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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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December 2015

Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2015

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As the end of 2015 approaches, it is time to look back in awe and wonder at some of the books that have thrilled and entertained the Raven over the last twelve months. With approximately 125 crime books read, and not far off 100 reviews posted, this year has heralded a bumper crop of exciting crime reads, A slew of brilliant debuts including Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder, Tom Callaghan’s The Killing Winter, Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind and David Young’s Stasi Child, and great new offerings from established names such as Mari Hannah, Steve Mosby, William Shaw, Simon Toyne and Malcolm Mackay have been a joy to read.  So here are the highlights and lowlights of the year… 

THE 40-PAGE RULE

With the constant influx of books I receive as a blogger, full time bookseller, and my day off job as a volunteer in a charity book shop, there is never a shortage of reading material accumulated in the teetering to be read mountain! Hence the need for the 40-page rule. If a book has failed to ignite my interest within this page count, I’m afraid it is discarded, passed on to others, or fulfils it’s charitable duty as a donation to the shop mentioned above. The parameters for a book’s untimely fate vary- clichéd, overwritten, one-dimensional characters, too much similarity to another book, obvious plot turns or killers, and if anyone mentions someone opening a door in their underwear, all hope is lost. I usually manage to read nearer 200 books in a year so a fairly hefty count of 42 non-starters have impeded my reading. Unusually for someone known for their bluntness, in the good spirit of Christmas I’m naming no names, but rest assured your books have found a good home elsewhere…

THE MOST HYPED CRIME GENRE OF THE YEAR

the-girl-on-the-train-uk-e1420761445402It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.

WORDS FAILED ME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

litten2As a non-professional reviewer and a casual blogger, sometimes a book utterly defeats any talent for reviewing that you believe you possess! One such book this year was Russ Litten’s Kingdom. Having waxed lyrical about Litten’s previous book Swear Down which was terrific, I was incredibly excited to receive Kingdom to review. I was totally in its thrall from start to finish, but when it came to the depth of this reading experience, the majesty of the language, the emotional intensity, and sheer cleverness of the whole affair, words defeated me. Completely. Too marvellous for words.

TURNING MY BACK ON CRIME (OCCASIONALLY)

It may be hard to believe, but yes, I do quite often read books that are not crime. Yes really. So three stand-out fiction reads for me this year would be Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, where the voice of the late lamented John Lennon sang from every page, The Reader On The 6.47 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a beautiful French novel with echoes of Patrick Modiano, and Glenn Taylor’s A Hanging At Cinder Bottom, an American writer who never disappoints in his characterisation and crackling dialogue.

And so to the awards ceremony….cue fanfare….and in a break from tradition not all of these were nominated as books of the month at the time, but have stayed in my head, popping up in unguarded moments…

RAVEN’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Click on the book jackets to read the reviews.

5. KARIM MISKE-ARAB JAZZ

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4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

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3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

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2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

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1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

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In a strange instance of premonition, I ended my review of Freedom’s Child saying that it would possibly be my book of the year. Lean prose, a laconic and rhythmical style and an utterly compelling central character in the shape of the emotionally damaged Freedom. A brilliant and unforgettable debut.

 

 

A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

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A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

#Booktrailadvent Day 12- Francis Duncan- Murder For Christmas

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Well, we have now arrived at #Booktrailadvent Day 12  curated by the lovely Susan at the globally appealing The Book Trail , and the Raven is in festive mood, bringing you a rediscovered classic in the shape of Francis Duncan’s 1949 classic Murder For Christmas. So pop on those driving gloves, insert a plum in your mouth, and  jump in the Bentley for a jolly Christmas jaunt to the West Country…

51hkOIVokkL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Billed as a classic Christmas mystery with mulled wine, mince pies and murder, I have taken a small step out of my comfort zone, as traditional country house murders are not usually my thing. However, it is with some delight that I can report that I really rather enjoyed this Christie-esque mystery with its oddball cast of characters, and a rather intriguing amateur detective, Mordecai Tremaine…

Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels,  has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame. Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds the revelries in full flow, but tensions run high between an assortment of guests. Midnight strikes and the guests discover it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A body that bears a strong resemblance to Santa Claus. As the snow intensifies and everyone a possible suspect, it’s up to amateur sleuth Tremaine to sniff out the culprit, and an intriguing investigation ensues.

With typical Golden Age panache, Duncan immerses us in a mystery of everyday grasping rich folk, with a finite group of suspects in an atmosphere of entitlement. Throw into the mix the seemingly unassuming character of Tremiane and a taciturn police detective, Superintendent Cannock, and the resemblance to some of Agatha Christie’s finest works is undeniable. Tremaine is a wonderfully affable and good-humoured man, which belies his sharp wits and natural observation of his fellow guests. Having sharpened his powers of detection in a previous case, but now striving to duck under the radar of the attendant publicity,  he cannot resist the temptation of this invite to the home of a man that he has only met briefly, but soon his sleuthing nose is set a-twitching. With all of his fellow guests in the frame for the murder of the be-suited Santa Claus, he finds himself encountering blackmail, embezzlement, greed and thwarted love. Although some of the guests are aware of his sleuthing credentials, there are some token moments of loose lips sinking ships, as Tremaine undertakes his own investigation. Duncan’s characterisation of the guests is also well-drawn throughout from the touching relationship of young lovers Denys and Roger, the grumpy scientist Lorring, the natural ebullience of the lord of the manor Benedict Grame, and the contrasting characters of the mousey Charlotte (Benedict’s sister), the temptress Lucia Tristam, along with others. In the rarefied air of this country house, you get a real sense of a country Christmas, with the popping of the fire, the luxurious surroundings, and the gentle falling of snow outside. It’s all very festive indeed. Apart from the surprise gift of a cold-blooded murder.

To his credit, Duncan keeps the reader in suspense until the final few pages as to the guilty party, and it was refreshing to read a book of this ilk where the culprit remains so well hidden, but with a believable conclusion. As I alluded to, apart from a dipping into Poirot on the small screen, Golden Age mysteries hold little appeal for me as a rule, but this was a welcome surprise. And I didn’t guess the killer. Will you?

Check out the map below from The Book Trail to reveal some more advent surprises. Who knows what you will uncover this Christmas…

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(With thanks to Vintage Books for the ARC of Murder For Christmas)

 

 

 

 

November 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from a nasty viral thingummy afflicting the Raven last month, luckily it did not affect my reading too much, so a not too shoddy 11 reviews posted, and some in reserve for December. I actually really enjoyed my reading this month, as it was a good mix of debut and established writers, and a variety of locations and styles. Also, after my wee moan last month at the crime dramas on British TV, my mood was lifted considerably by the return of Scandinavian treat The Bridge, and the truly excellent London Spy which is both compelling and beautifully acted and filmed. To lift the spirits even further Luther is back on the BBC on the 15th December. Swoon….

Well silly season is now upon us, so after a pretty impressive book tally in November, December may be a bit more sporadic thanks to the demands of working in retail at Christmas. I’m taking part in a blog tour in conjunction with the marvellous The Booktrail  which will feature some cracking crime books across a host of blogs, so keep an eye out for that. Also, 2016 is knocking at the door, with an influx of next year’s releases plopping through the door, so every moment not spent recommending and selling books to harassed Xmas shoppers, will be spent reading as much as physically possible! Oh, and how could I forget? My Top Five Reads of 2015 beckons- best put my thinking cap on…

ravenxmasHave a great month everybody. Ho, ho, ho and all that!

Books Read and Reviewed

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die

Alice Thompson- The Book Collector

Luca Veste- Bloodstream

Andrew Mayne- Angel Killer

Hugo Wilcken- The Reflection

Jo Nesbo- Midnight Sun

Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around

Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses

 Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Mari Hannah- The Silent Room

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

An incredibly tough month to pick from, with many of these appealing to me in different ways. So very honourable mentions to two of my favourite writers Mari Hannah and Luca Veste for keeping the British police procedural and thriller genre so vibrant and engaging with The Silent Room and Bloodstream respectively. Thanks to Hugo Wilcken for stretching my little grey cells with The Reflection, to Barbra Leslie for the kooky high octane Cracked, and loved the Gothic intensity of Alice Thompson’s The Book Collector– great cover too!

So completely level pegging for November’s accolade are these two, actually published further back in 2015 but a joy to finally get to! Intelligent, well crafted, and totally compelling reads that I would urge you to discover for yourselves…

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die   Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

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