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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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January 2016

#FeverCity Blog Tour-Tim Baker- Review

FEVER CITY _ BLOG TOUR GRAPHICIt’s the next stop on the blog tour to mark the release of Fever City from debut crime novelist Tim Baker. I will be brutally honest and say that I did embark on the book with a certain amount of suspicion, as having read widely on everything JFK conspiracy related, I did wonder if anything new could be brought to the wealth of  theories that Kennedy’s assassination spawned, and the bravery of an author who would tread this well-worn path. I am incredibly pleased to report that Baker has achieved something quite special with this one, firmly dispelling any pre-conceptions that I held about the book. You’re intrigued now aren’t you?

Opening in the 1960’s, Nick Alston, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find the kidnapped son of America’s richest and most hated man, Rex Bannister. With allusions to the infamous case of the Lindbergh kidnapping Alston soon finds himself intimately and dangerously entangled in the grasp of Bannister and his nefarious activities in the higher echelons of American society. Hastings, a mob hitman in search of redemption, is also on the trail but finds himself equally ensnared by a sinister cabal that spreads from the White House all the way to Dealey Plaza, and his own personal involvement in Kennedy’s fate. The story then pivots back and forth to 2014 where Alston’s son stumbles across evidence from JFK conspiracy buffs that just might link his father to the shot heard round the world…

aaApart from inserting a breath of fresh air into the whole mythology surrounding not only JFK’s demise and the agencies behind it, Baker brings into sharp focus a fine array of cultural references from the 60’s period, and the personalities that shone so bright in this golden age of American popular history. I liked the way that Baker explored the power hungry Joe Kennedy, the fragility of Monroe, the poignancy of Sal Mineo’s secret life, and the clear sighted and cold hearted scheming of Mafia figure Sam Giancana with his connections to the Rat Pack and JFK. I particularly enjoyed the way that Baker perfectly controlled the inclusion of these figures in the plot too, heightening the realism and feel of the plot, with some interesting revelations along the way that did not feel contrived nor far fetched. With three narratives, four time-lines, and a mixture of first and third person narration to juggle, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut, such was the control of all these elements within the book. As a book of significant length (in relation to most crime novels) I was also delighted by how long Baker managed to hold off the unfurling of revelations between the 60’s, and the contemporary storyline, in terms of the implications of Alston’s and Hastings’ personal involvement in the investigation of the kidnapping and the JFK assassination and its ramifications. I found my reading sped up considerably as I devoured the last few chapters at a pace, with a nice sense of ‘well, I wasn’t expecting that’ included.

I thought this was a genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake. The writing is sharp, dispassionate but endlessly engaging, and equally unsettling. In fact, the greatest compliment I can pay to this book is that I did feel an echo of James Ellroy along the way, not only with the assured inclusion of instantly recognisable figures, but also in some passages a slight mirroring of Ellroy’s punctilious and spare style, when the main protagonists slipped into stream of consciousness, or when a relevant social/cultural observation was needed to be made. A kind of revisiting of LA Confidential with a Texan twist…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

#Nightblind Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Review

img_0483With Ragnar Jonasson’s debut crime thriller Snowblind causing quite a stir on its release this year, we were all delighted to hear that it was merely the start of the Dark Iceland quintet and there were more to come…

So next up we have Nightblind and the action has moved on apace, with the events of this book taking place five years after Snowblind.*  Our previously charmingly naïve police officer Ari Thor Arason is still based in the small coastal community of Siglufjordur , but his boss Tomas has moved to Reykavik. Ari finds himself with a new boss (after a failed attempt to secure Tomas’ post), but his hopes for promotion could not be entirely scuppered as the book opens with the shooting of his superior officer, Herjolfur at an abandoned house. The community is appalled by this attack, and with winter drawing in, Ari and Tomas are reunited in their search for the perpetrator of this heinous deed…

TSQ3DKNAABSTlEm-GfmTIkRUhRMA5gEf5-qZZXGmZYQAs much as I enjoyed Snowblind, I can say confidently that Nightblind is actually even better. I don’t know the time period of Jonasson writing his quintet, but there is a real sense of a growth in maturity in his style and storytelling in this one. With an intuitive and assured translation by fellow crime writer Quentin Bates, this change in Jonasson’s writing is beautifully reflected in his central character, Ari Thor. The feeling of a touching innocence and naivety that defines Ari in the first book, has changed and sharpened into a more clear-eyed, and less trusting streak in his character. However, tinges of his former self surface intermittently, particularly in his almost paternalistic relationship with his old boss Tomas, who seeks to iron out the kinks in Ari’s sometimes naive investigative style, underpinning the solid and reliable nature of their detective partnership. There is a feeling that as much as Ari has grown in stature and his acceptance into the local community, he still has a way to go both in his personal and professional life, despite the steps he has already made. He certainly needs to sort out that girlfriend of his, with her wandering eye, tout de suite, and replicate the strength of his initial umbrage at being passed over for that promotion…

Once again, as the long claw of winter starts to exert its icy grip on Siglufjordur, with the darkening days, and the decreasing temperature, it does at time seem as if Ari and Tomas are experiencing their own battle with the diurnal clock to get this case solved and put to bed before the real onslaught of winter. With the small interludes that bring to the reader’s attention the encroaching darkness of a bitter winter, the tension is raised incrementally, perfectly in tune with the gathering pace of the investigation. As in Snowblind, with his insider’s knowledge and experience of this particular region, Jonasson flawlessly captures the claustrophobic intensity of this small coastal community and its inhabitants, and although there is once again a finite group of characters for the guilty party to conceal themselves amongst, I was hoodwinked a couple of times, with the investigation building to a highly satisfying conclusion. The more brutal nature of the crime that is the lynchpin of the story, and the shadowy dealings that this brings to light, in the course of the investigation reveals another development in Jonasson’s style overall. Consequently, as a reflection of the seasonal change, the shockingly violent opening event and the hardening of Ari’s character, there is a significantly darker feel to the book overall. As a staunch admirer of Arnaldur Indridason, I did feel the resonance of his style to a greater degree, and a more pronounced echo of the psychological, unlike the more locked room/ Christie inspired feel of Snowblind. I embraced the darkness. And I liked it. I’m pretty sure you will too…

*The next book in the series Blackout picks up the story again directly after the events of Snowblind, with the following two books set to complete the series of events linking Snowblind and Nightblind.

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

 

Blog Tour- Peter May- Coffin Road- Exclusive Extract

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read Banner

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read

Following on from Lizzy’s Literary Life posting of Part One of The Big Coffin Road Blog Read, Raven Crime Reads takes up the baton for Part Two: The Man I Am. Details of the Coffin Road giveaway follow the extract…

Part Two: The Man I Am

Coffin Road book jacket‘Do you want me to come in with you?’ I hear her say.

‘No, I’m fine, thank you so much.’ But I know that I am far from fine. The cold is so deep inside me that I understand if I stop shivering I could fall into a sleep from which I might never wake. And I stagger off down the path, aware of her watching me as I go. I don’t look back. Beyond a tubular farm gate, a path leads away to an agricultural shed of some kind, and at the foot of the drive, a garden shed on a concrete base stands opposite the door of the cottage, which is set into its gable end.

A white Highland pony feeding on thin grass beyond the fence lifts its head and also watches, curious, as I fumble in wet pockets for my keys. If this is my cottage surely I must have keys for it? But I can’t find any, and try the handle. The door is not locked, and as it opens I am almost knocked from my feet by a chocolate Labrador, barking and snorting excitedly, eyes wide and smiling, paws up on my chest, tongue slashing at my face.

And then he is gone. Through the gate and haring away across the dunes. I call after him. ‘Bran! Bran!’ I hear my own voice, as if it belongs to someone else, and realise with a sudden stab of hope that I know my dog’s name. Perhaps the memory of everything else is just a whisper away.

Bran ignores my calls, and in moments is lost from sight. I wonder how many hours I have been away, and how long he has been shut up in the house. I glance back up the drive, to the tarmac turning area behind the house, and it occurs to me that there is no car, which seems odd in this emotest of places.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and I am reminded again that I need to raise my core temperature fast, to get out of these clothes as quickly as possible.

I stumble into what seems to be a utility and boot room. There is a washing machine and tumble dryer beneath a window and worktop, a central-heating boiler humming softly beyond its casing. A wooden bench is pushed up against the wall on my left below a row of coats and jackets. There are walking boots and wellies underneath the bench, and dried mud on the floor. I kick off my shoes and rip away the life jacket before struggling unsteadily into the kitchen, supporting myself on the door jamb as I push through the open door.

It is the strangest feeling to enter a house that you know is your own, and yet find not one thing about it that is familiar. The row of worktops and kitchen cabinets on my left. The sink and hob. The microwave and electric oven. Opposite, below a window that gives on to a panoramic view of the beach, is the kitchen table. It is littered with newspapers and old mail. A laptop is open but asleep. Among these things, surely, I will find clues as to who I am. But there are more pressing matters.

I fill the kettle and turn it on, then pass through an archway into the sitting room. French windows open on to a wooden deck, with table and chairs. The view is breathtaking. A porthole window on the far wall looks out on to the cemetery. In the corner, a wood-burning stove. Two two-seater leather settees gather themselves around a glass coffee table. A door leads into a hall that runs the length of the cottage, along its spine. To the right, another door opens into a large bedroom. The bed is unmade and, as I stumble into the room, I see clothes piled up on a chair. Mine, I presume. Yet another door leads off to an en-suite shower room, and I know what I must do.

With fumbling fingers I manage to divest myself of my wet clothes, leaving them lying on the floor where they fall. And, with buckling legs, I haul myself into the shower room.

The water runs hot very quickly, and as I step under it I almost collapse from the warmth it sends cascading over my body. Arms stretched, palms flat against the tiles, I support myself and close my eyes, feeling weak, and just stand there with the water breaking over my head until I feel the heat of it very slowly start to seep into my soul.

I have no idea how long I remain there, but with warmth and an end to shivering comes the return of that same black cloud of apprehension which almost overcame me on the beach. A sense of something unspeakable beyond the reach of recollection. And with that the full, depressing realisation that I still have no grasp of who I am. Or, disconcertingly, even what I look like.

I step from the shower to rub myself briskly with a big, soft bath towel. The mirror above the sink is misted, and so I am just a pink blur when I stoop to peer into it. I slip on a towel-ling bathrobe that hangs on the door and pad back through to the bedroom. The house feels hot, airless. The floor, arm beneath my feet. And as that same warmth infuses my body, so I feel all its aches and pains. Muscles n arms, legs and torso that are stiff and sore. In the kitchen I search for coffee and find a jar of instant. I spoon it into a mug and pour in boiled water from the kettle. I see a jar of sugar, but have no idea if I take it in my coffee. I sip at the steaming black liquid, almost scalding my lips, and think not. It tastes just fine as it is.

With almost a sense of trepidation, I carry it back through to the bedroom and lay it on the dresser, to slip from my bathrobe and stand before the full-length mirror on the wardrobe door to look at the silvered reflection of the stranger staring back at me.

I cannot even begin to describe how dissociating it is to look at yourself without recognition. As if you belong somewhere outside of this alien body you inhabit. As if you have simply borrowed it, or it has borrowed you, and neither belongs to the other.

Nothing about my body is familiar. My hair is dark, and though not long, quite curly, falling wet in loops over my forehead. This man appraising me with his ice-blue eyes seems quite handsome, if it is possible for me to be at all objective. Slightly high cheekbones and a dimpled chin. My lips are pale but fairly full. I try to smile, but the grimace I make lacks any humour. It reveals good, strong, white teeth, and I wonder if I have been bleaching them. Would that make me vain? From somewhere, completely unexpectedly, comes the memory of someone I know drinking his coffee through a straw so as not to discolour brilliantly white teeth made porous by bleach. Or perhaps it is not someone I know, just something I have read somewhere, or seen in a movie.

I seem lean and fit, with only the hint of a paunch forming around my middle. My penis is flaccid and very small – shrunken, I hope, only by the cold. And I find myself smiling, this time for real. So I am vain. Or perhaps just insecure in my masculinity. How bizarre not to know yourself, to find yourself guessing at who you are. Not your name, or the way you look, but the essential you. Am I clever or stupid? Do I have a quick temper? Am I made easily jealous? Am I charitable or selfish? How can I not know these things?

And as for age . . . For God’s sake, what age am I? How hard it is to tell. I see the beginnings of grey at my temples, fine crow’s feet around my eyes. Mid-thirties? Forty?

I notice a scar on my left forearm. Not recent, but quite pronounced. Some old injury. An accident of some kind. There is a graze in my hairline, blood seeping slowly through black hair. And I see also, on my hands and forearms, several small, red, raised lumps with tiny scabs at their centre. Bites of some sort? But they don’t seem to hurt or itch.

I am awakened from my self-appraisal by the sound of barking at the door. Bran back from his gallivant among the dunes. I pull on my bathrobe and go to let him in. He jumps around me with excitement, pushing himself against my legs and thrusting his snout into my hands, seeking their comfort and reassurance. And I realise he must be hungry. There is a tin bowl in the boot room that I fill with water, and as he laps at it thirstily, I search for dog food, finding it finally in the cupboard beneath the sink. A bagful of small ochre nuggets and another bowl. The familiar sound of the food rattling into the bowl brings Bran snuffling hungrily into the kitchen, and I stand back and watch as he devours it.

My dog, at least, knows me. My scent, the sound of my voice, the expressions on my face. But for how long? He seems like a young dog. Two years or less. So he hasn’t been with me for long. Even were he able to talk, how much could he tell me about myself, my history, my life before the time he entered it?

I look around me again. This is where I live. On the end wall of the kitchen there is a map of what I recognise to be the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. How I know that, I have no idea. Is that where I am? Somewhere on that storm-tossed archipelago on the extreme north-western fringe of Europe?

Among the mess of papers on the table, I pick up an envelope that has been torn open. I pull out a folded sheet. A utility bill. Electricity. I unfold it and see that it is addressed to Neal Maclean, Dune Cottage, Luskentyre, Isle of Harris. And at a stroke I know my whole name and where I live.

I sit down at the laptop and brush fingers over the trackpad to waken it from its slumber. The home screen is empty except for the hard-disk icon. From the dock, I open up the mailer. It is empty. Nothing even in its trash. The documents folder, too, reveals nothing but blinking emptiness, as does the trash can in the dock. If this really is my computer, it seems I have left no trace of me in it. And something about the hard, white light it shines in my eyes is almost painful. I close the lid and determine to look again later.

The Big Coffin Road Blog Read continues on Criminal Element on Saturday 16th January with Part Three: The Flannan Isles

Coffin Road by Peter May is out now in hardback (Quercus). You can buy your copy here

GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED-MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED. AND THERE WERE MANY!  WINNER IS RHONA M- CONGRATULATIONS!

Coffin Road book jacketThanks to the lovely people at Quercus and MidasPR, I have a copy of  Coffin Road to give away to a lucky winner. To enter please leave your contact email in the comments form (these will not be published) or tweet me @ravencrime with #coffinroadgiveaway. UK only entrants please and the giveaway is open until midnight on Friday 22nd January. Good luck!

 

 

Blog Tour- Nadia Dalbuono- The American- Review

nadiatheamericanA big welcome to you all for Day One of the Nadia Dalbuono Blog Tour to mark the release of her second Italian crime thriller The American,  featuring charismatic detective Leone Scarmarcio.

Having waxed lyrical about Dalbuono’s debut The Few (which also earned a well deserved place in my Top 5 of 2014), I approached The American with an equal sense of excited anticipation and hesitation- could it honestly be the equal of the first one? I can, however, confidently say with its scope, intelligence, and assured writing that it’s even better. What Dalbuono exhibits in this second book is a further growth in her writing and storytelling that is totally mesmerising. Not only does she have the firm foundation of a mercurial, interesting and multi-faceted central detective who owns every scene he inhabits, but there is an intelligence to her plotting and central storyline that keeps the reader hooked throughout.

Scamarcio is still battling with the pull of his Mafia connections, often to the detriment to his career as a police detective, but finds himself entangled in a case with far reaching and dangerous implications to himself, and those closest to him. Driven by a fire within himself, that often necessitates himself to keep control of his base anger, he is a dogged and focussed detective, whose shades of grey are slowly revealed in the course of this investigation. Not averse to a little extra-curricular pick me ups, his mental and physical mettle are sorely tested throughout the book, as he becomes immersed in a case that crosses continents, invoking the ire of both the Vatican and American security services, as he navigates his way through a mass of corruption and conspiracy that would easily defeat lesser men. He is a real lynchpin to the enjoyment of this book, and as the pressure grows the reader cannot help but be firmly in his corner.

The plot is fairly complicated and attention must be paid, and my advice would be that if you want the secret world of the Vatican revealed to you with far more intelligence and steely-eyed intuitiveness than The Da Vinci Code, look no further my friends. The plot segues between time frames and locations with consummate ease, and I learnt many things previously unknown, as to the far reaching tendrils of the Vatican and the power it has exerted across the globe. Dalbuono explores the theory of the ‘strategy of tension’ (the stirring of unrest in underdeveloped countries/powder keg communities to the benefit of powerful governments in other countries) in some detail, and how the perpetrators of this so roundly benefit from their less than honourable actions. With the story pivoting between Europe, the United States and Latin America, there is a tremendous scope and power to the plot, and some reveals that leave a nasty taste in the mouth as to the way that church and state manipulate the masses. It’s powerful, matter of fact and heightens the book to a thriller beyond the normal fare. Dalbuono also carefully suffuses the book with an assured mix of implied and overt violence, so the more cerebral content of the book is tempered by the suddenly shocking interludes of base human instincts, to great effect.

WP_20160105_16_44_29_ProTo be honest, there is little more praise I can heap on this book, and having already installed it as one of my picks for January in the bookstore where I work, I can only urge readers of this blog to seek this one out for yourselves. An early contender for my Top 5 of 2016 too…

Don’t forget to visit The Book Corner  for the next stop on the tour too!

 

 

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

oRDkfvQySUDan Hendricks is a man in need of a lifeline. A former CIA operative, he is now an agent for hire by foreign powers on the hunt for dangerous fugitives. It’s a lethal world at the best of times, and Dan knows his number is almost up. His next job could be his last—and his next job is his biggest yet.

The target sounds trackable enough: Jacques Fillon, who gave up his life trying to save a fellow passenger following a bus crash in northern Sweden. But the man was something of an enigma in this rural community, and his death exposes his greatest secret: Jacques Fillon never existed at all.

Dan is tasked with uncovering Fillon’s true identity—but can he do so before his own past catches up with him?

I have the ‘dubious’ pleasure of knowing Mr Wignall, so as he thrust a copy of this into my hand with an entirely understated personal dedication…

WP_20160109_09_33_51_Pro

how could I refuse to read and review it? And I did indeed ‘quite like it’.

Oh.

That’s not enough really is it?

You want to know more?

Okay.

With its intriguing opening centring on a bus crash in Sweden, Wignall then envelops us in a tale of a deniable CIA operative on the run, with a truly international feel as the story effortlessly pivots across different locations,  and many moments of betrayal and mortal peril. There is a tightness and simplicity to the writing that will utterly suck you in, the evidence of this being that I pretty much read this in one sitting, completely hooked on the pace and plot twists that come at you with an alarming rate. Wignall always demonstrates a heightened sense of the visual in his books, and there is a real screenwriter’s feel to the book throughout, which proves priceless to engaging the reader’s attention. I also liked the host of contradictions that lay within the character of Dan Hendricks himself, a man shaped by the less savoury activities of his professional life as a CIA operative with particularly dark abilities, but who when seeing former associates systematically eliminated to protect some dangerous secrets, exhibits a degree of nobility seemingly at odds with his dispassionate attitude to life and death. This raises some interesting questions on the issue of morality, and thus enables Wignall to raise the book above the normal narrative of a conspiracy thriller. The dialogue is sharp and punchy throughout (again adding to the overall pace of the book) and there’s a more than satisfying quotient of violence as the plot progresses, and the extent of the conspiracy against Hendricks unveils itself.

I quite liked it. Think you will too.

(With thanks to the author for the review copy)

 

 

 

Craig Robertson- In Place of Death

cA young man enters the culverted remains of an ancient Glasgow stream, looking for thrills. Deep below the city, it is decaying and claustrophobic and gets more so with every step. As the ceiling lowers to no more than a couple of feet above the ground, the man finds his path blocked by another person. Someone with his throat cut. As DS Rachel Narey leads the official investigation, photographer Tony Winter follows a lead of his own, through the shadowy world of urbexers, people who pursue a dangerous and illegal hobby, a world that Winter knows more about than he lets on. And it soon becomes clear that the murderer has killed before, and has no qualms about doing so again.

Let’s begin the new year as we mean to go on, and start off with a confirmed favourite of the Raven. Despite a brief hiatus in this series, Robertson now takes us back to his exceptional police procedural series, featuring police photographer Tony Winter, and DI Rachel Narey. It is a testament to the strength of the series to date, that I was very quickly inveigled back into the sphere of their professional and personal lives, and In Place of Death, has gained the honour of being my favourite book in the series so far…

With a positively claustrophobic and spine chilling opening, with the discovery of a body in the most inhospitable of locations, Robertson takes us on a weird and wonderful journey into the world of urbexing- the exploration and charting of abandoned, and by extension, dangerous run down buildings, not only in their physicality but by the ne-er-do-wells who can lurk within them! To get another sense of the locations that Robertson draws on throughout the book, I would recommend an investigation of two brilliant photography books, Beauty In Decay and Abandoned Places which give you a further real sense of the beautifully sinister air of neglected buildings and structures and the shadowy essence of life gone by they hold within them. Robertson depicts each location absolutely perfectly as the investigation proceeds, and brings a visual photographic quality alongside the feel and sensory perceptions that each location generates in the reader. As a reflection of the strong sense of location used in the book, the tone of the book is dark and haunting, giving Robertson the opportunity to explore the twisted psyche of a killer to great effect. It’s always gratifying to read a crime novel that goes beyond superficial themes and under-developed sense of place, and with the atmosphere and portrayal of the urbexer’s experiences and brushes with danger, Robertson has achieved this in spades.

Another feather in Robertson’s cap is the strength of his characterisation, not only in his depiction of Tony Winter, a scene of crime photographer who possesses a unique eye, and at times a slightly disturbing type of empathy with the victims that he photographs, and DI Rachel Narey, a headstrong and dedicated police officer whose sense of justice sometimes puts her at odds with her immediate superior officers. Both characters are entirely credible and the reader forms a genuine attachment to them, both in the trials of their working lives, with Winter’s job in the balance, and the potential stumbling blocks of their personal involvement. Equally, Robertson infuses a sense of pathos, through Winter’s unique sensitivity to the victims he photographs, and in this book, with the character of Remy Feeks, who discovers the first victim, leading him on a dangerous path and putting him in the sight of a killer. Usually, there is a cut out and paste depiction of some poor soul (usually walking their dog) stumbling on a corpse, so I liked the way that Robertson made Feeks so integral to the narrative as a whole, and the sympathy his character elicits in us as we become more familiar with his personal life.

Once again, Robertson has produced an entirely satisfying crime read, undercut with darkness, and suffused with a unique sense of place and atmosphere, with a stalwart and credible cast of characters. Still one of my favourites, and eagerly awaiting the next.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

 

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