SOMETHING ‘OULD’…

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)

SOMETHING NEW…

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)

SOMETHING BORROWED…

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)

SOMETHING BLUE…

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)

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