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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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June 2017

Bill Mesce Jr- Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File

Dante DiMarchese is a forensic psychologist, an expert in the workings of the criminal mind and the man responsible for putting the Bailey Beach serial killer behind bars. When a soldier home from a tour in Afghanistan is charged with manslaughter, Dante is immediately called on to help. Meanwhile, the Bailey Beach killer is threatening to smear Dante’s name, while Dante’s persistent ex-brother-in-law ropes him into an inheritance dispute between a still-living father and his family. In the heart of New York, will Dante’s unravel the legacies and lies that others have left behind? Can he contain his own deceptions?

There is the age-old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover, and Legacy is very much proves the rule. I must admit that I was a little put off by the very ordinariness of the book jacket on this, but what a little gem of a thriller lies between its pages…

With its sharp shooting, rat-a-tat dialogue cut through with humour and pathos throughout, Bill Mesce has produced an incredibly readable and highly enjoyable tale centring on the vain and self absorbed character of forensic psychologist, Dante DiMarchese. Enchanting and infuriating in equal measure, DiMarchese is a brilliant creation suffused with professional arrogance and obsession with his appearance, but gloriously underpinned by a genuine sense of morality,  as we observe his involvement with three disparate criminal cases. With somewhat of a car crash personal life, and an inherent knack of getting up most people’s noses, he walks a fine line between irritation for his overdeveloped solipsism, but possessing a charm and honesty that is really rather endearing. I loved this blend of characteristics within him, and equally the reaction of others to him. His long suffering secretary, Esther Froelich, proves a feisty defender of her self imposed position of arbiter of Checkpoint Charlie, as she calls her office, and is a wonderful foil for the shenanigans of her employer, particularly in the realm of hypothetical situations. She very much reminded me of the redoubtable Mrs Landingham from West Wing with her sharp tongue and no-nonsense approach, and the scenes between her and Dante were a joy. There are some pointed and bitter encounters with some in Dante’s personal circle that lead to some caustic and darkly funny episodes, and also those that manage to make us reassess the character of Dante completely. Throughout the select band of supporting characters generally,  we observe a host of contrasting reactions with, and respect for Dante, which fills out our general impression of him, but will our strutting peacock of a main man take some of this criticism on board and mend his ways? That would be telling, but I think there’s more than enough scope for us to waltz with Dante once again…

The book spans Dante’s personal and professional involvement in three contrasting cases, and the case of a contested will, revealing some pretty ugly and acrimonious familial relations is dwelt on the most. Although this legal battle was interesting in, and of, itself focussing on jealousy, manipulation and miscommunication, I felt there was a slight imbalance in the narrative, as the two other cases, one of an emotionally damaged war veteran, and an incarcerated serial killer, had the potential to hold more of the ground in the book, and I felt the former case in particular was worthy of greater focus, as I was interested in this young man’s experiences and his route to a moment of madness. However, on discovering that this was originally written as a screenplay, I totally understand the need to stretch the narrative over three stories and to focus on one in particular to hold the viewer’s interest, but in a novel I would have adjusted the balance slightly with the luxury of more room to explore the perpetrator’s motives and mind-sets. To be honest though, this is just a minor quibble in what proves to be a thoroughly engaging tale of dubious morality, emotional turbulence and the search for resolution, or revenge, in differing ways.

With its feel of John Grisham meets Elmore Leonard, I would heartily recommend Legacy as a bit of a must read for fans of contemporary American crime fiction. Looking forward to Mr DiMarchese’s next cases however he is coiffured…

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- James Hazel- The Mayfly- Exclusive Extract

Billed as  having the suspense of Jeffery Deaver, the tension of Thomas Harris and the gruesomeness of M. J. Arlidge, The Mayfly is a breathtaking debut that will have you leaving your lights on all night. Have a read of this exclusive extract, and ask yourself if you’re brave enough to read more…

When lawyer Charlie Priest is attacked in his own home by a man searching for information he claims Priest has, he is drawn into a web of corruption that has its roots in the last desperate days of World War Two.

When his attacker is found murdered the next day, Priest becomes a suspect and the only way to clear his name is to find out about the mysterious House of Mayfly – a secret society that people will kill for.

As Priest races to uncover the truth, can he prevent history from repeating itself?

Priest opened his eyes and for a moment there was nothing. Just the sound of blood rushing past his ears.

Pritchard had retired three years ago. The uniform was real but the man wearing it hadn’t been. Priest should have guessed earlier. He’d been wearing a helmet. The nearest police station was three miles from here. Helmets were what beat officers wore—officers who travelled in cars wore peaked caps. There was no way this guy had walked three miles in a helmet carrying a compendium of Priest’s old stuff.

Bloody idiot. Burning the fish was bad enough…

At first Priest couldn’t detect anyone else in the room but he was sure the fake copper was still there, somewhere. He had been dumped in a chair. His wrists were tied to the chair arms with cable ties, as were his legs. The plastic cut into his skin. Some involuntary movement while he was unconscious had drawn deep lacerations across his ankles. There was duct tape wound around his chest, binding him to the chair. He could move his head a little but not much else.

There was a wet tea cloth on his head, restricting his view. He could have been anywhere but the stench of burnt fish told him he was still in his own kitchen.

He tested the restraints around his wrists and pain seared up his arm in response. He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. So far, the upper hand was with the man in blue. Priest figured he had a few minutes at the most to turn the tables. On an even footing, a confrontation would have had only one outcome. The fake copper was under six foot and didn’t look like he was carrying much underneath the uniform. Priest was six foot three and weighed fifteen and half stone, most of which was muscle. Knocking him out had been more luck than judgment, too.

He sat, immobilised, for what seemed like an age, although he guessed it was only a few minutes. A few minutes in which Priest couldn’t think of anything but the buzzing in his head and the bastard smell of fish.

The towel was suddenly whipped away and Priest’s kitchen came into view, spoiled by the figure of the grinning policeman.

“Gotcha!” the fake copper announced.

Priest didn’t say anything, just stared at the intruder as neutrally as he could.

“Why so upset, Priest? Should have seen it coming?” The fake copper threw the towel aside and took a few steps back, folding his arms and grinning. “This uniform cost me two grand. So don’t feel too bad.”

He was probably telling the truth about the price. Getting hold of a replica that good wasn’t impossible, but it was very expensive. Priest started to wonder about his chances.

The fake copper continued, “Ah, it was worth it. Guessed you wouldn’t open the door to any other type of visitor. The concierge downstairs was also very helpful.”

“What do you want?” Priest asked.

“Just a chat. For now. Little chat. So you can get to know me a bit better.”

“And you know me?”

The fake copper smiled. “You’re Charles Priest but everyone calls you Charlie. Divorced. No children. Forty-three years old. Cambridge First. Joined the Met in 1994, did two years on the beat. Fast tracked through CID to DS in 1997 and then DI in 2001. In 2004 you left the Force under a cloud and retrained to become a lawyer. You worked in the commercial litigation department of an international firm before setting up your own practice in the city specialising in fraud investigation. Now you earn half a million a year and rank pretty highly in the Legal 500 as one of the most respected solicitor-advocates in the UK. Your parents are dead but you have one sister, Sarah Boatman, thirty-nine years old, a co-owner of a PR agency and one brother, William Priest, forty-six years old, currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure in a secure psychiatric hospital outside the city having been declared criminally insane five years ago. You suffer from dissociative disorder, which means you constantly feel detached from reality, occasionally experiencing fits in which you descend into a state of complete disassociation, much like an out-of-body experience. Shall I go on?”

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen-Wolves In The Dark

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material,  and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet…

And so, it is time once again for Gunnar Staalesen to put his redoubtable private detective, Varg Veum,  through an emotional wringer, and visit all kinds of hell upon him in his most personally harrowing investigation yet. Merely further confirming his pedigree as one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, Wolves In The Dark, is among Staalesen’s darkest, and most finely crafted, novels to date…

What is to be most admired about this latest addition to the series, is the complexity of the plotting, which absolutely captures and illustrates the maelstrom of confusion and grief that has defined Veum’s life over a significant period of time. The narrative continually reaches back into Veum’s descent into alcoholism and blackouts following the death of his beloved Karin, and as Veum seeks to piece together events and actions from this dark time in his personal life, Staalesen  plays with the themes of memory, and morality in equal measure. Attention must be paid as the storyline ebbs and flows between the past and present, and small moments of clarity begin to punctuate Veum’s memory of recent events. I would certainly recommended reading in larger sections, as the previous investigations that may go some way to explain Veum’s current dilemma are so important in the overall story arc, and it’s easy to lose track of the pertinent details in shorter sittings.

I thought the depiction of this swirling miasma of confusion and truth seeking that Veum has to endure was superbly done, and cleverly invites the reader in as a second pair of eyes, as Veum seeks to reconcile his memory of events with the very dark accusations against him. I also appreciated the way that Staalesen treats the subject of grief, harnessing and examining Veum’s despair through his actions,  and by extension drawing on the reader’s empathy throughout. The astute combination of plotting and characterisation is exceptionally well-crafted, and as Veum is pushed to the limits of his self-awareness and morality, Staalesen weaves a tale that is by turn disturbing, and emotive. Not only is Veum accused of such a distasteful crime, but Staalesen artfully balances Veum’s own moral self examination, with those of his investigators, and those that seek to help, and defend him. In the face of adversity Veum takes extreme action to defend his reputation, but the immoral taint of accusation is a difficult one to be cleansed of. By using the theme of cybercrime, and particularly Veum’s general naivety of the pernicious reach of this offence, Staalesen exposes a dangerous world lacking human morality, and decency, and Veum is continually portrayed as a man adrift, thwarting his quest for truth further…

Wolves In The Dark has to rank as one of my favourite books in the series to date, immersing Varg Veum in a real personal trauma , which dents his natural humour and bonhomie, and causes him to question and reassess an incredibly dark period of his history, barely functioning under the weight of grief. The book is infinitely more downbeat than Staalesen’s usual fare, but interestingly plays with the themes of grief, recollection, guilt and morality through Veum himself, and those central to the previous cases that become integral in the search to clear his name. Thoughtful, introspective, and, as usual, completely absorbing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

   Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Sarah Stovell- Exquisite

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it?

With marked similarity to the books of Barbara Vine and Minette Walters, Exquisite by Sarah Stovell is a discomforting and taut tale of sexual obsession and damaged personalities that will keep you gripped…

Focussing on an initially altruistic friendship between an established author, Bo Luxton, and her young protegee and fledgling writer, Alice Dark, Stovell constructs an increasingly menacing story, built on unreliable narrators and alternating points of view. The structure of the book is also underpinned by a third narration set within the confines of a women’s prison in Yorkshire, automatically causing us to cast aspersions on which of our female protagonists, if either, are incarcerated within. These alternate narratives work beautifully in terms of controlling the suspense, and each is perfectly weighted, to disabuse the reader of flicking between one and the other, holding the interest throughout. Stovell uses these split narratives to great effect, and the unreliable narration works its magic to unsettle, and cause conflict in our own perceptions of these two women. Personally, I didn’t like either of them hugely from the outset, which perhaps is a credit to Stovell’s depiction of both, and I did question the intensity of their relationship which seemed at odds, and slightly unbelievable in light of what we knew of their lives. However, my sympathy was aroused for one character towards the close of the book, particularly with the exceedingly dark , though slightly obvious occurrence on the last page. I also found the presence of Bo’s husband Gus unsatisfying and increasingly superfluous, but as the story builds around Bo and Alice, this was I suppose the author’s intention.

Aside from this, the prose itself is darkly engaging, with interludes of beautifully lyrical descriptions of the Lake District itself, set against the intensity of the burgeoning tension, and increasingly dangerous nature of the relationship between Bo and Alice. Each woman’s point of view weaves seamlessly in and out of the other, leading the reader to question constantly, and form their own opinions of the veracity of each. Trying not to give anything away here, which is difficult, there is also an exploration of Bo and Alice’s formative years, and how the nature of their childhood familial relationships have impacted on them, and formed their personalities. Increasingly this brings to the fore the age old question of nature vs nurture, and with Bo’s own identity as a mother herself, it is interesting to see the ramifications of her previous life experience in her own relationship with her husband and children.

All in all, Exquisite is a largely satisfying psychological thriller with the influence of others in the genre looming large, but taking on an identity of its own. It is a disturbing tale of lies, jealousy and obsession, which will more than sate the reader of the current domestic noir crop, but definitely at the darker end of the spectrum. Recommended.

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Matthew Richardson- My Name Is Nobody

Solomon Vine was the best of his generation, a spy on a fast track to the top. But when a prisoner is shot in unexplained circumstances on his watch, only suspension and exile beckon.
Three months later, MI6’s Head of Station in Istanbul is abducted from his home. There are signs of a violent struggle. With the Service in lockdown, uncertain of who can be trusted, thoughts turn to the missing man’s oldest friend: Solomon Vine.
Officially suspended, Vine can operate outside the chain of command to uncover the truth. But his investigation soon reveals that the disappearance heralds something much darker. And that there’s much more at stake than the life of a single spy…

Oooh I do love a good spy thriller, and a behind the scenes look at the secret world of espionage, so was more than a little tempted to read My Name Is Nobody, having heard debut author Matthew Richardson talk about the book at a recent crime fiction event. Tapping in perfectly to this popular genre, inhabited by such heavyweights as John Le Carre, Charles Cumming, and Mick Herron, how did this spy thriller measure up? Hailing from Cheltenham, the home of world renowned government listening post GCHQ, and currently working within the hallowed walls of Westminster, the home of British democracy, or skulduggery, depending on your viewpoint, Matthew Richardson brings his knowledge of both locations to the fore. Set aside the mysterious shadowy worlds of MI5 and MI6, and an obvious appreciation of spy tradecraft, Richardson serves up a twisting, and duplicitous tale of counter-bluff, and dishonesty worthy of his contemporaries. Beginning with violent events during an interrogation of a suspected terrorist in Istanbul, and the abduction of MI6’s Head of Station in its aftermath, disgraced agent Solomon Vine, begins his own unsanctioned investigation into these startling events, inviting a whole heap of trouble…

Overall, I found this a well-plotted and multi-layered spy thriller, resplendent with detail on the workings of some of Britain’s most secret inner sanctums, and a never less than accurate and atmospheric portrayal of Richardson’s chosen locations. This applied to the echoing chambers of Westminster itself in the pulsing heart of London, the dreaming spires of Oxford, the rolling countryside of Gloucestershire and the excruciating blandness of Cheltenham rail station and its environs. The action moves quickly and seamlessly between these locations, as Vine endeavours to uncover a major conspiracy, where the old adage applies of trust no one, be this in Vine’s investigation or as we discover in a series of flashbacks, those closest to him. Indeed, my prevailing thought throughout was that I felt unable to trust anybody, and more than a few characters may not appear to be all they seem. I’ll say no more than that on the plot.

Although the plot of My Name Is Nobody was incredibly well structured, with its attention to the workings of Britain’s security services, and some nice old school spy tricks, I was a little less convinced by the characterisation, and a slight over-reliance on repetition in the plot. I don’t know how convinced I felt by the main players as they were a wee bit cardboard cut-out, and some of the personal upheavals in Vine’s life were too well signposted, and a little predictable for this reader, but I think the strength of plotting, storytelling and location counterbalances these small hiccups. A good old fashioned spy thriller with a good contemporary feel. Recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

Emma Viskic- Resurrection Bay

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up tell-tale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.

When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

As an ardent fan of Pushkin Press‘ publishing output, and their bijou Vertigo collection of European crime in translation, I was more than a little curious to read the latest addition to the series. But what’s this? Not European, but Australian, and the Raven’s curiosity went into overdrive…Okay, so before I start generally gushing about Resurrection Bay, I will set my stall out early, and say that I would be very surprised if this one doesn’t feature prominently in my year end round-up. I thought it was accomplished, original and utterly riveting, so much so that I read it in pretty much one sitting, and indeed felt slightly bereft when I had finished it. I was totally immersed in the difficult and dangerous world of Caleb Zelic from the very beginning, and with its resonance of the sharp, snappy hard-boiled essence of American crime fiction, and the refreshingly original main protagonist of Zelic himself, there is much to enjoy here.

Having a profoundly deaf central protagonist, I imagine poses its own particular difficulties for an author, whilst keeping us focussed on the difficulties and subtle nuances of this disability, but by the same token not over-egging the narrative to reflect this. I think Viskic achieves this balance beautifully, as we come to appreciate the attendant difficulties of Zelic’s life coping with, and largely overcoming the problems associated with his deafness. This was a subtle and sensitive portrayal of this disability, emphasising his reliance on Auslan (sign language) and lip reading, and I particularly enjoyed the way that his perception of people was formed through their varying degrees of success of communicating with him through these methods. The problems that arise through other’s indistinct speech, or shouting at him like he was an idiot was nicely done, and also the mental stress he encounters through tiredness, or the malfunctioning of his aids. As an extension of this, Viskic focusses a great deal on the barriers of communication that exist, not only through Zelic’s deafness, but between other characters in different situations, and how this can lead to danger or emotional isolation. This adds a whole other level to the narrative, which although perfectly serviceable as a compelling thriller, is enriched further by these observations of human communication. Zelic is obviously at the forefront of the book, but there is equally strong characterisation of those around him, including his work partner, ex-detective Frankie Reynolds, and Zelic’s estranged wife Kat. Both women are strong, resilient and uniquely different, and it’s interesting how our perception of Zelic is affected by his particular relationship with each, and how each adds humour, danger or sheer emotional intensity to the plot. Kat provides another sense of depth to the tale with her Aboriginal roots, and the unquestioning acceptance, or blatant racism that her ancestry provokes is touched upon too, but again with a subtlety that doesn’t bash the reader around the head.

I thought the plot of Resurrection Bay was pacey and gripping, as Zelic sets out to investigate the murder of an old friend, and certain dark secrets come to light. There are sporadic bouts of violence and peril, cross and double-cross that keep the story moving nicely, punctuated by more tender and introspective scenes, with an exploration of addiction, love and loyalty. There’s also a good twist at the end, that this reader most definitely didn’t see coming, which is always satisfying, and to be honest I am on tenterhooks for the next instalment of what I hope will be a continuing series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

Abir Mukherjee- A Necessary Evil

India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah’s son.

The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a moderniser whose attitudes – and romantic relationship – may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother – now in line to the throne – appears to be a feckless playboy.

As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them…

Following the inclusion of Abir Mukherjee’s debut A Rising Man in my Top 5 of 2016, obviously I was as keen as mustard to read A Necessary Evil,  the next in the series. This time our indomitable duo of Englishman Captain Sam Wyndham, and his right hand man Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee of the Calcutta police are transported from their usual locale to the opulent kingdom of Sambalpore, following the assassination of its crowned prince. And be sure that there is more trickery afoot…

Instantly, I was drawn back into the lives of Wyndham and Banerjee, with their affectionate and mutually respectful relationship, and their sense of comradeship and camaraderie fully intact. Wyndham is still struggling with his own personal demons, and also still proving woefully inept in matters of the heart, which adds a lightness of touch to this particularly testing case. Banerjee also grows in stature throughout the book, becoming less of a foil for Wyndham’s character, and becoming much more equal in terms of their professional relationship. He also has some blistering moments of insight, along with the intuitive and studied air that he displays in the course of the investigation. I love the openness and amicability of their friendship, which makes you very comfortable as a reader, and how Mukherjee affords them equal importance, with Wyndham being the more emotionally scarred of the two, but Banerjee subtly adjusting to, and caring about Wyndham’s mental and physical health. I think as well that there is enough scope for both these characters to anchor a long and successful series. While in the realm of characterisation, I would also draw your attention to Mukherjee’s depiction of his female characters, which I think is incredibly good. I like the way that he mirrors men’s general mystification at the workings of the female mind, and his women are strong, independent, and always slightly at a remove of the understanding of his male characters throughout the book. Wyndham is once again bemused by the wonderfully strident and prismatic Annie Grant, and as the plot progresses we meet a parade of incredibly strong, sometimes scheming, women to thwart and confuse the investigation, and outwit our floundering male protagonists.

Once again, Mukherjee is pitch perfect in his representation of the period detail, during the uneasy era of the rule of the British in India. There is a sense of parity throughout where the author is equally stoical and objective of the good and bad that pervades both sides of society, and the interesting contrasts he draws between the human melting pot of poverty in Calcutta, and the ostentatious wealth of Sambalpore, accrued from diamond mining. The sumptuous lavishness of the Maharajah’s palace, and its surrounds, is meticulously brought to life, immersing the reader in opulence, grandeur and the daily routines and traditions of palace life. There are tiger hunts, fancy cars, eunuchs, myriad wives and concubines, but perhaps most importantly for our enjoyment as crime readers, jealousies, plots and murder in abundance. I also like the way that Mukherjee includes little factual vignettes throughout his books, that obviously in the course of his research had piqued his curiosity like ‘death by elephant’…who knew?

So to sum up, Abir Mukherjee has returned in some style, and I thoroughly enjoyed the further adventures of Wyndham and Banerjee in A Necessary Evil. Colourful, dangerous, exciting, and enjoyably educational, this is, once again, a highly recommended read. Add it to your wish list!

(With thanks to Harvill Secker for the ARC)

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