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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

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November 2017

Blog Tour- Iain Maitland- Sweet William

JUST ONE CHANCE

NOW OR NEVER …

Sweet William is a breathtakingly dark thriller that spans forty-eight hours in the life of a desperate father and a three-year-old child in peril, who needs insulin to stay alive. It tells a story of mental illness, a foster family under pressure, and an angry father separated from his adored little boy…

Rarely will you encounter a book that puts its reader through such an emotional wringer so consistently and unrelentingly, as Sweet William does. From its opening depiction of a convicted murderer, Raymond Orrey, escaping from a supposedly secure mental unit, in a quest to locate his estranged little boy, Maitland’s rat-a-tat prose, and breathless and highly unreliable first person narration from Orrey, leads you on a dark journey in the company of a deeply disturbed individual. As Orrey traverses the country in order to track down his son, violence is never far away, despite Orrey’s own cool, calm and disarming justification of the actions he takes on route…

With a background in journalism, and particularly in the reporting of mental health issues, there is no better writer to immerse us in the dark workings of Orrey’s conscience and psyche. Maitland never fails to convey to the reader what seems to us the shambolic and irrational thought processes of Orrey, but by the same token depicting Orrey’s moments of clarity and clear thinking so resonant of mental disturbance. I found the thinking and over-thinking of Orrey punctuated by extremely disturbing flashes of violence, extremely compelling, as he takes stock of each obstacle in his way, and how to deal with them. It’s interesting how Maitland consistently imbues Orrey with moments of total lucidity in terms of how people behave in certain situations, but how his darker reasoning precludes him from keeping to this path, with the holy grail of being reunited with his son leading him on. Orrey’s stream of consciousness is at times exhausting to read with its taut structure, and unrelenting pace, but perfectly fits the chaotic state of his mind. I was captivated by the utter bleakness of Orrey’s existence, whilst recognising the dangerous impulses that define him as a man and a father.

Although, there is a parallel story playing out regarding William’s foster parents, and their struggles with his medical condition, overall I was far less engaged with this, although it was necessary to place Orrey’s former deeds in context. The depiction of a family in crisis with conflicting voices and ideas as to the raising of William was neatly portrayed, and the simmering tension between the protagonists was palpable throughout. However, as events played out, it was Orrey’s moments of crisis, self doubt or overt bullishness, that held my attention, right up until the extremely ambiguous ending, which teases the reader into filling in their own finale. Although not in subject matter but in tone and feel, the book reminded me very much of Jon McGregor’s brilliant novel Even The Dogs, where gaps in the narrative allow the reader in, to second guess the protagonist, something that Maitland achieves here too with some aplomb. An emotive and exhausting reading experience, but utterly worth it. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

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Getting That Blogging Groove Back (1)…

It’s been a while, but now the time has come to get back into the blogging groove! Bearing in mind that due to the shadow of recent upheavals, I didn’t actually read a single book for four weeks, I have made up for it since. Now safe and secure in my new abode- no, I haven’t unpacked all my books yet- I have recouped some of my reading time with a longer commute, and with rooms that actually have proper lighting and heating…long story…Still battling the stress a bit, and recovering from seemingly endless colds, but hopefully fighting fit again soon. Thanks for the lovely messages, and the complete understanding of some publishers for my missing of blog tours, complete ineptitude etc…

In order to make up some ground in terms of reviewing, the next few posts are going to be a snapshot of books read over the course of the last couple of months, so then things will be back on track. Have certainly inflated my to-be-read pile through my fellow bloggers’ reviews of late, and it’s good to be back among you! 

61RX1hDwquL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_In the spirit of Non-Fiction November, I’ll start with The Mile End Murder by Sinclair Mackay, billed as the case that Conan Doyle couldn’t solve. Detailing the events surrounding the brutal murder of a particularly dislikeable wealthy widow, Mackay reveals the true murderer towards the close of the book, exposing the miscarriage of justice, and the fact of an innocent man having gone to the gallows. Admittedly, Mackay goes proper Ripper Street in terms of his evocation of place, and the grinding poverty of this particular borough of London in the 1860’s, and paints a lively portrait of the period. However, maybe jaded by such wide reading on this particular period it did feel a little cardboard cut-out, and didn’t really bring anything new to this burgeoning sub-genre of British history. It also felt a little repetitive in places, and consequently when Mackay unveiled the true killer I felt more a sense of relief than excited anticipation. Having been bored witless by The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, maybe this was inevitable…

Far more engrossing was Piu Eatwell‘s exceptional Black Dahlia, Red Rose, revisiting the events of the infamous 1946 murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Having long been fascinated by this case, in no small part thanks to James Ellroy’s fictional construction of the same event, Eatwell has produced a perfect combination of reportage, research, and readability. The level of research undertaken by Eatwell is astounding, and her re-creation and analysis of not only the infamous case, but the precise capturing of the era and American society is utterly fascinating. Eatwell pivots the text between contrasting periods, to encompass cultural and historical detail, providing a panopticon vision of American life. Eatwell subtly captures the descent of Short into the mad, bad world of Hollywood with her dreams and aspirations shattered, like so many budding starlets of the era, and then unveils the true identity of the Black Dahlia killer.

I was convinced.

I was also totally gripped by this sublime slice of true crime, with its intriguing asides, titillating footnotes, and the transportation back to this fascinating era of American history. Highly recommended.

Next up American Radical by Tamer Elnoury, with Kevin Maurer, an account of Elnoury’s life as an undercover Muslim FBI agent. In the global war against terrorism and religious extremism, Elnoury provides a remarkable account of his career to date, referencing several operations where he has infiltrated terrorist cells and exposes, as far as possible as still an active agent, some of the techniques the FBI employs to achieve this. There is a beautiful balance in the book between Elnoury’s dispassionate and erudite portrayal of the workings of Islamic extremism, and the level of threat they present, set against his own beliefs as a devout Muslim, which cleverly juxtaposes both the beauty, and manipulation of, the central tenets of Islam. There is an energy and tension to the book throughout, which reads with the pace of a thriller, but underscored by the unsettling truth of the murderous world that Elnoury presents. I was fascinated and fearful in equal measure throughout, and disquieted by certain revelations regarding the world of Islamic extremism. A brave account, and an essential read in these uncertain times. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Aurum Books and Hachette respectively for The Mile End Murder, and Black Dahlia, Red Rose. I bought a copy of American Radical published by Penguin RandomHouse)

 

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