A Raven Round Up- Robbie Morrison- Edge Of The Grave, Ajay Chowdhury- The Waiter, Ragnar Jonasson- The Girl Who Died, Sara Gran- Come Closer, Natalia Ginzburg- The Dry Heart.

Realising that once again I am woefully behind with my reviews, let’s have a wee bit of a round up shall we, of a very satisfying past few weeks of reading. I have had quite a hectic few weeks at work, and am dabbling in an UEA creative writing course too, but I fear my poor tutor, the lovely and exceedingly patient, Femi Kayode is going through virtual red pens at a rate of knots! It’s fair to say that I’m finding the experience quite challenging but enjoyable! I think..

Anyway, lets get started and tick off a few from the teetering review pile.

There’s some treats in store!

Glasgow, 1932. When the son-in-law of one of the city’s wealthiest shipbuilders is found floating in the River Clyde with his throat cut, it falls to Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn to lead the murder case – despite sharing a troubled history with the victim’s widow, Isla Lockhart. From the flying fists and flashing blades of Glasgow’s gangland underworld, to the backstabbing upper echelons of government and big business, Dreghorn and his partner ‘Bonnie’ Archie McDaid will have to dig deep into Glasgow society to find out who wanted the man dead and why. All the while, a sadistic murderer stalks the post-war city leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. As the case deepens, will Dreghorn find the killer – or lose his own life in the process?

I have sat down a few times trying to write any kind of coherent review of Edge Of The Grave, and have failed miserably, so lets go for the short and sweet. First, this is an absolute shoo-in for my Top Ten of the Year, as I was completely blown away by not only the way that Morrison so assuredly immerses us in this turbulent era of Glasgow’s history, but  also the affecting blend of raw masculine emotion and violence, with moments of extreme poignancy that permeate the book. Several times I re-read certain passages, as Morrison’s use of  beautifully expressive language and images is captivating, working perfectly in tandem with the rough hewn speech of some of his characters, and moments of extreme and bloody violence.

The central partnership of police officers Jimmy Dreghorn and Archie McDaid works perfectly within the structure of the plot, and adds empathy and ribald humour to the book, particularly as we begin to discover more about Dreghorn’s dark past, but also how his professional and personal relationship with McDaid begins to soften some of his rough edges, and opens him up to a growing sense of trust trust and friendship. I think the plotting was masterful, and although running to a longer page count than most crime fiction, for me there was not a superfluous word or expression. Absolutely one of the best books I have read this year, packed with history, atmosphere, drama and sterling characterisation, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

Robbie Morrison is the author of the Detective Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn crime thrillers, set in 1930’s Glasgow and published by Pan Macmillan. He was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, and grew up in the Renton, Coatbridge, Linwood and Houston. On both sides, his family connection to shipbuilding in Glasgow and along the River Clyde stretches back for four generations and is a source of inspiration for the Dreghorn series. He sold his first script to publishers DC Thomson in Dundee at age 23. One of the most respected writers in the UK comics industry, Edge Of The Grave is his first novel and you can follow on Twitter @robbiegmorrison.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC) 

Ex-detective Kamil Rahman moves from Kolkata to London to start afresh as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. But the day he caters an extravagant party for his boss’s rich and powerful friend, the peace of his simple new life is shattered. The event is a success, the food is delicious, but later that evening the host, Rakesh, is found dead in his swimming pool. Suspicion falls on Rakesh’s young and glamorous new wife, Neha, and Kamil is called to investigate for the family, with the help of his boss’s daughter Anjoli. Kamil and Anjoli prove a winning team – but as the investigation progresses, and their relationship grows, Kamil struggles to keep memories of the case that destroyed his career in Kolkata at bay. Little does he know that his past will soon catch up with him in some very unexpected ways…

All I can say is, what a debut The Waiter is! I genuinely loved this book from start to finish, from the introduction of a stand out character in Kamil Rahman. and the way that the story explores the weighty themes of family loyalty, jealousy and betrayal, as well as being an intriguing and different murder mystery. Rahman undergoes somewhat of a sea change by relocating to the UK after his previous career as a detective in Kolkata, and what Rahman captures so wonderfully well is not only this exceptional change in his personal circumstances, but how it now shapes him as a man reliant on the kindness of the others, a kindness that he is more than happy to repay by investigating the murder of someone in their circle. To all intents and purposes, Rahman is a man driven by his own sense of morality, and I particularly enjoyed the way that this morality got a little more fluid as the plot progressed. Egged on by his vivacious sidekick, Anjoli, who is a total force of nature, Rahman starts to play a little bit dirty to flush out a killer, and things get very interesting, very quickly.

I really liked the way that Chowdhury so beautifully captures the buzz and hum of the  Brick Lane area, and its colourful history, but also the energy and vivacity of Kolkata, a society of defined by its extremes in wealth and opportunity, as Rahman finds himself returning home and revisiting past events. An incredibly solid debut, which bodes well as a start of a series I hope, and perfect for fans of  the equally brilliant A. A. Dhand and Khurrum Rahman. Recommended.

 

Ajay Chowdhury is the winner of the inaugural Harvill Secker-Bloody Scotland crime writing award. He is a tech entrepreneur and theatre director who lived the first third of his life in India and then moved to London, where he cooks experimental meals for his wife and daughters. His first children’s book, Ayesha and the Firefish, was published in 2016 and The Waiter is his debut crime thriller. Follow on Twitter @ajaychow

(With thanks to Harvill Secker for the ARC) 

After her father’s tragic suicide, Una is desperate to get away from Reykjavik. So when an advert appears for a teaching position in a remote, northern Icelandic village, she seizes her chance. But with unfriendly residents, bleak weather and a population of just ten, it is far from what Una knows. And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead.
Now there are only nine villagers left. And Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

I must confess that overall I was a little disappointed with this new standalone, The Girl Who Died, from one of my favourite authors, Ragnar Jonasson, having been a stalwart reader of both his previous series. There is no question that Jonasson excels at capturing the raw and isolated location of Skálar, at the northern most tip of Iceland, and his vivid description, and depiction of this truly inhospitable outpost is compelling throughout. Indeed, this added so much to the atmosphere and the feel of the book, that it became the driving force in my continuing to read the book. But, and here’s the rub, and as much as it pains me to say it, I did find the central storyline quite humdrum, and the characterisation of both the main character Una, and some of the surrounding characters, a little weak overall. I found myself caring less and less about Una’s plight, the frankly ridiculous haunting of her new abode, and the general ‘Wicker Man meets ‘Hot Fuzz’ characteristics of the shady occupants of the village. I appreciate that once again Jonasson was aiming for a locked room mystery with a condensed number of characters but it didn’t quite work for me. All the stars for location and atmosphere, but less stars for the book as a whole.

 

Ragnar Jónasson is an international number one bestselling author who has sold over two million books in thirty-two countries worldwide. He was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he also works as an investment banker and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. His critically acclaimed international bestseller The Darkness is soon to be a major TV series. Follow on Twitter @ragnarjo

(I bought this copy to review) 

There was no reason to assume anything out of the ordinary was going on.
Strange noises in the apartment.
Impulsive behaviour.
Intense dreams.
It wasn’t like everything went wrong all at once.
Shoplifting.
Fighting.
Blackouts.
There must be a reasonable explanation for all this.

When I posted on Twitter that I was going to read Come Closer, there was an avalanche of praise from other established crime authors as to the brilliance of this slim and punchy novella. Now re-issued by Faber, this eye catching little book, opens into a searing tale of psychological disturbance and the unravelling of one woman’s mind as life around her takes on a haunting and sinister hue. With shades of the darkest Shirley Jackson and the psychological intensity of Patricia Highsmith, cut through with a macabre humour, I raced through this one.  The theme of possession and looming insanity reveals itself in this beautifully paced, and gradually unfolding horrific little tale, and I, for one could not put this down. As much as I want to reveal all about this one, it would totally spoil any reader discovering this gem for the first time. Instead, I shall simply say that you should seek this one out, settle yourself down for a couple of hours, and embrace the darkness. Highly recommended.

 

Sara Gran is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Come Closer and Dope. She also writes for film and TV (including TNT’s ‘Southland’) and has published in The New York Times, The New Orleans Times Picayune, and USA Today.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC) 

Four years before she shoots her husband and walks to a café for a coffee, a lonely young woman living in a boarding house meets an older man called Alberto. They go for long walks along the river and on the outskirts of the city; they look like lovers, although they’re not. Alberto doesn’t tell her anything about himself and she asks few questions. Still, with little else to distract her, she lets her imagination run wild and convinces herself to fall in love. Though he doesn’t feel the same, Alberto asks her to marry him and they have a baby. But Alberto is a man who tires quickly of everything.

The Dry Heart is a  beautiful little novella from the prolific Natalia Ginzburg, whose books are currently enjoying a little renaissance in the world of publishing. It is unerringly miserable ’tis true, focusing on a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage, but undoubtedly has one of the finest openers on a first page I have ever read:

“TELL ME THE TRUTH,” I said. 

“What truth? he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long, long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.

I shot him between the eyes. 

Good eh? As the story progresses we see a story unfold of unfulfilled life and love through a few characters, and a journey of self-destruction and jealousy that ends up with a violent reckoning. As unrelentingly depressing as this was, I couldn’t help but admire the way that Ginzburg so effectively exposes her characters flaws and fears, within such a compressed page count, and where no word is wasted. A masterclass in novella writing, and a grim but hugely satisfying read.

 

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1991) was born in Palermo, Sicily. She wrote dozens of books including the essay collection The Little Virtues, and the novels Happiness, as Such, Voices in the Evening and the Strega Prize-winning Family Lexicon, all published by Daunt Books. She was involved in political activism throughout her life and served in the Italian parliament from 1983 to 1987.

(I bought this copy to review) 

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8 comments

  1. I’ve added The Dry Heart and Edge of the Grave to my wishlist, thanks Raven! I read Come Closer years ago when I found it in the sales and it was love at first sight with the cover 😂 I really want to re-read it now.

  2. I’m not a big reader of crime fiction – I find so many of them are too familiar in their plots and characterisation. But The Waiter seems to be a little different so I’ll be making a note of this for future reference.

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