Mikael Niemi- To Cook A Bear-(tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner) “An utterly fascinating and uniquely different crime novel @maclehosepress

It is 1852, and in Sweden’s far north, deep in the Arctic Circle, charismatic preacher and Revivalist Lars Levi Læstadius impassions a poverty-stricken congregation with visions of salvation. But local leaders have reason to resist a shift to temperance over alcohol. Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God. When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them…

Delighted to be joining the blog blast to celebrate the release of To Cook A Bear by Mikael Niemi, an utterly fascinating and uniquely different crime novel. Using the real life figure, the Revivalist preacher, Lars Levi Læstadius as the central character, adds an authenticity and deeper level of interest to the book, and being unfamiliar with this highly intelligent, progressive and insightful man, there is a real frisson of Niemi linking the past with the present here. To try and encapsulate in a review the many themes of the philosophical, spiritual and metaphysical, and the razor sharp historical detail that Niemi so confidently and brilliantly entwines in this book won’t be easy, as this is a novel quite unlike any other that I have encountered of late.

On a very basic level, this book is a murder mystery with a small community filled with fear and suspicion as a murderer walks amongst them, preying on defenceless young women in a series of attacks driven by violent rage.  As such, even with such a seemingly simple premise, Niemi constructs a chilling and compelling mystery, as the suspicion amongst the local people is attributed by turn to a possible bear attack, to a wandering miscreant, and then far more dangerously into the perpetrator being from the community itself. Reading this from a contemporary viewpoint, I was struck by how little the human race has moved on in terms of accepting peoples’ differences, as the community quickly turns on Jussi, the young Sami boy that Læstadius has taken into his tutelage. This fear of the unknown and the different runs like a vein throughout the book, as even Læstadius himself, with his Revivalist preaching and fervent followers puts him at odds with the men of influence in the town, who value wealth and gaiety over religion and abstinence. Consequently, there are many trials and pitfalls for Læstadius and Jussi, who intent on identifying the perpetrator find themselves in an increasingly perilous position.

What I was increasingly struck by was the progressiveness and intuitive thinking of Læstadius, harnessing clues and applying practical chains of thought to the residual evidence of each crime. Obviously, forensic science was very much in its infancy in this period, but Læstadius neatly assesses and applies increasingly modern methods to his dissemination of the physical evidence he uncovers, based on common sense and lateral thinking. Hence, we see the rudimentary application of the crime scene analysis, we as modern readers are familiar with in its purest form, as Læstadius inches forward with his knowledge and supposition on how to gather clues, analyse them, and catch a killer. From fingerprints to daguerreotypes, from simple pencil shavings to indentations in the landscape, Læstadius draws on his knowledge of psychology, botany, literature and branches of science and pseudo science to close in on the perpetrator.

I think it serves as a testament to the quality of Niemi’s writing and his erudite turn of phrase, and by turn the sublime translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner, that I revisited several passages throughout my reading of the book. His rendering of this harsh, but beautiful landscape, the sheer drudgery and hardship of these people’s lives, the physicality of his characters, and the more metaphysical musings of Læstadius himself on art, literature and education, held me in their thrall. On the subject of the community he is a part of, I was struck by their deep connection to the land and the way that their lives have this naturalistic interconnectedness, perhaps stronger than faith and education itself. “ You might easily form the impression that the farm-maid or the reindeer herder lacked the disposition for academic study. But even though they didn’t read books, they knew the changes in the movement of the animals at every moment in the year. They knew hundreds of reindeer marks by heart, and manged to find old pasture grounds, berry patches and fishing lakes from the high mountains to the coastline…In many matters, local people had a deeper understanding than all of Uppsala’s professors.” As much as Læstadius recognises that these people and particularly their children have the potential for a profession, education and improvement, he never loses sight of this more basic characteristic of his flock that connects them to the soil. Likewise, with his apprentice Jussi, he recognises and respects Jussi’s physical need to wander and be amongst nature, but aims to educate him as fully as possible, and their relationship seems to transcend a simple one of teacher and pupil or even adoptive father and son.

To Cook A Bear proved to be an incredibly enjoyable reading experience for me, and as someone who has an innate curiosity of the world and our place within it, I found it tremendously satisfying. Not only did it read as a compelling tale of jealousy and murder, with its nods to early forensic techniques, but it expanded out to envelop a host of larger themes based on religion, morality, art and at its heart an enduring interconnectedness with the landscape and the changing of the seasons. Mikael Niemi has produced a completely fascinating, intelligent, and beautifully written book. Highly recommended.

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Lars Levi Laestadius was born in 1800 in the municipality of Jäkkvik in Swedish Lapland and died in 1861 in Pajala on the Swedish side of the border with Finland, which was a Russian Grand Duchy during the nineteenth century. Laestadius was educated as a theologian and worked as a vicar in different municipalities in Swedish Lapland. He also contributed to scientific fields such as botany and ethnography, as well as linguistics and philosophy, and participated in the French La Recherche scientific expedition to Finnmark and Spitsbergen in 1838. He is best remembered as a revival preacher and the revival movement “Laestadianism” has become a central influence in the cultural heritage of Northern Norway, as well as Northern Sweden and Finland.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

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***GIVEAWAY*** Michael J. Malone- A Song Of Isolation @orendabooks #BlogTour



***GIVEAWAY***

Delighted that my stop on The Song Of Isolation blog tour gives you the chance to win a digital copy of this compelling new psychological thriller from the excellent Michael J. Malone. Here’s a wee taster of what the book is about, and see below on how to enter…

Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went? Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press witch hunt quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country. While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim at the centre of the story, is isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world…

I can tell that you’re mightily intrigued, so to be in with a chance of winning a digital copy of

The Song Of Isolation courtesy of Orenda Books here’s what you need to do:

Simply pop your name and email into the contact form below (your details will remain private)

OR

you can tweet me @ravencrime on Twitter using the hashtag #Isolation to be in with a chance to win.

The closing date is midnight Friday 25th September and then the lucky winner will be revealed…

As easy as that! Good luck!

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Michael J. Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines, After He Died and In the Absence of Miracles soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.

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#BlogTour- Max Seeck- The Witch Hunter “An intensely malevolent tale that effectively merges the criminal and the supernatural.” @MaxSeeck @WelbeckPublish @ed_pr

Detective Jessica Niemi is called to investigate a murder case which is completely out of the ordinary. The wife of a famous writer, Roger Koponen, appears to have been killed in a bizarre ritual. As more ritual murders occur in the coming days, it becomes obvious that Jessica is after a serial killer. But the murders are not random – they follow a pattern taken from Roger’s bestselling trilogy. Has a devoted fan lost their mind, or is this case more personal?

Welcome to the first stop on the blog tour for The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck, an intensely malevolent tale set in Finland, that effectively merges the criminal and the supernatural into a delightfully creepy thriller…

With Seeck’s background in screenwriting it is little wonder that he has produced one of the most visual thrillers that I have read for some time. From the opening scene with a woman pacing the housing equivalent of a goldfish bowl with the dark night surrounding her, you know from the outset that something evil is set to do some serious mischief, and this motif of darkness and the supernatural carries through the book with a creeping sense of unease on the part of the reader. As the book also carries the theme of life mirroring art, as the crimes perpetrated seem to be replicating the fictional crimes of a renowned crime author’s work, the murders are particularly gruesome, and have their base in historical methods of punishments. With Seeck’s finesse in depicting these murders in technicolour detail with the pace and visuality of cinema, I felt for most of the book that I was immersed in a cracking good horror film, and was flinching on more than one occasion. I really enjoyed the to and fro of the detectives trying to link the crimes with their fictional counterparts, identifying potential victims, and the little diversions throughout of the interactions between the suspects. There are a whole host of bizarre ritualistic killings linked to the folkloric methods of despatching witches which are both fascinating and terrifying. A clever and slick premise that works superbly throughout, with more than one murderous surprise in store along the way…

The central police protagonist detective Jessica Niemi charts an interesting course during the book, being both investigator and suspect at various points in the story. She is cleverly used as a filter for the more malevolent aspects of the murders, and under increasing pressure to disassociate herself from the otherworldly forces at work, that increasingly use her as a conduit. At times she seems to channel both open eyed belief and then a scorching cynicism as these strange events unfold. leading to some deep self-questioning on her behalf.  I really liked her professional relationship with her superior officer Chief Inspector Erne Mickson, himself a stand-out character with an interesting part to play in the book. There is an almost paternal concern that he shows for her, tempered by his respect for her as a superb, if slightly renegade, investigator, and their working relationship goes through a good amount of doubt and recrimination.

Slightly disconcertingly there is a parallel storyline in the book, which alternates in and out of the main investigation, recounting an ill-fated sojourn by Jessica in Venice some time previously. This sees her get involved with a troubled and increasingly coercive man, and although for fear of spoilers I cannot reveal how this plays out, Venice proves to be a time of intense emotional experience for Jessica. Admittedly, this particular arc of the story does go some way to defining Jessica, giving us an insight to how she has evolved into the woman and detective she is, but I did find it a bit distracting, and found myself at times, itching to get back to the main plot of murder and mayhem.

Overall I enjoyed The Witch Hunter, particularly the most supernatural and ritualistic elements of the book and the blending of fiction with reality as the killer’s motivation for some particularly grisly and heinous murders. The core investigation of the book and those that undertake unfolds at a steady and satisfying pace with all the panache and recognisable elements of the Nordic noir genre. I will be interested to see where Seeck takes Jessica Niemi next, in what is a solid start for a potential series too. Recommended.

(With thanks to Welbeck Publishing for the ARC)

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#BlogTour Parker Bilal- The Heights “Packed with tension, this was an immersive and compelling read.” @Parker_Bilal @blackthornbks

What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat…

I read the first of this scorching new series, The Divinities, some time ago and at the close of the review said how much I was anticipating the next book in the series. Well, Parker Bilal has come up trumps again, and just as the first book made it in to my Top Ten of the Year, The Heights may achieve a similar status…

With the two main characters, ex-detective Cal Drake and forensic pathologist/psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, having now embarked on a closer working relationship in private investigation, Bilal takes this series in an interesting new direction. Drake is as screwed up personally and emotionally as before, with the events of the first book gaining even greater prominence here. Rest assured, the author constructs the story so the reader is fully aware of the previous events, if you missed the previous book. Drake is an interesting character, living life to his own slightly skewed moral compass, and haunted by his previous career in both the military and as an undercover police officer. He is brusque and understandably mistrustful of people generally, but this odd pairing works extremely well, and the small chinks of decency and morality that he seeks to veil do appear from time to time, as he works more closely with the vibrant and outgoing Crane. Not that Crane doesn’t have her own demons, emanating from her very unusual family background, which features heavily in this book, and her own single minded determination, that makes her both forthright and brave. The dynamics of their working relationship propel the plot along at a good pace, and with the differing strands of their investigations, and personal tumult, Bilal does an excellent job of juggling the various tensions that these tangential cases places upon them.

What struck me most with the first book, and to an even greater extent with this one, is the superb characterisation of London itself and how Bilal depicts the essential energy and feel of this teeming metropolis. Having so perfectly captured the chasm between rich and poor in The Divinities, some of this book sees Drake moving about the homeless community in pursuit of an individual crucial to their enquiries. These scenes are written with a real attention to the plight of this community, highlighting how easy it is to fall between the cracks, and what kind of existence this leads to. Likewise, with the story spiralling back to the nefarious deeds of an international crime network involved in drug and people trafficking, and drawing on the particular backgrounds of Drake and Crane themselves, there is a strong multi-cultural feel to the book too. In the scenes relating to Drake’s previous undercover case with the police, Bilal brings a strong thread of realism to the story of his involvement with a witness, Zelda, and her subsequent death, as she sought a better life in Britain only for it to go so desperately awry. I felt a huge amount of sympathy both for her, and for the complex moral dilemma this put Drake through, torn between his duty as a police officer, but also his indebtedness to and dangerous coercion of her to speak out.

Although The Heights makes for, at times, bleak and uncomfortable reading, I was utterly mesmerised by it throughout. Bilal maintains a real energy and pace to the book, and with the story comprising of a number of different strands, there is certainly no opportunity for the reader’s attention to wander. I liked the way that these strands wove in and out with each other, keeping a real control to the narrative arc, and making some interesting connections along the way, and even more excitingly some unresolved issues that may bode well for a further addition to the series. The characters of Drake and Crane themselves, serve as an effective anchor to the book, and through their differences in personality, but an uncanny knack to actually work rather well together, all in all Bilal has hit on a winning combination I feel. Packed with tension and with an adroit rendition of London itself, highlighting the gap between rich and poor, the exploited and the exploiters, this was an immersive and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black Thorn Press for the ARC)

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Raven’s August Round Up and Books of the Month…

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but having returned to work post-furlough, at the start of August, and my reading and reviewing time now depleted again, this may become a regular feature once more! Mainly, this will be to capture all the books I have read during the month, even if I haven’t had the time to review them, so there will still be lots for you to discover, I hope, so you can beat a path to your local bookshop’s door, either virtually or physically. September heralds the start of a pretty intense publishing period so there will be many books vying for our attention. I, for one, cannot wait!!

So I’ve managed to review just the five books this month:  

Chris Carter- Written In Blood

Will Carver- Hinton Hollow Death Trip

Steve Cavanagh- Fifty Fifty

J. J. Connolly- Layer Cake

Lin Anderson- The Innocent Dead

Almost certainly one of these books will be making an appearance in my Top Ten of the Year, and it was lovely revisiting Layer Cake on the 20th anniversary of its original publication. 

Although I have picked up and put down more than a few overly hyped duffers this month, I have supplemented my crime reading with both fiction and non-fiction this month, which has made a nice change. Was absolutely blown away by Doug Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, really enjoyed Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and communing with nature with Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights.

However, I absolutely cannot let this round up go by without drawing your attention to quite possibly the two best books I have read this year. I don’t know about other bloggers but sometimes I love a book so much that I feel I cannot do it justice in one of my meandering, waffling reviews, so I’m going to keep it simple (see below) and say that if I do not read another book this year, the memory of these two will hold me in good stead for some time. Yes folks, they are that good…

Have a good month and keep safe, keep sane everybody!

Blacktop Wasteland: the searing crime thriller Lee Child calls 'sensationally good' Kindle EditionBeauregard “Bug” Montage: honest mechanic, loving husband, devoted parent. He’s no longer the criminal he once was – the sharpest wheelman on the east coast, infamous from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida. But when his respectable life begins to crumble, a shady associate comes calling with a clean, one-time job: a diamond heist promising a get-rich pay out. Inexorably drawn to the driver’s seat – and haunted by the ghost of his outlaw father – Bug is yanked back into a savage world of bullets and betrayal, which soon endangers all he holds dear…

Blacktop Wasteland completely embodies for me what I adore about the cream of American crime fiction- sharp, sassy and superbly written. Think Mosley melded with Winslow by way of Cain. Set in rural Virginia, and echoing the cadence, rhythm and colloquialisms of the speech throughout, this book is at once incredibly high octane and gripping, but underscored by moments of supreme emotion and pathos. Not only is Bug one of the most mesmerising and textured protagonists that I have encountered for some time, but he encapsulates a mass of contradictions as he navigates the thin line between legality and criminality. As he periodically looks back to his former years with his estranged father, and how he himself now wears the mantle of husband, father and son (his elderly mom is an absolute gem of a character too) Bug is revealed to be a complex man with his own brand of morality, but fundamentally decent at heart. Sometimes good men need to do bad things to protect what they love most. This mental struggle that Bug grapples with is tinged with a razor sharp poignancy, and completely immerses the reader in his troubles, and his increasingly pressurised decisions on what to do next.

The action sequences related to the heists are absolutely pounding and filled with an intensity rarely seen outside a visual portrayal of these events, and I applaud Cosby for getting across through words alone the speed and heart-stopping danger of these fast and furious action scenes. Heart -pounding and heart-wrenching this book totally deserves the huge amount of praise thrust upon it so far. S. A. Cosby, on the strength of this book, and his previous work which I have also gobbled up, is destined to be a standout name in American crime fiction for some time to come, and amen to that.

A damn perfect read, and very highly recommended.

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Three-Fifths: 'So incredibly suspenseful' Attica Locke
Pittsburgh, 1995. Twenty-two-year-old Bobby Saraceno is a biracial man, passing for white. Bobby has hidden his identity from everyone, even his best friend and fellow comic-book geek, Aaron, who just returned from prison a newly radicalized white supremacist. During the night of their reunion, Bobby witnesses Aaron mercilessly assault a young black man with a brick. In the wake of this horrifying act of violence, Bobby must conceal his unwitting involvement in the crime from the police, as well as battle his own personal demons…

Although not published in the UK until October, I wanted to draw your collective attention to Three Fifths as soon as possible. This seemingly simple synopsis disguises a work of such intensity and emotion that it will rattle around your mind, and intrude on your thoughts for days after reading it. Despite a relatively slim page count, this book embraces such big powerful themes, that it’s pared down style intensifies to the absolute max. The reader is taken on a poignant and disturbing ride through the ills of urban America and the racial tension that has always blighted America and led to continuing division and disparity.

As two young men try to recover their close ties of friendship, after separation, Vercher depicts their individual frustrations and growing antipathy with a clear and unflinching honesty, that will move and shock in equal measure. There are stark revelations for both, with Bobby trying to keep a solid home for himself and his alcoholic mother, and then being confronted by a blast from the past which turns his world upside down. The shocking details of Aaron’s incarceration, his indoctrination in white supremacy and the simmering violence within him that spills over on his release, is so deftly portrayed that the reader is torn between distaste, and yet an innate sympathy for him. I was genuinely breathless and deeply moved at the end of this one with its bleak denouement, but an utterly necessary one. Few books move me to tears, but there was a definite’ oh there’s something in my eye’ moment at the close of this. Three Fifths is astonishing, important, hugely poignant and very highly recommended.

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#BlogTour- Lin Anderson- The Innocent Dead “The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing sight of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed.”

Mary McIntyre’s disappearance tore the local community apart, inflicting wounds that still prove raw for those who knew her. So when the present-day discovery of a child’s remains are found in a peat bog south of Glasgow, it seems the decades-old mystery may finally be solved. Called in to excavate the body, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod uses the advances made in forensic science since Mary’s vanishing to determine what really happened all those years ago and who was responsible. One key person had been Karen Marshall who was devastated by her best friend’s abduction. Questioned by the police at the time had led to a dead end and the case soon went cold. Now the news of the discovered body brings the nightmares back. But added to that, memories long-buried by Karen are returning, memories that begin to reveal her role in her friend’s disappearance and perhaps even the identity of the killer…

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour for The Innocent Dead by Lin Anderson, the latest addition to the Rhona MacLeod series. It has seemed an age since I last read a book in this series, so it was good to catch up with MacLeod and her cohorts once more…

The absolute lynchpin of this series to date is the character of the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod herself, who has carved an extremely successful and varied career in her chosen field. With the continuing reverberations of her last case, neatly detailed within this book by Anderson, she seems to be back on track and back in control, when this testing case of a crime committed forth five years previously, lands at her door. MacLeod sets about it with her usual professionalism and flair for weeding out those tricky inconsistencies in the evidence, working closely with her police colleagues to reveal the intricacies of these nefarious crime and to zone in on the perpetrator. What I like most about MacLeod is that, her professional career aside, is her refusal to conform to the norm. She has a sense of fun, that had been eroded somewhat by her previous case, but now seems to be back with style, and her personal life is conducted very much on her terms, with no fixed relationships. With her estranged son firmly back in life, and his arse of a father still treated by her with the strongest contempt, this provides an interesting view into what makes her tick, and how she has overcome personal adversity in her life.

DS Michael McNab provides a good counterbalance to MacLeod, their previous personal entanglement aside, being on the surface a bit of an un-reconstructed man, with his love of bikes and a roving eye. However, Anderson really scratches beneath the surface, and we begin to see a more insecure and sensitive side to his character, that you would be forgiven for thinking didn’t exist at all. Still reeling and resentful from his demotion due to the last case  that he and MacLeod worked on, he has a lot to prove if he can get past this resentment and apply himself. His character heralds some nice touches of humour within the book, and with MacLeod’s lab assistant Chrissy McInsh being an absolute hoot, this further lightens the dark investigation they are all involved with.

Although the book could be tagged as a linear police procedural, Anderson’s attention to, and research of, the forensic detail really adds some meat to the bones of the plot. Dealing with an historic murder and a difficult kill site, it is fascinating how modern methods of forensic science so effectively uncover details and evidence from the past. I loved the passages detailing the forensic procedures, the drawing on the work of other branches of forensic and psychological detection, and how with good solid police investigation a community begins to unlock its secrets, and confronts the sins of the past, where previously silence and denial were the rule of thumb.

As I said previously, it’s been a while since I read this series, but The Innocent Dead has certainly ignited my interest  to backtrack to the previous few books. There were a few developments that have happened, that I had missed along the way, and I’m now curious about. The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing site of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed. Recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

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20th Anniversary #BlogTour- J.J. Connolly- Layer Cake @vivajjconnolly “Layer Cake remains a classic of London crime, and a lucid and compelling tale of the criminal underworld.” @Duckbooks

Layer Cake, a metaphor for the many murky layers of the criminal world, is set in modern day London and features smooth-talking drug dealer X who has a plan to quietly bankroll enough cash to retire before his thirtieth birthday. Operating under the polished veneer of a legitimate businessman, his mantra is to keep a low profile and run a tight operation until it’s time to get out .

When kingpin Jimmy Price asks him to find the wayward daughter of a wealthy socialite who’s been running around with a cokehead, he accepts the job with the promise that after this he can leave the criminal world behind with Jimmy’s blessing. Oh, and he needs to find a buyer for two million ecstasy pills acquired by a crew of lowly, loud-mouth gangsters, the Yahoos. Simple enough, until an assassin named Klaus arrives to scratch him off his list, revealing this job is much more than it seems at first…

In much the same way as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting defined a generation in Scottish fiction, I believe that Layer Cake did much the same for London based crime fiction. The influence of this book on some of the best known London noir crime writers is inescapable, and J. J. Connolly really set the bar high for those following in his wake. It’s been a real pleasure dusting off my old copy of this and entering this violent and visceral world once again…

The characterisation of this disparate band of gangsters and wannabe gangsters is superlative from beginning to end, and they are, without exception so vividly drawn that the reader can picture each of them in all their sullied glory. Connolly plays close attention to how these men hold themselves, their physicality and manner of dress, and in this world where the appearance of confidence and strength is the key to success, it becomes easy to identify the weak and powerless who will definitely not make it to the end of the book. Despite having the moral code of a band of backstreet alley cats, I love that these men have a taste for the finer things in life be it smart threads, flashy motors and the finest food and drink. Much of their business is conducted in the rarefied air of high end restaurants and exclusive clubs, but equally in dodgy cafes and unsavoury boozers.

Our unnamed narrator, has all the street-smarts and at a relatively tender age is assured in his mission to retire at 30, unscathed and unpunished for his more nefarious drug dealings behind his appearance of respectability. Throughout the book, he not only cleverly negotiates the world of the gangster kingpins, but is more often than not, manipulated at the whim of others and things begin to get very dodgy indeed for him. I like the way that Connolly uses him as a mirror to the unsavoury cohorts encircle him, and through his perception of them, and their outbursts of violence, we get an even more vivid picture of these sometimes desperate and always dangerous men. In this world where money is all and double dealing the way to get on, there is little in the way of honesty, but there are flashes of loyalty and friendship that transcend this tough, dog-eat-dog and immoral world. The sudden and visceral outbursts of violence are as natural to these men as breathing, and as they alternately turn on each other, or band together to defeat outside forces, The psychological aspects of their personalities really fleshes them out for the reader, and poses puzzles all of its own as their behaviours change and by extension our perception of them.

The raw earthiness of Connolly’s prose is relentless, so for those of a sensitive disposition and an aversion to profanity, you would probably best avoid this. Even for a hardened reader the sheer weight of colloquialisms, street slang and swearing, added to the pace and rat-a-tat dialogue and narrative can be a little overwhelming at times, but the breath-taking scope of Connolly’s vocabulary and prose is a marvel. The prose is harshly rhythmical with a beat and musicality all of its own and although I have read the book a few times over the years, and I never tire of the snappy prose and the raw rhythm of the language  that the book marches along to.

Admittedly, some of the book seems a little dated now in terms of how time has moved on and how technology plays a much bigger part in the world of cross border drug dealing, but of its time, Connolly’s Layer Cake remains a classic of London crime and a lucid and compelling tale of the drug underworld. There is a raw sophistication instead of a sleek one, as the book does untangle a little in terms of tight narrative, and goes off in tangents at some points, but it’s all part of its charm. This is probably why I’ve always loved it, and will always return to it when the opportunity arises, Highly recommended.

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Check out the exclusive signed editions available from NO ALIBIS BOOKS

(With thanks to Duckworth for the PDF ARC, although I read my twenty year old beaten up, well loved copy!)

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Steve Cavanagh- Fifty Fifty- “A real page turner of the highest calibre.” @Sscav @OrionBooks

Two sisters on trial for murder. They accuse each other. Who do YOU believe?

‘911 what’s your emergency?’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

‘My dad’s dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

One of them is a liar and a killer. But which one?

 

Billed as the explosive follow up to Thirteen, the last book from Steve Cavanagh featuring grifter turned lawyer Eddie Flynn, I can guarantee that Fifty Fifty will keep you as gripped as any of the previous outings. Flynn is once again caught up in a tricky legal case where every decision on guilt or innocence could have dire consequences for the woman he seeks to defend, his advisory team, and for Flynn himself…

Obviously it would be extremely unwise of me to dwell too much on the plot itself, as I could cram this review with so many individual spoilers, it would make your head spin. Such is the convoluted trickery of Cavanagh’s writing, albeit with a seemingly innocuous premise of two sisters blaming each other for the murder of their father, that the essential enjoyment of any of his books relies on his expertise of the smoke and mirror effect. With our comprehension of each sisters guilt or innocence so completely manipulated throughout, and skewing our perception of them at every turn, Cavanagh once again demonstrates why he is one the sneakiest and tricksy crime writers on the scene today, keeping his reader in a state of suspense and questioning, that he so brilliantly mirrors in the main character of Flynn himself, that this is, by definition, a real page turner of the highest calibre. Admittedly, I did give myself a wee bit of a pat on the back this time by sussing out who did what to who with what and why, and I liked that little creeping sense of satisfaction that it gave me as a reader…

Eddie Flynn, and by extension his team of renegades (ex-judge Harry Ford is a particular favourite of mine), totally hold this series together, and Flynn’s sharp wit and heavily disguised legal acumen lie at the heart of the the enjoyment of these books. He is an entirely likeable protagonist who easily gets the reader on board with his delightful mix of street smarts and, at times, emotional sensitivity. The latter is particularly relevant in this case as something entirely unexpected happens that rocks both Flynn and us to the core, and gives us an insight into another aspect of his character, usually buried beneath the whip-smart attitude and his natural propensity to play with fire, and really getting under peoples’ skins. His normal slightly carefree demeanour is undermined and knocked soundly in this one, and I liked the direction this took his character in, despite the sense of loss regular readers of this series will experience as events play out. In fact, developing and moving characters on is a noticeable feature of this book, introducing another strong female character, Kate Brooks, a lawyer who seeks to challenge the chauvinistic and belittling attitude of the multi million dollar legal firm she is employed by, and which consequently takes her character on a very interesting journey…

With its cleverly executed plot, excellent characterisation, and thrills and spills, Steve Cavanagh, once again demonstrates his ability to raise the legal thriller to another level, with no diminishing of the nuts and bolts of criminal procedure, but keeping the relentless pace and energy at the forefront for the readers’ enjoyment. Fifty Fifty is a perfectly formed thriller, Eddie Flynn rocks and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC- Fifty Fifty is published 3rd September)

Read my reviews of all the Eddie Flynn series:

The Defence: Win the trial. Or lose his life. - Eddie Flynn (Paperback) The Plea: His client is innocent. His wife is guilty. - Eddie Flynn (Paperback) The Liar: It takes one to catch one. - Eddie Flynn (Paperback) Thirteen

#BlogTour Will Carver- Hinton Hollow Death Trip “I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.” @will_carver @OrendaBooks

It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened. Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120. Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow. Because something was coming.
Narrated by Evil itself, it recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.

Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan…

If I thought that reviewing Will Carver’s previous book Nothing Important Happened Today was damn tricky, it was a walk in the park compared to Hinton Hollow Death Trip which poses infinitely more stumbling blocks to coherent reviewing. As tempted as I am to just say this one freak-ass weird book, which you definitely need to read, that doesn’t really give you much to go on, does it? So dear reader, I feel duty bound to do this properly… cue sharp inhalation of breath and cracking of knuckles…

Centred on a  rural community of 5000+ souls, “a quaint little nowhere,” this is so much more than an everyday tale of small town folk, as Evil walks among them coercing and cajoling these most ordinary of people to behave in ways completely alien to them, and to lay themselves bare to the depraved machinations of this malevolent force. As Evil says, “Fear is my greatest tool. It can be used to make a person do almost anything…It is a slow and deadly poison,” and as he bestrides this small town, gradually infecting and influencing its residents, you are pretty sure from the outset that this will not end well. As Evil recounts a host of horrifying events and disasters, that it has been party to, it blames the small minded, selfish beings that we have become, and through Carver’s examination of our fatuous obsession with social media, our pettiness, narcissism, our destruction of the planet, and cruelties to each other and animals too, you kind of get to thinking that Evil has a point as it observes, “You keep pushing and pushing. Wanting more and more. Listening less and less…Humankind has created evil at a rate that even I cannot keep up with.” 

As with his previous book, I delight in Carver’s diatribes on the sheer bloody uselessness of the majority of human beings, and found myself nodding sagely at some of the more barbed and amusing observations of the human race. very little in modern culture escapes Carver’s microscopic analysis, and this book is full of them. The calorific breakdown of biscuits is, of course, an essential need to know. However, balanced with the more throwaway and blackly funny observations, this book is cut through with the seriousness of our stupidity, and using the trope of Evil to filter this, brings a mixture of thought provoking and poignant meditations on our failings, hopes and how far we would sacrifice ourselves for others. As much as there are individuals in this book pushed into acts of cruelty, Carver never loses sight of their ordinariness, not all of these people are inherently bad, indeed some of them sacrifice themselves quite nobly, but I found it interesting that in some cases, the smallest nudge from Evil really does lead to some quite depraved deeds from where you would least expect it.

Consequently reading this book Carver is playing with and manipulating our emotions from start to finish, and I found this quite fun- I do like a bit of reader participation. An initial perception of a character can be changed in an instant, people you wouldn’t feel sorry for are suddenly made sympathetic, people in similar situations act in different ways, leading you to think what you would do and so on. Obviously some characters are just odious eejits, and your hackles are raised, your indignation aroused, and then someone dies. And then more people die. And then a couple more just for luck. It’s great.  Held together by the first person narration of Evil, as it moves everybody around in a sadistic game of chess, we once again encounter the hangdog and hapless DS Pace still reeling from the events of the previous book. I have a great affection for Pace, so woebegone, so incapable of relating to anyone, but an almost worthy adversary for Evil itself, but can this really end well for him?

As you’ve probably realised, I’ve told you next to nothing about the plot of Hinton Hollow Death Trip, so my own evil plan has worked well. Instead, I would encourage you to read this yourselves, much as I did with not the faintest clue of what would lie ahead. All manner of human life is contained within it, with people behaving badly, bravely, stupidly or nobly. You will gasp, you will laugh, you will quizzically wrinkle your brow, you will ponder the dark inner workings of Carver’s brain, but I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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FINAL Hinton Hollow BT Poster

Chris Carter- Written In Blood “A highly effective crime fighting duo- like Batman and Robin sans pantyhose.” @simonschusteruk #BlogTour

The Killer
His most valuable possession has been stolen.
Now he must retrieve it, at any cost.

The Girl
Angela Wood wanted to teach the man a lesson. It was a bag, just like all the others.
But when she opens it, the worst nightmare of her life begins.

The Detective
A journal ends up at Robert Hunter’s desk. It soon becomes clear that there is a serial killer on the loose. And if he can’t stop him in time, more people will die.

I have now completely lost track of how many of Chris Carter’s books I have read and reviewed, and always look forward to my new dose of darkness, murder and sheer damned twistedness, that his killers possess in spades. So, bring on Written In Blood and let’s see what depths of depravity we will witness now…

I love the familiarity of this series, and the fact that no matter how long it is between books, I am immediately transported back into the world of the LA Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, (love the insertion of the word ultra here) and the welcoming embrace of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia. The absolute lynchpin of the books for me is the strength of the professional relationship between these two very different men, united by a fierce determinedness to track the most heinous of killers, whilst endeavouring to keep a grip on their own moral compass in the face of extreme evil. The differing facets of their characters and aspects of their personal lives are polar opposites in every way, but somehow this just makes them into a highly effective and tight crime fighting duo- like Batman and Robin sans pantyhose.

Carter always succeeds in balancing the natural intuitive intelligence and inner torments of Hunter, with the easy, impulsive charm and slight naivety of his partner Garcia. That’s not to say that Garcia does not have his own moments of lightbulb realisation, but he proves to be an incredibly useful sounding board for Hunter. Garcia is always used effectively as a conduit between the reader and the finer aspects of their cases, asking the questions we would ask, and drawing us further into the mechanics of the investigation. As usual, the dialogue and interactions between the two are fluid, snappy and natural with the measured responses of Hunter balanced with the more fiery and reactionary passion of Garcia, that  always adds a lively dynamic to the books. I also very much enjoyed the introduction of the streetwise pickpocket Angela into the mix, not only for the way she interrupts the more mechanical aspects of the case itself, but her mix of ballsiness and fragility was beautifully balanced.

Another aspect of this series that I am always impressed by is that at times Carter plays a game of smoke and mirrors with his readers, in the way he manipulates our responses to not only the victims, but oftentimes the killer themselves. This is particularly redolent in this book, and I found myself forming an uneasy empathy with the killer, with certain aspects of their motivation and drive bringing a sympathetic edge to my reading of this character. As much as Hunter and Garcia are honour bound to do the very best for their victims, and the author keeps the victims at the forefront, I do enjoy the way Carter messes slightly with our perceptions along the way. Carter has carved a real niche in the serial killer thriller genre, not just relying on overt shocks and violence to hook the reader, but also providing a fascinating insight into the compulsions and motivations of the perpetrators. He also perfectly measures the shocks and reveals, particularly in the closing lines of a chapter, driving the reader on to one more chapter, one more chapter, champing at the bit to know what happens next, until you find yourselves swiftly nearing the end of the book. Written In Blood is no exception, and definitely a recommended read.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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