February 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Okay- so where the heck did February go? Seems I have only just posted January’s round-up, and am feeling the effects of a busy month indeed. A month of mixed fortunes as far as reading goes, with 5 non-starters (3 of which did not even get a sniff of the magical 40 page rule) and the endless battle to juggle my crime and fiction reading commitments. I feel like I’m in real confessional mode now! Anyhow….moving on to business…

Books reviewed this month…

Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

Manchette’s Fatale- Adapted by Max Cabanes and Doug Headline

Oscar de Muriel- A Fever of the Blood

Chris Ould- The Blood Strand 

Joe Flanagan- Lesser Evils

Travis Mulhauser- Sweetgirl

Augusto de Angelis- The Murdered Banker

41QNtHNg+sL__SX327_BO1,204,203,200_So, in addition to the 7 reviews I did manage to post, I also read Valerio Varesi’s A Woman Much Missed. I’m rather partial to this series set in Parma, and featuring the world weary detective Commisario Soneri, a man who seems to have a deep rooted dislike of everybody and everything. He has a problem with delegation, is a melancholic flaneur with commitment issues, but in his favour has no qualms about donning a duffel coat. I do like a man in a duffel coat. What I particularly liked about this one, was the way that it re-traced the early days of his relationship with his late wife, and the secrets this threw up in its wake. There is always a languorous and meditative feel to Varesi’s writing that puts me in mind of Simenon, but counterbalanced by moments of immorality and violence that appear all the more shocking as they punch through the slowly unfolding plot. If you haven’t tried Varesi before, he really is worth a look…

I’ve also been indulging my penchant for war fiction by picking up Matt Gallagher’s Iraq based novel Young Blood which seems to be pushing the same emotional buttons as last month’s Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker. Also currently reading Tightrope by Simon Mawer– a superb tale of spies, lies and espionage; a curious and unsettling American tale called Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh , and a whisker away from finishing Danish crime novel Retribution by the brilliant Steffen Jacobsen– to be reviewed soon. Still a teetering to read pile,  and two blog tours on the horizon this month too. Deep breaths and focus…

Raven’s Book of the Month

JOEDespite the paucity of reviews this month this was a good eclectic mix and each book had something to recommend it. However, this month my heart belonged to debut author Joe Flanagan for Lesser Evils- a brilliantly constructed and compelling crime novel set in 1950’s Cape Cod, that tackled some weighty issues as well as providing a multi-layered and emotive plot that I was utterly caught up in from start to finish. Marvellous. I just want to read it again….



Something ‘Ould’, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue…


bloodHaving left the Faroes as a child, Jan Reyna is now a British police detective, and the Islands are foreign to him. But he is drawn back when his estranged father is found unconscious, a shotgun by his side and someone else’s blood in his car. Then a man’s body is found, a shotgun wound in his side, but signs that he was suffocated. Is his father responsible for the man’s death? Jan must decide whether to stay or forsake the Faroe Islands for good…

Okay, so I haven’t really shut up about this book for a month in my daytime job as a bookseller, as it is set apart from much of crime fiction by the largely unfurrowed terrain of its Faroe islands setting. With a similarity in its premise to Peter May’s excellent Hebridean trilogy of a mainland detective returning to the stamping grounds of their youth, and replete with the sense of place exhibited in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland books, I was soon immersed in this far from everyday tale of island folk. What Ould achieves in spades with this book is a seamless intertwining of the mysterious and beautiful but harsh setting of the Faroes themselves, fully bolstered by an intriguing and sinister plot. There is a real sense that the author has absorbed completely the language, traditions and unique character of this location, and as much as I was gripped by the excellent plot, my enjoyment of reading was further enhanced by the revealing of a way of life that I had not encountered before. Ould homes in on the discreet character of the Faroese with their natural respect for the privacy of the individual, and the difficulties this presents in our detectives’ investigation, the differences between the inhabitants of each separate island,  and the story is peppered with examples of the vernacular adding an authenticity to the book overall. I was also completely taken with the two main police protagonists, the returning prodigal son Jan Reyna and local detective Hjalti Hentze, with both men exhibiting shades of light and dark as more of their character was slowly revealed as the tricky investigation progresses. Also, satisfyingly Ould has managed to maintain a further air of mystery about Reyna in particular, no doubt to be revealed in future books. There is an easy sense of professionalism and growing friendship between the two men, and I liked the camaraderie and their individual tenacity in their slightly different investigative styles that becomes apparent. Probably due to Ould’s extensive screenwriting experience, the plot unfolds at an assured pace, and contains both suspense and surprise along the way and delighted to say that I was very impressed indeed…

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)


JOEWhen the first young boy goes missing in a quiet Cape Cod town, Lieutenant Bill Warren is pulled into a morass that promises no happy ending. As his pursuit uncovers the unimaginable, he is led into a world of gambling, drug peddling, corruption and secret psychiatric experiments. As facts become murkier and the threat rises, Warren struggles to survive in a world where the police can be just as tainted as the criminals they chase, and where a murder inquiry will ultimately lead to his front door…

With my innate love of American fiction, it is always pleasing to read a debut that traverses both the crime and contemporary fiction genres, and Flanagan achieves this wonderfully here. With all the tension and darkness of a crime thriller Lesser Evils also contains a real depth of characterisation and psychological exploration that raises it above your average crime read, and I was held completely in its thrall from start to finish- leading to late night reading and late returns from lunch-breaks too. Set in 1950’s Cape Cod, the story centres on a series of child murders, which Flanagan unflinchingly, but compassionately portrays, and which in turn reveals a level of corruption among opposite branches- county and state- of the police fraternity, which leads the central police protagonist Bill Warren into dangerous territory, and personal threat. Warren is one of the most perfectly constructed characters I have ever encountered in crime fiction, blessed with a nobility and morality of character that sets him apart in the morass of immorality that surrounds him. He is dogged, dedicated but also hampered by his own insecurities particularly in relation to his driving sense of doing the right thing both professionally, and personally in his role as a single father. He has a natural compassion for those maligned due to their gender, race or sexual orientation and the sense of fairness that exists in him  makes him a natural target for the bigoted and corrupt behaviour of some of his fellow law enforcement officers. As the tale unfolds, Flanagan is given tremendous scope to ruminate on greater themes such as religion, addiction, mental illness and physical abuse, and he addresses all of these with a measured and thoughtful air, which leads to a real lyrical beauty to some passages, that fair takes your breath away. The visceral darkness of the main plot, set against this more metaphysical tone in the writing is beautifully balanced throughout, and skilfully manipulates our emotions throughout. So much more than a crime thriller, and a book that I would urge devotees of exemplary fiction writing to seek out.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)


51t+BxvtL2L__SL160_Percy is sixteen and used to her mama disappointing her. But this time her mama’s been gone for nine days and she’s been seen up at Shelton Potter’s farmhouse. Which can only mean she’s strung out on meth again, and who knows when she’ll be back. A blizzard rolls in and Percy jumps in her pickup and sets off for the farmhouse. She finds Shelton and a woman passed out on the floor, sleeping off the latest binge. But no sign of her mama. Percy heads upstairs and finds a neglected baby girl, in urgent need of care and attention. Percy knows she has no choice. She has to take the baby and get her to a hospital as soon as she can. But the blizzard shows no sign of stopping and soon her pickup is snowed in. Now she’s on foot and before long two-bit criminal Shelton wakes up and heads out with four of his associates, on the hunt for whoever has taken the baby . . .

Making the most of the brilliant loan facility that exists in the bookstore where I work, I quickly homed in on this new arrival. Resplendent with a jacket quote from the marvellous Ron Rash (Serena) and with comparisons to Daniel Woodrell and Denis Johnson, my attention was instantly grabbed. With a small cast of traditionally redneck characters residing in backwoods Michigan, with their attendant drug addictions and propensity for violence, this book does bear a distinct resemblance to Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone with a similarly driven young female protagonist. Mulhauser constructs a slim but well played-out story, with a small cast of characters, that slowly builds to a tense conclusion, punctuated by moments of extreme violence along the way. He exhibits a touching sympathy to what initially seem to be a cast of dislikeable characters, exposing their hidden humanity, humour, and how the conditions of your upbringing can mould your character to retain a sense of morality, or to take a different path of self destruction. The dialogue was sharp and authentic, and the atmosphere in terms of weather and landscape was well depicted. I enjoyed the book to a certain degree, but seeking to break out from the shadow of Woodrell in particular is no easy task, and the feeling of imitating Woodrell’s style too much worked slightly to the detriment to the overall feel of the book.

(Sweetgirl is published by Fourth Estate/HarperCollins)


51TiHDraCIL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A body is discovered in a Milan apartment, and Inspector De Vincenzi investigates. The apartment happens to belong to and old university friend of his, Aurigi. When the body turns out to be that of Aurigi’s banker, and a phial of prussic acid is discovered in the bathroom, suspicion falls on the apartment’s owner, and De Vincenzi is agonisingly torn between his sense of duty and his loyalty to an old comrade…

As a staunch devotee of Simenon’s Maigret books, I was delighted to discover this previously unknown to me Italian author, who exhibits a wonderfully similar style and pace to his French counterpart. This is the first of de Augusto’s books to feature Milanese detective de Vincenzi, originally published in 1935, and now re-issued under the mantle of the Pushkin Vertigo series. The detective we encounter here is thoughtful, pragmatic. and like the venerable  Maigret possesses a wonderful appreciation of the grey areas of crime detection, and the inevitable pulls on professional honour, and personal loyalty that this presents. In this relatively slim tale, de Vincenzi insinuates a greater level of psychological exploration than in books three times its length, and there is a strong sense of the socio-political feel of Italy in this period too. It’s bijou, but perfectly constructed and I can’t wait to discover the rest of the series…

(With thanks to Pushkin for the ARC)

Oscar de Muriel- A Fever of the Blood

Fever_of_the_BloodNew Year’s Day, 1889. In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey. Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient – a girl who had been mute for years. What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won’t she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition? McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill – home of the Lancashire witches – where unimaginable danger awaits…

Having been singularly impressed by de Muriel’s debut, The Strings of Murder, introducing uncouth Scottish detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray, and softy Southern detective Ian Frey, there was more than a hint of excitement when A Fever Of The Blood arrived, replete with a raven’s feather- perfect marketing for this blogger. So how did our tenacious, and wonderfully ill-matched detective duo fare in this new instalment of de Muriel’s Victorian inspired series? There is dark witchcraft afoot, and Frey and McGray find themselves in more than a spot of peril…

One of the joys of a second book in a series is to see how the author further develops their characters, and the shades of dark and light they apply to their central protagonists. This is certainly true of this book, as the asperity and bravery of Frey increases in his tussles with his obnoxiousness and fearless counterpart McGray. However, by the same token there is a slight softening of the edges of McGray himself, as details of his family background come into focus, and a new, dare I say it, more touchy feely side is exposed. Yes. What are the odds of that? Admittedly, some switches in their characters can be explained by the dark forces of witchcraft that are at work upon them throughout this murderous adventure, but I liked this little teasing of our perceptions about the pair, that de Muriel has woven into the book. The book is again infused with the crude wit and ripostes of McGray, when frustrated by the buttoned-up protestations of Frey, and these moments of humour are perfectly placed throughout. Equally, in true pantomime style there is a boo-worthy crew of baddies to thwart and torment our heroes, and the grotesque Lady Ardglass makes a reappearance but with little change in her own character- once an old crone, always an old crone- and whose blighted family history lays at the centre of this latest devilish tale. There are evil witches, good witches, lunatic asylum patients and ineffectual policemen, and a wonderful manipulation of our senses as to who is good, who is bad, and who is actually more than a little bit of both. The characterisation is lively, playful, and at times incredibly dark and chilling, and de Muriel balances all these contrasting aspects of his protagonists and antagonists with an assured air.

There is an unrelenting pace to the book as Frey and McGray embark on a game of cat and mouse as they seek to track down asylum escapee Joel Ardglass, offspring of the hideous Lady Ardglass, but find themselves in the sight of some unholy creatures, and a final denouement in the shadows of Pendle, Lancashire, with all its allusions to the famous witchcraft case. Indeed, the majority of the book sees Frey and McGray in a state of frenetic perambulation, led onward by the mysterious green glow of witches’ beacons, and the will o’ the wisp tendencies of their fugitive from justice. It’s fair to say that more than one mishap befalls them along the way, and there are some real nerve-shredding moments as the plot progresses. So in addition to being a real tale of ominous derring-do, there is, as explained by the author’s notes, the careful inclusion of factual reference to witchcraft and its practices in days of yore. Also, de Muriel has taken a little bit of artistic licence drawing on his Mexican heritage, and integrating some little details of the dark arts that herald from his own homeland, which adds to the overall colour and interest of the witchcraft narrative.

So, it’s all deliciously dark, violent and compelling, with new nuances to the characters of, and the relationship between our earthy Scotsman McGray, and his rather reluctant counterpart Frey. There are dark arts, light humour, and a sense of unrelenting excitement and danger. It’s a romp, and a very enjoyable one at that.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

Manchette’s Fatale- Adapted by Max Cabanes and Doug Headline

AAAAAimée is a beautiful young widow she s also a killer. Driven by a deep-rooted desire for revenge, she sets about uncovering the secrets of the inhabitants of the sleepy rural town of Bleville, before ruthlessly murdering them. Faced with corruption of a kind she had scarcely imagined, she discovers a deeply moral core under her murderous instincts…

Okay, I’ll put my hands up from the start and say that I never read graphic novels. Well, actually I did manage half of From Hell by Alan Moore some years ago, but never finished as I probably got distracted by something else. Having idly flicked through graphic novels at work- whilst scratching my head over where, and in what series I should shelve them- my general impression of them is that they are mostly populated by a cast of grotesques, and semi-clad women with unfeasibly pert breasts. But I digress. Grasping the bull by the horns, so to speak, and putting my preconceptions aside I embarked on this one with more than a whiff of curiosity…

Adapting the seminal French thriller Fatale by world-renowned noir crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette into graphic novel form, I imagine, was no mean feat. There is so much darkness, betrayal and violence in the original slim read, underscored by the dispassionate and spare prose of one of the finest noir writers who ever lived, that the reader themselves need to really home in on what is not said by Manchette as much as what he offers up to us with veiled references and the air of burgeoning menace throughout. I was more than a little hesitant, as a staunch reader of fiction where your own imagination comes into play, that my perception of these characters would be undone by reading such a visual representation, and leaving me less for my own imagination to construct for itself. However, my anxieties were largely assuaged, because as much as this book does contain a cast of grotesques and a saucily semi-clad/nude Aimee (with unfeasibly pert breasts) the absolute adherence to Manchette’s novel by Doug Headline, and the darkness that Max Cabanes insinuates into the artwork captures the mood and feel of the original book perfectly with each frame remaining true to the original text. The liberal use of midnight blue and pared down colour, the visual representations of some of the central cast, and the completely no-holds barred depiction of the swift and brutal violence of the book were well-executed throughout. However, on balance, I did find the actual experience of reading this a little unsatisfying, maybe because I was too familiar with the story to begin with, and there wasn’t enough to stimulate my own imagination, but I definitely appreciated the quality of the artwork overall. All in all an interesting digression for the Raven, but probably unlikely to be a regular genre for me.

(With thanks to Titan for the ARC)


Helen Fitzgerald- Viral


Okay, so there’s been a wee bit of a furore regarding the opening line of this book, and Fitzgerald’s use of a c-word- no, not that one- but one which seems to have caused a bit of consternation. Personally speaking there are far worse c-words- Cameron, chlamydia, cystitis- which are all singularly unpleasant in their own way, so I was completely undeterred by her shock opener. It’s called freedom of expression.  Also despite my general loathing/apathy to the current trend of domestic noir thrillers, I suppose in a way that this book does draw on certain motifs from this genre, but thanks to the acerbic and beautifully twisted nature of Fitzgerald’s writing Viral felt like a real trip to the dark side of domestic relationships…

The story centres on the implosion of a family due to an event filled trip to Magaluf undertaken by British teenager Leah and her adopted Korean sister Su, who are like chalk and cheese in terms of character and behaviour. Rebellious Leah is wildly impulsive, set against the swottish and demure Su, but one ill-fated night in Magaluf and the pernicious world of social media, sees the corruption of goody two shoes Su, and the far-reaching effect of her actions causing a meltdown in her family. To escape the fallout of that fateful night, Su embarks on a voyage of discovery about herself and her roots in Korea, whilst causing her adoptive mother, high court judge Ruth, to embark on her own journey of retribution against those responsible for Su’s trials and tribulations.

Although, I confess I wasn’t entirely convinced by the arc of the story, and the way the plot played out, what I did enjoy was the way that Fitzgerald really got beneath the skin of her main protagonists, and exposed with such precision their failings. This detached style of holding her characters up to scrutiny and judgement is a recurring theme in her books, and hence why I like reading them so much. When put under the microscope, her characters demonstrate the worst aspects of human nature, despite our initial impressions of them, and are neither all good, or all bad. I also like the way that Fitzgerald dispels our perceptions of her characters as the book progresses, so we are forced to reassess our opinions of them and the way they behave. The dominant character of Ruth in particular takes on the mantle of an avenging angel, and whilst her actions could be applauded as demonstrating a mother’s need to protect her child, they do come at some cost to herself and her daughters, on her one-woman mission for justice. Equally, Leah’s initial selfishness and abhorrent behaviour is roundly turned in on itself, and the somewhat nauseating goodness of Su begins to deteriorate into out of character solipsism as the book progresses, after her awful experience in Spain, and the interesting exploration of her true self. I also enjoyed the way that Fitzgerald used the three main locations- Britain, Spain and Korea- as a springboard for the changes in character her protagonists undergo, and showing how even the relative safety and security of home can be deceptive in the aftermath of a crisis. Of course, reflecting the title the book has much to say on the pervasive nature and reach of social media, and it’s destructive effects after one young girl’s coercion into a moment of madness that cannot be easily escaped. Any salacious or harmful information has the potential to be put up for public consumption, but what if it happened to you? Unsettling indeed.

Spiky, uncompromising and engaging. Domestic noir that packs a proper punch.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)


Just announced: Paula Hawkins To Headline #CrimeStory2016 – @NewWritingNorth

crime-story-2016-newsheaderPaula Hawkins to headline Crime Story 2016

Full festival programme and tickets to be released on 10 March at
Crime Story: Portrait of a Criminal

The number one bestselling writer, Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, will headline this year’s Crime Story festival.

Crime Story is an innovative festival for readers and writers of crime fiction, providing rare access to experts from the fields of forensics, criminology, pathology and law, who reveal and interrogate the facts behind crime fiction. New Writing North and Northumbria University launched the biennial festival in 2014. 

Appealing to crime readers as well as fans of Serial and Making a Murderer, the day-long festival invites audience and experts to pick apart a fictional crime, which will be written this year by Paula Hawkins.

For crime writers, the festival also offers an extraordinary opportunity to challenge and improve the authenticity of their writing, by giving unique access to a wide range of experts in police science, as well as crime writers and publishing industry leaders.

Paula Hawkins said: “I attended Crime Story in June 2014 on a whim: I thought the concept sounded interesting – a group of crime writers and readers get together to try to solve a fictional murder aided by a handful of experts – detectives, forensic specialists and legal experts. I expected to have an entertaining weekend, I didn’t expect to walk away with ten A4 pages crammed with detailed notes covering all aspects of police procedure, and a head brimming with new ideas.”

“Crime Story gives writers the kind of access to senior detectives, blood-spatter experts and forensic psychiatrists that most of us could only dream about. I found it fascinating and invaluable and have been looking forward to the next one ever since, so am absolutely thrilled to have been asked to come up with a murder scenario for this year’s event. “

Crime Story takes place in Newcastle upon Tyne on Saturday 11 June. The full programme will be announced and tickets released on Thursday 10 March at Crime Story: Portrait of a Criminal, a special event in which two award-winning writers explore the minds of two of the most notorious criminals of recent times.  

Dan Davies spent more than a decade writing the highly-acclaimed biography, In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, which won the Gordon Burn Prize 2015 and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize 2015. The book is both an extraordinary portrait of Savile, compiled from years of interviews and dogged research, as well an enquiry into the society that enabled him for so long.

Portrait of a Criminal also launches Northern Writers’ Awards winner Andrew Hankinson’s You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat]. The book covers the last days of the fugitive gunman Raoul Moat, who shot three people before going on the run in rural Northumberland. The book is written in Moat’s own words, pieced together from letters and recordings, offering a compelling insight into his paranoid state. You Could Do Something Amazing has already been named by several critics as one of the books of 2016.

Dan Davies and Andrew Hankinson, writers in the tradition of David Peace and Gordon Burn, will discuss the subjects of their work, their own methods and the place of true crime in literary writing.

Ticket holders for Portrait of a Criminal: Crime Story will receive £10/£8 off their Crime Story festival ticket price.

Tickets are now available for Crime Story: Portrait of a Criminal on Thursday 10 March.

Find out more about Crime Story festival on Saturday 11 June.


For all media enquiries, including interview requests, please contact Laura Fraine, Marketing and Communications Manager at New Writing North laurafraine@newwritingnorth.com or 0191 204 8850.

Notes to Editors

Crime Story is run in partnership by New Writing North and Northumbria University.

New Writing North is the writing development agency for the north of England, and is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. New Writing North works with writers to develop career opportunities, new commissions, projects, residencies, publications and live events. It works in partnership with a broad range of organisations, universities, local authorities, regional development agencies, sponsors and media producers to develop opportunities for writers.

Northumbria University, Newcastle is a research-rich, business-focused, professional university with a global reputation for academic excellence.

Northumbria is one of the largest universities in the UK with almost 34,000 students from 131 countries. The University has over 186,000 alumni worldwide. Northumbria has invested more than £200 million in our estate since 2005 to improve the student experience. Northumbria is ranked top 50 in the UK for research power and had the 4th largest increase in quality research funding (REF 2014). According to Times Higher Education, Northumbria had the biggest rise in research power of any university in the UK. Northumbria is ranked 3rd in the UK for international student satisfaction in the International Student Barometer survey 2015, a rise of 26 places on the previous year.

Northumbria University’s cultural partners include New Writing North, Live Theatre, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Tyneside Cinema and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.

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