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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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December 2016

Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2016

 

largeWell, what a perfectly horrible year we’ve all had. War, poverty, death, and selfishness on a dizzying scale has defined 2016. We’ve had political meltdown, and our country is now floundering due to the 52% of the British people who really should not have been allowed anywhere near the Brexit vote, by reason of their gross stupidity. (Don’t even get me started on Theresa ‘we know you’re struggling but we don’t give a toss’ May). Then, to cap it all,  the weirdness of the U.S. voting system allowing the ascendancy of one of the most xenophobic and misogynistic individuals to the most powerful position imaginable and I refuse to even utter his name.  Also, I know I am not alone in having personal strife this year too. Yes. It’s all been a bit crap.

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463But, gather round bookish friends and let’s take a moment to rejoice in the good stuff- ‘the books, the books’, I hear you cry. It’s been a superb year for crime fiction this year, and I have discovered some absolute gems along the way. So here’s how Raven’s reading year panned out…

(click on the book jackets for reviews)

 

DEBUT-TASTIC!

With 90+ books reviewed and over 150 read during the year, 2016 has been a bumper year for some damn, fine fiction. (Still 40+ non-starters but we’ll move swiftly on).  I was particularly struck by the quality of the debut authors I have encountered this year. A couple will be featuring in my Top 5, so aside from them, special mentions, and a round of applause to the following…

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THAT DIFFICULT SECOND BOOK…

Also wanted to highlight those authors that blew me away in 2015 with their debuts, and who have now produced second books, the equal of, or even better than their first foray into the world of crime fiction…

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6c217d7a427ef735dcbf85b02b5c40a4AND STILL IT GOES ON….

In last year’s round-up I wrote this… It 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.” Unfortunately, I still failed to heed my own advice, and have either abandoned at the 40 page mark, or trawled all the way through on pain of death, a substantial number more of these over the last 12 months.

Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.

Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.

WORDS FAILED ME…BUT IN A GOOD WAY…

492ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAlthough I am not the most prolific of bloggers, and tend to give breathing/thinking space between finishing books and writing a review, there are some books that with fingers poised over keyboard that prove excessively difficult to review, because they are so damn weird/clever/thought provoking/intense (delete as applicable). Courtesy of Orenda Books, two such books have crossed my path this year, and never has it taken me so long to try and write reviews that reflect the sheer cleverness and thought provoking intensity of these two. Mr Yusuf Toropov, Mr Michael Grothaus, I salute you…

fb929b12453a2ce028c765b5197b1a04THE TBR PILE…

Yes, the behemoth of the TBR mountain looms large on my conscience, but to be honest, there are worse problems to have, and no, I am not going to count the number of books vying for my attention. Have started making a dent with my commute to work, which has afforded me the opportunity to finally get round to reading some excellent authors who had slipped the net, for example Eva Dolan, Neil Broadfoot and Helen Cadbury, and some quirky crime in translation too. I’ll keep chipping away…for at least the next ten years…or more…

And so to the winners, no prizes, but big thanks for your sparkling and enthralling books. Not all of these achieved Book of The Month status but have remained resolutely in the Raven’s mind all year…

Raven’s Top 5 (ish) Books of the Year

5.

A RISING MAN

“Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire, sings from every page.”

4.

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“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.”

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“This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed.”

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“There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

What do you mean, that’s cheating?

They are all set in America.

(My excuse and I’m sticking to it)

3. 

bird

“It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between.”

2.

dod“The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers.”

1.

blood

“As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense.”

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All the best for 2017 everyone

and just remember…

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Merry Christmas!

thedescendantatchristmasHere’s a special Christmas message from the Raven to not only the regular followers of my blog, but also to readers, bloggers, authors and publishers everywhere who have made this a bumper year of reading fun. I love the recommendations I receive, not only through the blog, but also through my virtual friends and fellow bloggers on the web- keep them coming. I have loved reading the multitude of blogs throughout the year, and thanks to you all for your excellent and honest reviews which have been entertaining and informative, although not much good for my bank balance!!!

I would also like to extend my best wishes to the hardworking publicists who keep me readily supplied with old favourites and new names alike, and to the authors who consistently enrich my reading experience through their imaginative creativity and varying degrees of sanity! As a dedicated bookseller, I would also like to say a special thank you to all of you who strive to keep the bookshops in our neighbourhoods by your continued support, and to all those dedicated booksellers who share their bookish passion every day, despite the pressures we all have to cope with- I salute you!

 I hope that wherever you are, and however you celebrate, that you have a wonderful time- MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

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Travels With The TBR #3- Neil Broadfoot-Falling Fast, Paddy Magrane-Denial, Stefan Ahnhem- Victim Without A Face

In the thick of the Christmas rush, as a retail drone currently battling with the lurgy too, time for reviewing has been a bit limited this month. Here’s the last little flurry of books that have made it to the top of the TBR mountain, before my end of year round-up,  and hopefully this little feature will continue next year *eyeing the Eiger sized pile of books yet to be read*….

1Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist, on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug’s curiosity and diverts his attention – especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder…and the ultimate taboo.

Having been meaning to catch up with this author, having seen him at CrimeFest this year and instantly purchasing the first two of this series. It was a wise decision, as I have now discovered a great author to add to my Scottish favourites! I was instantly drawn to the two main protagonists, Doug McGregor- dogged reporter, and his police contact DS Susie Drummond, and the relationship that exists between them. I loved the underlying feeling of them both being slightly square pegs in round holes, with McGregor’s incredible self reliance which tends to alienate others, and Drummond’s former misguided fling with a senior officer which has marked her out as an outsider to her police colleagues. However, although their professional relationship alternates beautifully between frustration and spikiness, there is a mutual respect underpinning everything, leading to some intense scenes that alternate between danger, humour and high emotion, thanks to their razor sharp characterisation.

I thought the plot was superb, and am always gratified by the exposure of political corruption, and this book takes some incredibly dark turns as the truth behind a young woman’s death at the outset of the book comes to light. Broadfoot captures perfectly the nature of family bonds with their sometimes misguided loyalty, and explores the issue of parental responsibility in both its good and worst forms. Equally, the author uses both the location of Edinburgh, and his own background as a journalist, to add further layers of realism to what is altogether a completely absorbing thriller. Highly recommended.

2A riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes. That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead. He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

Having really enjoyed Disorder , the first of Paddy Magrane’s series featuring psychotherapist Sam Keddie, I’m glad the hiatus has ended and another has appeared! This is real breakneck, edge of your seat thrilling stuff, chockfull of danger, excitement and some very bad men indeed, but tempered by an innate sensitivity to the very contemporary issue of immigration. The character of Zahra, in particular, who has experienced the very worst of human behaviour during her passage to supposed safety in Europe, is mesmeric from the very start, and she holds the reader in the palm of her hand with her mix of,  at times, extreme vulnerability underscored by a steely resolve and bravery to overcome the evil that pursues her. I adored her character, and the way that Magrane uses her so effectively to explore important issues, and bring to the fore elements of corruption, greed and expose those that trade in human exploitation. I also liked the little areas of grey that Magrane employs in relation to one of the men pursuing Zahra, which leads us to reassess our feeling towards him as the tale unfolds.

Despite the more serious issues that the book encompasses, Magrane balances this perfectly with the ‘thriller’ aspect, as Keddie and Zahra are caught up in a  desperate game of cat and mouse across a series of European locations, with all the pace and energy one would expect of the genre. There are some real heart in the mouth moments along the way, and Magrane moves us effortlessly from one impending moment of peril to the next, with a flowing and unbroken narrative. Yes, there are a couple of plot turns which may raise a mildly quizzical eyebrow, but fear not, you are so quickly moved on to more dangerous ground, that these will not deter you. Thrilling, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. What more could you possibly want? Highly recommended.

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Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Fabian Risk is the lead detective on the case. He’s also one of the children in the photograph. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood…

You and I both know that you can’t whack a good old slice of Scandinavian noir, so here’s another author to add to your Scandi wish list. Ahnhem has produced a meaty, compelling and impeccably plotted thriller, with a sizeable body count, and increasingly imaginative ways of having despatching the victims, straying into Chris Carter territory with the sheer ghoulishness of some of their deaths. Which was nice.

Fabian Risk proves himself a feisty, and lone wolfish investigator, having recently relocated to his childhood town, after an ‘incident’, putting him perfectly in place to try and outwit a demented killer targeting his school chums. With numerous twists and turns along the way, too convoluted to try and explore here, inevitably Risk finds himself at well, risk, and experiencing an isolation from his police cohorts as the plot thickens.The plot culminates in a slightly clunky and predictable endgame involving a kidnap, but can be slightly forgiven as the story up until that point, and other reveals at the tail end of the book, did diffuse my sense of annoyance somewhat. Certainly enough here to make me seek out the next in the series, and a good recommendation for you Scandi fans out there…

 

#BlogTour- The Finnish Invasion- Kati Hiekkapelto- The Exiled, Antti Tuomainen- The Mine

41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

Having waxed lyrical about the previous book The Defenceless from edgy Finnish writer, Kati Hiekkapelto, it was great to dive into this one, again featuring Hungarian detective Anna Fekete. I am rather partial to books where the main protagonist is removed from their normal stomping ground, and how the vacations they take are never the most relaxing of affairs. The Exiled fits the bill perfectly…

Anna Fekete is a prickly and forthright woman, with a somewhat abrasive manner that exasperates and delights in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the verbal sparring between herself and her mother, on her trip back to her parental home, and Anna’s general doggedness and interference in the gradually revealed corruption within the local police force. She proves herself a keen and formidable irritant to most people, and Heikkapelto pulls no punches in painting a vivid picture of Anna’s somewhat derisory attitude to both childhood acquaintances and local figures in the community. Finding herself inveigled in the suspicious death of a petty thief soon after her arrival, Anna uses her detective nous, and the resources open to her, calling on assistance back home in Finland, to expose a dark and bleak tale centring on the refugee community.

Through her eyes, the neglect and danger that those traversing Europe in search of a safer home experience is brought to the centre of our attention, and her generally sympathetic view to those she encounters, coloured by her own identity as a migrant, works as a powerful conduit for Hiekkapelto to provide a broad and realistic depiction of the refugee crisis. There are also additional points of interest, as the chequered history of the Balkan region is woven into the plot, and a focus on the issues of identity and belonging that have arisen from the break up of Yugoslavia are explored both through Anna’s familial history, and those she interacts with. It’s always incredibly satisfying to read a book that provides deeper levels of interest alongside the main plot, and gives a richness and texture to the prose to sate the reader. With this added scope to the book, the main plot still stands strongly within it, and the investigation that Anna undertakes to satisfy the numerous questions that arise for her is well-realised and played out, and their is an underlying current of tension throughout. As Anna finds herself increasingly at risk, but being as determined as a dog with a bone, I was totally caught up in this story from the start, and pulled in once again by the magnetism of Anna’s character, and her unerring ability to use the less attractive traits of her personality to get to the root of this mystery. Beautifully translated by David Hackston,  The Exiled is another winner from Kati Hiekkappelto and I, for one, cannot wait to see what Anna gets tangled up in next. Highly recommended.

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mineIn the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life…

I’m going to set my stall out here and say that I would probably enjoy anything that Antti Tuomainen writes, having loved both The Healer, and  Dark As My Heart so did The Mine take me down to the depths of despair, or eject me skipping into the sunlight?…

One of the manifold reasons that I love Scandinavian crime thrillers so much is the unerring ability of the authors within this genre to so finely balance the exploration of the human psyche, and important social and political issues, in total harmony with the essential need of bringing to their readers a believable and compelling criminal mystery. The Mine is a perfect example of this, exposing the less than legal activities of a mining company in the snowy wastes of rural Finland, as a jumping off point for a menacing tale of murder and retribution. The author’s research into the history and workings of this particular industry across Finland, is clearly in evidence, and Tuomainen does not hesitate in exposing the particular follies and dangers linked to it. In common with Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit The Wind and the Danish drama Follow The Money which also addressed issues in relation to environmental issues this adds a layer of interest to the reader, outside of a linear crime narrative. I thought the plot was excellent, and was genuinely interested and engaged with Janne’s refusal to give up in his mission to expose the truth behind the mining corporation and its dastardly deeds, and delighted by the additional weight that Tuomainen’s exploration of human connection brings to the whole affair.

Dark As My Heart was one of my favourite books of last year, due to the mesmeric, lyrical quality that Tuomainen injects into his prose. Despite the weightier environmental issues of this book, that provide the driving force for the story, there are interludes of writing, that resonate strongly with the author’s gift for the rhythm and cadence of emotional expression. I finished reading the book with at least ten highlighted passages of sublime, naturalistic description whether referring to the physical landscape, or the emotional landscape of the characters. I found Tuomainen’s portrayal of the fragile reconciliation between Janne and his father, Emil,  particularly affecting, and the bridging of the gap between their differing sense of morality powerfully wrought, when the true nature and motivations of Janne’s father come to light. Although not entirely convinced by Emil’s day job, it proved an interesting juxtaposition for us to see how Janne and his mother dealt with his absence, and the tentative steps made by Emil to reconnect. Strongly in evidence in his previous books is Tuomainen’s knack for rootling around in the depths of people’s emotional selves, and depicting them so transparently that you cannot be helped as a reader to being utterly drawn into his characters. I felt like I came to know all these people intimately as the story progressed, with increasing amounts of either complete empathy or moral outrage at the situations they find themselves in. This is fiction writing at its best, highlighting the power to move, unsettle and educate the reader, and hold them completely into its thrall. Highly recommended.

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Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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November (and October!) 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, hello everyone- lovely to see you!

Having just realised that I completely neglected to post a round-up in October, for reasons far too wearisome to go into here, so someone has missed out on the accolade for October’s Book of the Month. That will be rectified forthwith! Still getting to grips with my work/life balance, so despite reading loads thanks to my bus commute, haven’t quite got a handle on finding time to review them all. It’ll sort itself out soon…promise. However, an upside to my new regimen is more time to tackle that TBR pile, and it’s been nice to read books that have been languishing on my shelves for far too long. More of these to come.

So let’s get down to business and bring this blog up to date, as December is with us, and Raven’s Top 5 of the year is on the horizon. Serious stuff which needs to be thought about carefully…in other words, how on earth is this year of stellar reading going to be whittled down to just 5 favourites. Hmmm…..

Have a good month, and just remember that most sensible people would love to be bought a shiny new papery book from your local bookshop for their Christmas stocking!

Raven’s Book of the Month- October

birdAgnes Ravatn- The Bird Tribunal

Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone

Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit

Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

Domenic Stansberry- The White Devil

Carl-Johan Vallgren- The Tunnel

Steinar Bragi-The Ice Lands

Raven’s Book of the Month- November

gaylinDoug Johnstone- Crash Land

Mark Hill- The Two O’Clock Boy

A. D. Garrett- Truth Will Out

Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones

Eva Dolan- Long Way Home

Davide Longo- Bramard’s Case

Pascal Garnier- The Eskimo Solution

                                    Frederic Dard- Crush

                                                A. L. Gaylin- What Remains of Me

 

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