend, the loquacious and utterly brilliant Oskar, to reveal to us what lies beneath his seemingly hardcore exterior. Likewise, there is an interesting relationship between Kiszka and Kershaw, that seems rooted in a sense of mutual respect, despite their being on different sides of the law, and a slow burning attraction that Lipska does not overplay, but merely teases the reader with. Kershaw is also wholly believable, and there is a wonderful sense of her carrying a devil on her shoulder, that sometimes overtakes the more sensible course of action she should adopt, leading her to act more impetuously than she should, and rooting us firmly on her side. The character dynamics are a real strength of this book, and give the reader a real sense of engagement. You will find yourself surreptitiously adopting pantomime jeers at the actions of some- yes, I am referring to Kasia’s husband rat-faced Steve- or laughing along with, or fearing the fate of, Kiszka and his cohorts…

With any book being so character driven, there is always an inherent danger of the strength or impetus of the plot being slightly lost in the mix. Not so here. As we are led into some unerringly unsavoury back street goings on in Kiszka’s search for Kasia, and enveloped in the dark, violent world of the East End, the plot unfolds perfectly in terms of place and resolution. Interweaving a series of contrasting locations from rundown pubs, to grubby garages under railway arches, to the seeming respectability of a health club in the country, the action and sense of urgency moves apace. Working completely in tandem with the aforementioned characterisation, my now expanded knowledge of the Polish vernacular, and the careful interplay of lighter and darker moments, this book is pretty much perfect. Doskonały!

anya2Anya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @AnyaLipska.


Well, well, well what has Raven got to offer you? Only a set of all three books- Where The Devil Can’t Go, Death Can’t Take A Joke, and A Devil Under The Skin– and all signed too! And it couldn’t be easier to enter to get your mitts on this brilliant trilogy.

Just leave me your contact email in the comments section (don’t worry I won’t make them visible) or tweet me @ravencrime with the tag #Lipska…. Easy peasy! The giveaway is UK only and submit your entries by midnight Wednesday July 1st. A random entry will be selected as the winner, and your prize will quickly follow. Good luck everyone!

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- We Shall Inherit The Wind #VargVeum


Attention all Scandinavian crime fiction fans, I bring glad tidings of great joy! With a writing career spanning forty years, and hailed as the Norwegian Raymond Chandler, Gunnar Staalesen strangely remains largely undiscovered by many crime readers, due partly to the very sporadic publication of his books for the UK market. So it is with a glad heart that I see that he has secured a new publisher in the UK, with We Shall Inherit The Wind the first to appear, and hopefully with it, a chance for more of you to either revisit or to discover anew this formidable writer…

The story opens in 1998, with Varg Veum, a private investigator from Bergen, sitting by the bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life hangs in the balance due to the mistakes Veum has made in a recent investigation. The novel then backtracks through this investigation, where Veum has been called upon to investigate the disappearance of Mons Maeland, a wind-farm inspector, and whose wife, Raenvig is a friend of Karin’s. Maeland’s involvement in the contentious issue of wind-power would seem to be the primary reason for his disappearance, and later murder, but with the suspicious circumstances of his previous wife’s alleged suicide, and his complicated familial relationships, Veum has his work cut out to uncover a killer, and at huge personal cost.

51ePFKhhZXL_SX316Although, I have not read widely in this series, I have read enough to appreciate the strength of Staalesen’s characterisation in relation to Veum, and how he is unerringly the lynchpin to the strength of this series. With his cynical and witty asides, an unflinching attitude to those who would thwart his investigations, and his dogged moral determination, Veum is a hugely likeable and vivid character. The comparisons to Chandler’s Marlowe are not amiss, as Veum navigates his way through different classes of people, and stratas of society with consumate ease, with his easy charm and utter professionalism, but, most importantly, with the all too natural human failings when his investigations strike too close to home. We Shall Inherit The Wind demonstrates this admirably, with the fall-out from this case impacting so seriously on his personal life, and the consequences to Karin. I love the characterisation of their less than conventional relationship and the inherent warmth and respect that exists between them, so much so that the incredibly understated but powerfully emotive conclusion to this case was hugely moving, due to Karin’s fight between life and death.

As Veum is tasked with investigating the less familiar world of natural energy, in the form of wind power, it gives Staalesen ample opportunity to take his readers into somewhat unfamiliar terrain, both with the contentious issues arising from this supposedly harmless energy source, and into the community that would be so deeply affected by its implementation. Consequently, Veum finds himself uprooted from Bergen to the small island community of Brennoy, where environmental campaigners are going head to head with the orchestrators of the wind farms. Through the conduit of fiction, Staalesen provides a balanced view of the pros and cons of man’s continual seeking of control of the natural world to provide fuel for our existence, and it was interesting to see the contrasting viewpoints. Likewise, I thought that Staalesen captured perfectly the petty jealousies and chequered histories of the island’s inhabitants, as their links with the murdered man gradually came to light, against the beautifully realised backdrop of this wild and largely unspoilt island terrain.

If you like Scandinavian fiction, and have not encountered Staalesen before, I cannot recommend him highly enough. All the familiar tropes of the genre are in evidence here, with the close attention to characterisation, location, and the way that Nordic writers put current social issues at the front and centre of their crime narratives. Held strongly together by the character of the marvellous Varg Veum himself, I am delighted to see the return of Staalesen. Satisfaction guaranteed.

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947.  He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series.  He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. The next instalments in the Varg Veum series – Where Roses Never Die and No One Is So Safe in Danger – will be published by Orenda Books in 2016 and 2017.

Don’t forget to visit Live Many Lives tomorrow on the next stop of the blog tour…

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Joe Ricker- Guest Post- The Truth In Talking

joe-rickerTo coincide with the publication of his collection of crime stories, Walkin’ After Midnight, Joe Ricker has written a guest post on the very nature of being a writer, and how like Fight Club, it’s sometimes best not to talk about it…

The Truth in Talking

“Larry Brown taught me about writing by not talking about writing. When I moved to Mississippi and started working at City Grocery, I had no idea it was the “writer” bar. After a determined endeavor to move beyond a busboy and bar-back, I finally became a bartender who was trying to become a writer. At least at City Grocery there was a higher level of prestige as a bartender in a bar that catered to writers. That I was trying to be a writer made it all the more tempting to want to talk about it.

But I never talked to Larry Brown about writing because Larry Brown never talked to me about writing. I wanted him to, wanted him to mention it, maybe say: “I heard you’re trying to be a writer.” He didn’t, and I’m glad he didn’t. I think about that now, the embarrassment I feel even reflecting on the times that I wanted to talk about trying to write. Back then, I was only putting words on paper. Too many people believe that makes them a writer; that printing off the pages filled with letters and words and paragraphs is writing. Nothing is further from the truth. Anybody can do that. Not everybody who tries to be a writer can be a writer or will be a writer.

Being a writer is making the words yours, not the pages that they’re slapped against. So it doesn’t bother me that Larry Brown and I never talked about writing. I talked about my fly rod and fishing for brook trout in New Hampshire mountain streams. He talked about bass fishing in the murky waters of Mississippi. We drank Budweiser at the copper bar that was more of a home to me than any other place I’ve lived. I took shots of chilled peppermint schnapps while he sipped his at room temperature. I told him about getting my ass kicked by the cops behind the bar one night. He found that amusing.

In an interview, Larry said about his writing that at the very least it was honest. The truth isn’t always pretty, but sometimes around an ugly truth there’s a beautiful lie. And that’s the power of fiction, in being a writer. I rarely find the type of honesty in talking that I do in writing. And all I’ve ever wanted of my writing was some kind of truth, an honesty that will take a firm hold, like something that can’t be pulled easily from the ground and cast away like other garden weeds. I want my words rooted in the reader’s mind, and I don’t think that can be done unless it’s honest. When I knew Larry Brown I was just a bartender, so I kept my mouth shut about writing and got that man his beer.”

Joe Ricker is a former bartender for Southern literary legends Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. He’s driven a cab and worked in the Maine timber industry. His short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Rose & Thorn Journal, and The Hangover. Walkin’ After Midnight is his debut short story collection. He blogs at and 



Raven’s review:

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this collection of dark and compelling stories, seeped in retribution and revenge. Ricker delves deep into the underbelly of New England, with the same adept focus on characterisation and sense of place as writers such as Frank Bill and Daniel Woodrell, that you will find yourself completely immersed in the lowdown dirty lives that Ricker presents. I particularly enjoyed Ecdysis (the Greek for shedding of skin) where a silent man seeks retribution on his mother’s killer, and Closer, which unnerves and disturbs in equal measure, with a central protagonist of a seemingly mild-mannered librarian, drawn into a dark world.

All of Ricker’s stories in this collection are spare and uncompromising, but bring to bear the contrasting moods and characteristics of the humanity contained within them. The stories are littered with despair, brutality, and essentially flawed characters (largely due to environment and circumstance), but there are also glimmers of poignancy and even love, which make them all the more hard-hitting, but also emotionally real.  If you like your crime with a good slice of gritty and violent noir, and are ready to embrace the dark side of Ricker’s imagination, then this is the book for you, but don’t expect any happy ever after…


Joe Ricker is a hard-boiled poet in the tradition of Charles Bukowski. He writes of lonely, scarred men, damaged women, and of haunted places we all know. These shorts are served straight up with no chaser. Like the best of noir, it’s about people with few options and often no way out. Highly recommended.”

Ace Atkins, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Forsaken and The Redeemers

Tough yet lyrical, bristling with hard-won wisdom, these stories knock you out of any comfort zone you may have found and into the red. Ricker knows people, violence and landscape. He knows truth, too. And these stories beat their fists like drums.”

Tom Franklin, New York Times Bestselling Author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

(With thanks to Eva at 280Steps for the ARC)

William Shaw- A Book of Scars- Guest Post and Review


3116815To celebrate the release of A Book of Scars– the third outing for William Shaw’s sixties based detective series featuring Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer, (see my reviews of  A Song From Dead Lips and A House of Knives ) I am delighted to be hosting a guest post, in which William discusses the role of the woman in a man’s world and how this applies to his writing. My review of A Book of Scars follows… 

#1 Women in a Man’s World?

“I was recently on one of those panels where crime writers discuss issues around the genre; It was called Women in a A Man’s World. Obviously I’m interested in the role of women in crime fiction. In Helen Tozer I hope I’ve written a character who is idiosyncratic and whose 60s proto-feminist insight is a crucial part of the books. She is the young, clumsy, brusque woman in her early 20s; someone who grew up with The Beatles and who rubs the older generation up the wrong way.

But thinking about the idea of women in a man’s world, I realised I was less interested in the “women” bit than I was in the “man’s world.”

Strong women are nothing new in crime fiction. From V I Warshawski to Jane Tennison onwards, we’ve had many brilliant, female characters overcoming the realities of the men’s world. Women don’t have to behave like stereotypes.

In fact the real challenge is that the “feisty female” has herself become a cliché in the hands of many male writers. That’s the point my fellow panellist Ray Celestin made when discussing how he created  the character Ida for his wonderful debut The Axeman’s Jazz; overcompensating for years of sultry but ineffectual noire femme fatales, you can end up with characters that make Lisbeth Salander look like a wallflower.

But what of men? Are there as many interesting men in crime? Do we rely too much of the tropes of men being emotionally repressed, monosyllabic and lonely (often with the wreckage of a family life strewn behind them). Is that all men are now? Or is that meme starting to look increasingly ridiculous too?

In my male lead, Cathal Breen I realised I was trying to write a man who’s brilliance comes not from his manliness, but from his lack of it. Years looking after a dying father have meant that he couldn’t go out with the lads, didn’t sink pints with them, didn’t share life in a Police Section House, and had lost the knack of being part of police canteen culture. Emotionally raw after his father’s death, he has become over-sensitive and fearsome. He is no longer One of Them.

This isn’t to everyone’s taste. One American Amazon reviewer called Breen “a simpering little wimp”. Bad reviews on Amazon, I tell myself, let you know much more about what you’re doing right than the good ones – but I’m lucky to get very few. The point is, having an unstereotypical point of view, male or female, allows your protagonist to see the world differently.

Men are almost always much more than the 20th stereotype of them. I think that’s worth exploring. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the very violent end of the third book, A Book of Scars, a kind of healing has taken place. A domestic future beckons – something Breen has never had, and something that he’s really wishing for. I’m hoping that things work out for him.

But, of course, I’m almost certain they won’t. This is crime fiction, after all.”

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including s the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @william1shaw

Raven reviews A Book of Scars


Following the violent denouement of the previous book, A Book of Scars sees our erstwhile hero detective Cathal Breen taking an enforced spell of R&R at the family farm in Devon of his feisty former police colleague Helen Tozer, who has recently left the Met. Inevitably though, the long shadow cast by the unsolved murder of Tozer’s sister, Alexandra, five years previously, comes back to haunt them in this much darker instalment of William Shaw’s superb 1960’s set series. As the book opens in the closing year of this influential and tumultuous decade, Breen and Tozer have many obstacles, both personal and professional, to overcome to solve this perplexing murder, which leads to others, and to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

Even if this is your first foray into Shaw’s series, you will soon catch up with the highs and lows of Breen and Tozer’s relationship, accrued through their previous cases, and their frustrating personal relationship. Endeavouring to avoid spoilers, I will simply say that events move on apace, and there is more than one surprise in store for the hapless Breen on the emotional front, as he becomes inveigled in Tozer’s personal strife with the murder of her sister, and the maelstrom of emotions that arise in the wake of this. The ups and downs of their relationship, with Breen being slightly more introverted, and Tozer a real speak-as-you-find kinda gal, makes for an entertaining, yet emotionally tense partnership, and the interplay between their very different investigative styles is as accomplished as in previous books. Breen is methodical, courteous and focussed, but Tozer rather less so, with her tough-as-nails demeanour accrued by living in the shadow of her lost sister, and her forthright decision to join the police, in an era where women were only just making their mark in the force, and barely tolerated in this bastion of masculinity. Hence, throughout the course of the book, there are some lovely incidents of Tozer going all heart of darkness, and Breen attempting to pick up the pieces. However, this is unerringly balanced by how Shaw writes both characters with a real sense of tenderness and poignancy when the need arises, and he doesn’t shy away from putting their individual frailties up for scrutiny. So, for my money, easily one of the most entertaining investigative duos in the world of crime fiction.

As with the previous books, Shaw’s attention to the sights, sounds and socio-political detail of the period never falters. With perfectly placed references to products, fashion, drugs and music interspersed seemingly casually throughout, Shaw firmly roots us in the decade, and as Breen and Tozer dig deeper into Alexandra’s murder, Shaw also goes global, weaving in the uncompromising violence that was brought to the world’s attention through the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 60’s. Using the less than honourable exploits of some of Breen and Tozer’s suspects, during their residence in Kenya, Shaw reveals a well-researched, and eye-opening account of these events in Africa, whilst seamlessly incorporating them into the central plot of the novel. This dark diversion added another real layer of interest to the book, and an unflinching portrayal of this age of revolt, revolution and political corruption. Equally, Shaw leads us off the beaten path several times during the course of our intrepid duo’s investigation, to neatly conceal the perpetrator of Alexandra’s murder and the related deaths that occur as the plot progresses.

As much as I enjoyed the first two books, I think this one resonated more strongly with me, purely because of the emotional intensity that Shaw has injected into A Book of Scars. Not only in the sphere of personal relationships and the reverberation of murder on a family, but also by the inclusion of the dramatic and violent events spawned by the Kenyan uprising. Reading this in a contemporary age, the book gains an added gravitas as we see the events of the past not just in a vacuum, and you read this with a horrible feeling of us not having learnt anything at all in terms of global conflict. However, this more serious side to the book is tempered by Shaw’s lively depiction of his central protagonists (who sometimes you just want to give a good shake) and beautifully placed moments of teasing humour, that lighten the darker corners of the book. A fitting end to a trilogy, or is it, as there’s more than a whiff of a cliffhanger on the closing page….. Good. More please.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)