#BlogTour- Rod Reynolds- Blood Red City- @Rod_WR @OrendaBooks “Reynolds immerses us in a world where money talks, the media whitewashes, and a seemingly impenetrable cabal of powerful figures pull the strings.”

When crusading journalist Lydia Wright is sent a video of an apparent murder on a London train, she thinks she’s found the story to revive her career. But she can’t find a victim, much less the killers, and the only witness has disappeared. Wary she’s fallen for fake news, she begins to doubt her instincts – until a sinister call suggests that she’s not the only one interested in the crime. Michael Stringer deals in information – and doesn’t care which side of the law he finds himself on. But the murder on the train has left him exposed, and now he’ll stop at nothing to discover what Lydia knows. When their paths collide, Lydia finds the story leads through a nightmare world, where money, power and politics intersect, and information is the only thing more dangerous than a bullet…

Having enjoyed Rod Reynold’s previous series set in the United States, Blood Red City marks a change of direction for this author. Now firmly ensconced in the greedy and grimy streets of London, this book has shades of both State Of Play and McMafia, enlivened by Reynold’s unique and compelling writing style…

In writing a thriller with a storyline such as this, there is always a danger that a writer will drift too far down the Hollywood road, relying on coincidence and unbelievable twists to push the action on and provide that high octane pace that comes with the territory. What Reynolds gives us is a skilfully crafted and perfectly balanced thriller that feels incredibly rooted in reality without the bells and whistles that others rely on. From the opening scenes of an apparent murder on the London Underground, the drawing in of a tenacious and determined journalist, and the shadowy figure of a man for hire, what unfolds before us is a tale of duplicity, greed and corruption that sucks you in and spits you out at the end, drained, yet satisfied.

For my money, and having a read a few thrillers this year which circle the same kind of plot as this, I think this is the best of the recent bunch. The plotting is so finely controlled with just the right amount of change of gear in terms of pace, and reveal, that although it doesn’t stint on the page count, I found myself reading big, meaty sections of it in one sitting. Giving nothing away I’m sure most of us are extremely aware of the correlation behind the scenes of crime and politics, so what perturbed me the most was how believable this all felt, with the incredible influence of money and power at the root of the story, and at the very heart of the corruption that plays out before us. Reynolds immerses us in a world where money talks, the media whitewashes, and a seemingly impenetrable cabal of powerful figures pull the strings.

I loved the front and centre role that London occupies in this book where, whether you are familiar or unfamiliar with it, Reynolds neatly captures the most resonant features of the metropolis. The rush of stale air before a tube train arrives, the streets, the noise, the pace, the grinding poverty, the glittering, grasping riches, and the very essence of the city. By paying such attention to the location itself, and like his previous books, the author transfers us into his very visual and almost tactile rendition of the city, and as his characters live, work and are pursued through its streets in extreme danger, the city is the constant and completely perfect backdrop for the web of corruption and danger he places his characters within.

So into the pulsating heart of the living, breathing city and its shadowy, scheming powerbrokers, Reynolds gives us two main characters, diametrically opposed to each other, in almost every way possible, but with a growing sense that together they are stronger. Lydia Wright, dedicated journalist with a strong moral code, fiercely loyal to those she holds dear, but unafraid to go off in pursuit of a story with wrongs to be righted. Her character is underpinned by a  tendency to trust the wrong people, particularly one scurrilous individual whose card I had marked from early on, and a slightly too gung-ho attitude in the face of some considerable danger. I liked her very much, flaws and all, and I also admired the way that Reynolds didn’t manipulate her character to make her act unfeasibly out of character, keeping a sense of ordinariness about her, but not shying away from her sense of determination and loyalty, when the pressure is on. Which brings us to Michael Stringer, a man for hire, whose true intentions and character are more of a closed book for a fair amount of the book, perhaps because of his bad start in life, and by his current shady employment. Who is he and who is he working for, and as the more secretive aspects of Stringer’s character are gradually revealed, can Lydia really trust him?…

So, Blood Red City more than proves itself as a thriller with edgy tension, a powerful and well constructed plot, and a stark insight into a world of violence, greed and corruption within the echelons of power.

Intrigued? You will be.

Gripped? Definitely.

On the edge of your seat? Oh yes…

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Lockdown Reads Round Up- Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted/ Craig Robertson- Watch Him Die/Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers/ David Jackson- The Resident @gobergmoser @CraigRobertson_ @lkauthor @Author_Dave

One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…

GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . . 

Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted.  I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.

I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…

Highly recommended…if you dare…

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

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CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die… 

I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.

Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle. 

Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.

I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)

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DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…

I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…

What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces.  And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.

What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.

 (With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)

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It’s that time again! Raven’s Picks- #20BooksOfSummer20 @cathy746books

Due to my woeful planning and general disorganization I tend to avoid Reading Challenges, but can never resist the lure of the 20 Books Of Summer overseen by the wonderful Cathy at 746 Books. The rules are delightfully flexible so you can pick 5, 10, 15 or 20 books for your challenge, and likewise substitutions and changing your number of titles is all fine. The challenge runs from 1st June until the 1st of September. Check out Cathy’s intro post here, to join in the bookish fun.

There are social media tags to log your progress and for nosey Nerys’ such as myself to see what you’ve picked and how you’re doing and you can link blog posts/reviews by using the share links info here.

I have singularly failed on my last few attempts to make any significant progress, but with steely determination I am challenging myself to 20 books, yes 20, and see if 2020 can prove a winner, if only on the reading front! I will obviously be blogging as normal in between my #20BooksOfSummer20 updates- it’s going to be fun. I may need a spreadsheet…

I’ve tried to put less emphasis on crime and more on fiction and thrown in a couple of non-fiction titles too. Some books have been around for a while, and some are recent arrivals or new to me authors. 

So my 20 books are as follows… Wish me luck!

        

#BlogTour- Helen Fitzgerald- Ash Mountain @OrendaBooks

Fran hates Ash Mountain, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway. She returns to her hometown to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer. As old friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…

Welcome to the one of the final stops on the Orenda Books blog tour for Ash Mountain, and be prepared once again to be surprised and entertained by this, the latest book from the excellent Helen Fitzgerald. To wildly misquote Forrest Gump, “Helen Fitzgerald is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” and it is a testament to the breadth and quality of her writing that she is undoubtedly one of the most versatile writers I have encountered. Ash Mountain only confirms this further, being a heartfelt and honest account of a fractured family and community who find themselves in a physical and emotional melting pot…

This is an intensely character driven read, set in a small outback community, and the depiction of the relationships between them and their experiences, past and present, lay at the heart of my enjoyment of this book. Fran, in particular, is a mesmeric character, returning to her hometown and seeking to re-establish the bonds and former attachments of her younger years. Fitzgerald is equally adept at shining a light on the intensity of Fran’s teenage experiences, the gaucheness and foolishness of youth. the crippling self-doubt, and then transposing this with her as an adult. There is no question that Fran’s whole life has been overshadowed by the folly of her youthful actions, which were entirely relatable, and I really liked the metamorphosis of her character when the past raises ugly its head once again. Her tiger mother instincts are strong for both her teenage daughter, despite the inevitable ups and downs, and her older son who remained in Ash Mountain, and whose conception by Fran as a teenager, becomes a focal point of the book. As she encounters ghosts of her past and the ramifications of this, and also seeks to move on romantically in the present, Fitzgerald’s portrayal of this woman is never less than rounded and completely authentic. Fran is every woman,

As the narrative is so effectively shaped by the lives of the inhabitants of this claustrophobic community, Fitzgerald has the opportunity to explore a variety of people and experiences, across age, occupation and experience. It’s like a really condensed telenovela, with all the moments of joy, humour, sadness and darkness, reaching a powerful and tense denouement as a shocking crime is exposed and avenged, and the physical threat of a raging bushfire causes death and destruction. Fitzgerald carefully builds the pace between the ramping up of personal emotions, alongside the approaching fire by splitting the narrative into different timelines, and carrying us smoothly between them. As the strands and past and present interweave, this works extremely effectively in heightening the sense of tension and danger. The scenes where the bushfire rage uncontrollably are exceptionally well realised, and Fitzgerald bombs our senses so we can literally feel the intensity and rage of it, the threat it poses, and the havoc it wreaks.

With the versatility and scope of characterisation, that Fitzgerald always seems to achieve, the underlying tensions of this small rural community with its buried shameful secrets, a fluid continuity of timelines past and present, and its dramatic depiction of a seismic natural disaster, Ash Mountain is a compelling and gripping read. Always surprising and always enjoyable Helen Fitzgerald’s books should be a definite addition to your bookshelves. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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#Blog Tour- Eva Björg Ægisdóttir- The Creak On The Stairs @OrendaBooks

When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area. Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day. But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice, before it’s too late…

It’s always good to discover another member of the Icelandic crime writing stable, and if you have previously enjoyed Ragnar Jonasson or Yrsa Siggurdottir, there is much to enthral you here. The Creak On The Stairs from Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is the first of a series introducing a new female detective, and displays all of the recognisable hallmarks of Icelandic crime fiction…

Usually when I review I tend to focus on one aspect of the book which totally hooked me, and in this case the overriding impression I was left with was that of location and atmosphere. After a short sojourn in Rekjavik, Elma returns to her hometown of Akranes, and we are instantly immersed in this dark, elemental setting, separated by a stretch of water from the capital city, and Ægisdóttir builds the character of the town and its surrounds with as much care and precision as the plot and characterisation too. The whole book is enveloped by an intense feeling of claustrophobia and foreboding, which is mirrored by the wild and tempestuous weather, and the changing moods of the sea. The descriptive elements of the book are extremely powerful, and really allow the reader to picture each individual setting, and to feel the mercurial changes wrought upon it. From the sinister old lighthouse to the roiling shoreline it rests upon, our feeling of darkness and foreboding is constantly manipulated and shaped by this aspect of the book.

Chief Investigating Officer Elma is at the heart of the book, and the gradual reveal of her reasons for returning to Akranes, reconnecting with her family and her developing relationship with her police colleagues are perhaps the most interesting aspects of her character. As the investigation she is bound up with is fairly linear, Ægisdóttir has more opportunity to establish this character, and her cohorts as a base to build further investigations on. Although I question the speedy intensity of one of her new relationships, which was a little cliched, there was a solid building of camaraderie and cooperation established with the team Elma is now part of. Aside from Elma, I felt that the author used her female characters effectively to address some powerful themes of control, subjugation and abuse, and one older character in particular seemed to embody the meek acceptance that builds into a simmering and then violent resentment was very well realised indeed.

Using a split timeline to recall the experiences of a young abused child Elisabet, with her experiences as an adult is an effective trope of the book. As we see how her character develops, and her increasingly physical outbursts, little wonder that these events as a child so fully shape her as a woman. The passages that recount her childhood are an emotive mix of malevolence and pathos, and in the closing chapters as the murderer is eventually unmasked, it becomes increasingly clear that a whole web of lies and deceit have also blighted her entire life. Although the plot had a sedate pace, Ægisdóttir does strive to hold the reader’s interest, and there were a couple of satisfying plot twists to change our perspective on some of the characters we encounter.

With its claustrophobic intensity and a measured but powerful depiction of female oppression, I think The Creak On The Stairs was a solid start to a series, with plenty of opportunity to grow and develop the central female police character. Another assured translation by Victoria Cribb, and a real sense of affiliation with, and appreciation of the location used, by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir herself, there is much to enjoy here. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- Iain Maitland- The Scribbler “A compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read.” @IainMaitland @SarabandBooks @RKbookpublicist

DI Gayther and his rookie colleague DC Carrie have been assigned a new caseload. Or rather, an old one: cold cases of LGBTQ+ murders dating back to the 1980s and beyond. Georgia Carrie wasn’t even born when the notorious serial killer began his reign of terror across the East of England. Roger Gayther was on the force that failed to catch him and remembers every chilling detail. Now, after all these years, there’s a sudden death featuring The Scribbler’s tell-tale modus operandi. Can Gayther and Carrie track the murderer down and bring him to justice before the slaughter starts again?

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing two of Iain Maitland’s previous books, Sweet William and Mr Todd’s Reckoning, both of which impressed me greatly with Maitland’s ability to draw the reader into seemingly ordinary lives with a real darkness lurking beneath. Consequently, being offered the chance to review The Scribbler, the first of a projected series was hard to resist…

Aside from the darker content of the book, which I will come to later, the real hook with this one is how character driven it is. Maitland establishes the relationships between his main police protagonists incredibly quickly, instantly drawing the reader into the working relationship of the older and greyer DI Roger Gayther and his younger colleague DC Georgia Carrie. It was hugely satisfying to feel an instant camararderie between them, and the teasing nature of their interactions, denoted by the tendency of both to slightly mock the other afforded by their relevant age and experience. Hence, Gayther at times seems somewhat of a dinosaur when it comes to technology and youth culture, but with a wealth of knowledge, and Carrie is humorously immune to his outdated showbiz references, a little naïve with her keenness and her slightly gung-ho attitude, but also incisive. It was incredibly refreshing to encounter a detective duo not driven solely by emotional trauma, and there was a lightness of touch about Maitland’s depiction of them, that leads to a real sense of reader empathy with them as the plot progresses. Hold that thought, as there is real trouble ahead. Bolstered by a couple of wet-behind-the-ears trainee detectives, who Maitland hints will have a greater role as the series progresses, Gayther and Carrie were absolutely central to my enjoyment of the book.

Just dwelling on character a little bit longer, I was also impressed by the roundness and depth that Maitland affords to his bad guy of the piece, the serial killer himself. Whilst trying desperately to avoid any spoilers, what I will say is that the author avoids those terribly cliched black and white depictions of a monster in human form, and instead builds up a picture of a damaged soul with deep psychological disturbance, that makes his actions as clear to us, as plainly as his own damaging motivation. There is a core of morality at his centre, and as we gain insight into his familial connections and his upbringing, we find our perception of him changing and, dare I say, softened. In common with Maitland’s previous books, his characters are exceptionally well-defined with surprising undercurrents and reveals that cause us to assess and reassess them as the story unfolds.

With the book centring on cold cases, and more specifically murder cases and disappearances involving LGBTQ+ victims, Maitland has successfully ploughed a new furrow. I have certainly read crime novels involving LGBTQ+ victims and detectives, but none that combine these additional elements. As we bear witness to a catalogue of failings and oversights on the original cases, where crimes of this sort were invariably not afforded the same time and resources as others, we begin to appreciate the small steps that the police have made since then to rectify these prejudices. Gayther and Carrie hold no such prejudice, and despite some internal pressure begin to unravel the complexities of these cases, the poignant secrecy and shame of the victims, and the detectives’ progress towards the apprehension of the perpetrator himself. The Scribbler is well-paced, engaging and punctuated by both episodes of extreme pathos, and by turns, unexpected humour, leading to a compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read. Watch out for that ending which will bite you on the nether regions… Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

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***Author Spotlight*** Anna Jaquiery

I thought the time was right to highlight one of the best French crime authors you may not have read, so very pleased to introduce you to Anna Jaquiery. I had the pleasure of reviewing her previous two books featuring Commandant Serge Morel, The Lying Down Room and Death In A Rainy Season (reviews below) and with the release of the third in the series Wasteland, wanted you all to experience this writer for yourselves.

Wasteland once again features Commandant Serge Morel of the brigade criminelle, a philosophical, sensitive and hugely empathetic detective, investigating two murders of young boys within Villeneuve a sprawling, deprived multi-cultural estate in Paris. “If you grew up in a place like Villeneuve, where you knew there was a pretty high chance you wouldn’t get a job when you left school, where it was hard to stay on a straight path and achieve anything, the only way to be heard was to get really pissed off, and loud, and break things. Otherwise, no one heard. No one was listening”  The racism and poverty that Morel uncovers in the course of his investigation underpins the whole story, and as Morel gets closer to the unmasking of a killer, we are totally absorbed into this melting pot environment.

Once again, Jaquiery writes with a stark clarity, that by its at times dispassionate air serves only to immerse the reader more. She focusses particularly on the younger sister, Aisha of one of the victims, Samir, and through her eyes and perception, far in advance of her teenage years, we see the hopelessness and disparity of life for those within Villeneuve. Aisha is both intelligent and street smart, suffering at the hands of schoolyard bullies, but who has a fierce affection for her late brother and a steely determination that his killer will not go unpunished. As Morel becomes more embroiled in the case, we see his natural empathy to and protectiveness of Aisha develop, that puts both himself and her in the crossfire. With police confrontation and gangs a normal facet of life on this estate the stage is set for a violent conclusion, and Morel and his team are right in the centre of the crossfire.

As the book progresses, we also see more of Morel’s difficult home life, and the growing stress that his father’s mental degeneration places on him, which Jaquiery handles in a clear-eyed and sensitive way. Morel remains philosophical in the face of this additional pressure in his life, and it is these passages relating to him and his father that are both poignant and emotional. I love the way that this author balances these slices of his home life so effectively with the particular stresses ands strains of Morel’s murder investigations, and these only serve to flesh out more what is already a very compelling character. From his interactions with his colleagues, to his natural empathy for the murder victims and their kin, Morel is genuinely one of my favourite police characters, and this series one of the best I have read. I love the sensitivity of Jaquiery’s writing and the way she injects a more philosophical edge to her books through the character of Morel himself.  I would definitely recommend that you seek out this series as soon as you are able. Think you may enjoy them…

Discover the Commandant Morel series: HERE

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The Lying Down Room introduces us to the charismatic and dedicated Chief Inspector Serge Morel. The story opens in Paris in the stifling August heat, and Morel is called to examine a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been brutally murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, and her body grotesquely displayed. The reasons for this murder and the choice of victim baffle Morel and his team.

But our detective has problems of his own. His father, such an influence in his life, is descending into the grip of senility. If that weren’t enough for him, Morel is having an affair with a friend’s wife, but has become unsettled by the reappearance of his lost love, Mathilde. Like so many other fictional detectives, Morel has a quirky interest to relieve his angst and focus his mind. In his case it’s origami.

As the investigation continues, and further murders happen, his fingers fold faster and faster. He makes a connection between the victims and two individuals – a middle aged man and a young boy – who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. Soon his inquiries take him back into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. A tragic story begins to unfold.

In terms of characterisation, The Lying Down Room contains all the key ingredients needed to herald the arrival of a new detective in the crime fiction genre. Morel is a very carefully constructed and wonderfully realised character. He combines natural charm and humour that immediately resonate. His interactions in both his professional and personal lives allow the many different facets of his character to shine – like the focused and dedicated police officer, and the man thwarted in love. There are some intensely moving scenes between him and his father. This relationship is filled with pathos, adding poignancy to Morel’s situation. Morel is a man of contradictions with his character being all the more emotionally interesting for it, and consequently the scene is set for further exploration of this detective.

The narrative is particularly impressive, with nice, clean delineation between the various strands that come into play within the plot. Not only is the central murder storyline well paced and realistic, but as Jaquiery expands the story to encompass the personal narratives of the perpetrators themselves, she weaves together various locations and timelines. What emerges is an incredibly human tale of lost opportunities and wicked twists of fate that can put an individual on the path towards murder. Cleverly, this aspect of the novel invokes natural sympathy in the reader as we bear witness to the incredibly sad events in our antagonists’ pasts, evinced in the stark portrayal of life in Soviet Russia, and the mental and physical wounds this produces. At times, Jaquiery handles the sheer emotional heartache of some of these scenes more in the vein of literary fiction rather than a genre crime novel.

There is little to fault in this debut, combining as it does a superbly plotted and emotive criminal investigation with the introduction of a police protagonist more than imbued with enough charm and interest to carry the weight of a series. Anna Jaquiery demonstrates all the natural flair and quirks of French crime fiction that fans of Vargas, Lemaitre, et al, will relish reading. More than proud to proclaim this as my debut of the year.

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Always a tense time to be reviewing a second book from an author whose debut you absolutely loved. Anna Jaquiery’s haunting debut The Lying Down Room was a joy to read and review, so much so that it was second in my Top Read of 2014, and is one of the books that I most consistently recommend in my day job as a bookseller, when people are looking for a new slice of Euro crime.

Death In The Rainy Season is the next book to feature Jaquiery’s charismatic and thoughtful French detective Commandant Serge Morel, and marks a change of location from France to the hot climes and unique atmosphere of Cambodia, where the modern socio-economic problems of this country are counterbalanced by its spiritual core. Morel is taking a well-earned sojourn after the vents of the previous book, a welcome break from caring for his father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and a chance to further come to terms with a failed relationship. He finds himself unwillingly drawn into a local murder investigation, when the son of a prominent French minister is found murdered in a down-at-heel hotel room. The victim, Hugo Quercy, oversees a local NGO providing charitable support to street children, and is generally a well-regarded figure in the local community, and  respected by his colleagues. However, as Morel under pressure from his boss back home, joins forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit, also enlisting the help of grumpy local medical examiner Sok Pran, it quickly becomes clear that Quercy is not quite the man everyone had perceived him to be, and that the conspiracy behind his murder reaches further than Morel and his cohorts could possibly imagine…

Perhaps my first point of reference for my enjoyment of this book should be an appreciation of Jaquiery’s style of writing. Throughout the novel the sense of serene simplicity that her narrative style evokes in the reader is beautifully evinced not only in her evocation of location, but also through the character of her police protagonist Morel. The multi-dimensional facets of the Cambodian setting are sublimely juxtaposed, as Jaquiery carefully balances not only the deep spiritual core of this intriguing country, with the social ramifications of political corruption and misguided economic policies on the Cambodian populace. Where some authors blatantly crowbar in the depth of their research at the expense of the needs of the plot to keep the reader’s interest, Jaquiery intertwines her social detail simply, adding to the richness of the strong central plot, and I learnt much from the quality of this research.

As Morel becomes immersed in the pulsating and bustling atmosphere of Phnom Penh after his initial calm retreat in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional way of life, the sights and sounds of the city form a vital backdrop to his investigation. Likewise, the change of location impacts on Morel himself, as he wanders deeper into the underbelly of the city, and the pressure of the investigation and the demands of home, begin to unsettle his formerly peaceful equilibrium. He is a mesmerising character throughout and one cannot fail to find him empathetic, morally strong and entirely likeable. As he deals with the wife, friends, and colleagues of the victim, whilst slowly establishing a close working relationship with his Cambodian counterpart Sarit, the strength of his character always stands front and centre. Sarit too was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book, as his initial reticence and secrecy at the beginning of the investigation is slowly broken down by his interaction with Morel, and brings instead a sense of understanding and respect between the two men. We share in their frustrations as the investigation progresses, and I loved the slow reveal of the various dynamics of Quercy’s relationships with the possible suspects, and the gradual unfolding of Quercy’s true character as the man behind the myth.

I really cannot fault Death In The Rainy Season in any way, as it contains so many aspects of human interest, emotion, and intrigue along the way. Not only is it a intelligent and compelling tale of murder and corruption, but the quality of the writing and the evocation of its setting and characters make it a rich, multi-layered and totally rewarding piece of crime fiction. I am singularly impressed once again, as I was with The Lying Down Room, and have no hesitation in wholly recommending this one too.

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***COVER REVEAL*** Chris McDonald- Whispers In The Dark (DI Erika Piper 2) @cmacwritescrime @reddogtweets “An exciting new voice on the British crime writing scene.” 

Pleased as punch to be part of this splendid cover reveal for author Chris McDonald on behalf of his publisher Red Dog Press.

Whispers In The Dark is the follow up to McDonald’s excellent debut A Wash Of Black, which I reviewed earlier this year and marked him out as an exciting new voice on the crime writing scene. 

 

Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.
The body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago. DI Erika Piper, having only recently returned to work after suffering a near-fatal attack herself, finds she must once again prove her worth as the hunt for the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer’ intensifies. But when another body is found and, this time, the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must put aside her demons to crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.

“I would absolutely recommend a debut thriller by Chris McDonald- A Wash of Black introducing DI Erika Piper. I sometimes find police procedurals a little samey, but McDonald has not only introduced a character to the genre who genuinely endears herself to the reader, but is also involved in an investigation that keeps your attention, takes some unexpected turns, and some equally unexpected deaths. A nice bit of gore factor, a bit of movie gold dust and pacey plotting added to my satisfaction. Doesn’t hurt that I was also reminded of the Manchester crime novels of the woefully underrated Chris Simms too.

Recommended.”

 

SO WITH NO FURTHER ADO HERE IS THE

WHISPERS IN THE DARK

COVER REVEAL

ARE YOU READY? 

 

Who will heed the call when Death comes whispering?

Small time drug dealer, Marcus Stone and DCI Clive Burston had never met until one night in August. But by the end of that night, both had been shot dead in a small bedroom in the heart of gang territory.

DI Erika Piper is called to the scene but is at a loss to explain what’s happened. How did these two even meet, let alone end up dead in what appears to be a strange murder-suicide? As Erika leads the investigation, another two bodies are found, killed in a similar fashion. One murder, one suicide. But who is controlling this macabre puppet show?

As Erika delves deeper into the lives of the dead, the pieces begin to fit together and a number of nefarious characters crawl out of the woodwork – one of whom is almost certainly pulling the strings.

A catastrophic event and a personal miracle threaten to derail the investigation. Erika must find the strength to continue, before the whispers catch up with her too…

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Whispers In The Dark will be published on 14th November and will be available

in hardback, paperback, and e-book versions.

You can pre-order here at RED DOG PRESS

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 Want to check out A Wash Of Black? You know you do…  

Here are some handy buying links…

Red Dog Press

Waterstones.com

Amazon UK

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Russell Day- King Of The Crows @FahrenheitPress

Oceans Eleven Meets 28 Days Later- 2028, eight years after a pandemic swept across Europe, the virus has been defeated and normal life has resumed. Memories of The Lockdown have already become clouded by myths, rumour and conspiracy. Books have been written, movies have been released and the names Robertson, Miller & Maccallan have slipped into legend. Together they hauled The Crows, a ragged group of virus survivors, across the ruins of London. Kept them alive, kept them safe, kept them moving. But not all myths are true and not all heroes are heroes. Questions are starting to be asked about what really happened during those days when society crumbled and the capital city became a killing ground. Finally the truth will be revealed…

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

TO TELL THE STORY OF HOW GREAT ZOMBIES CAN BE…

Ha! Enough of the dodgy 70s music reference and strap yourselves in folks for one helluva read. When Fahrenheit Press started giving loaded signals about them having got their mitts on a zombie heist thriller, my interest was piqued. Reading this book in the grip of a global pandemic ourselves, is an individual decision for the reader, but I guarantee that if you do take the plunge you will be blown away by the prescience, cleverness and kaleidoscopic reach of this novel, conceived and written a long while before these dark and mystifying days…

In a good way, King Of The Crows is a nightmare to review, simply because it is one of the most multi-faceted, meaty books I have read. Kind of with the ergodic pull of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves with less footnotes, but with the scope and energy of a rip roaring thriller like Terry Hayes I Am Pilgrim and the visual impact on the reader of the best of the zombie cinema. Charting the course of a devastating HV-Tg pandemic that renders a majority of the infected into a zombie-like state dubbed as Gonzos, through shifting timelines and alternative forms of narrative, this is both a highly original and beautifully textured read.

The narrative and remembrance of events past and present is not only structured as a traditional thriller, but also cleverly injects different mediums: film script, dictionary, street art, memoir, chat room conversations, media reports and so on. Not only does Russell Day keep a conscious awareness that we know exactly where we are in terms of past and present, but also uses these forms to root us in the period and elucidate us further to events within these particular timelines. Being a bit of an arty farty bookworm myself, I was particularly fascinated by the changes and development in language that occur during, and in the wake of the pandemic as new signifiers come into being to deal with the strangeness of events. I also appreciated the cheeky nods and winks that Day inserts about the political state of America, a little homage to Kurtz of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, and other potential spoilers I could mention, that will make you raise a knowing eyebrow. It’s very clever but not in that look at me and how clever I am kind of way. It’s most definitely that hot damn this is clever and a feast for my brain kind of way…

I think the wee synopsis gives you an overview of what this book is about, and I am really really reluctant to go into much further detail on that score as I was entrusted to read this book literally knowing just what the blurb said. I would love you to experience this book with the same wide-eyed enchantment. All I will say is that the book pivots between the events of the pandemic of 2020, and people traversing dangerous and threatening situations both in London and France. This is interspersed with the present day, in this case 2028, with the myths and the contrasting accounts that have grown up around the Crows- a band of raggle-taggle survivors and the dominant figures within this group. One of these, Colin Robertson, finds him at the centre of a police investigation involving murder and robbery, conducted by a mentally scarred male officer, Winslow, and Cross, a female American detective allayed to the Washington Police Department, who underwent her own baptism of fire during the pandemic. As their questioning of Robertson unfolds, we begin to have a kaleidoscopic view of past events through Robertson’s not always truthful testimony, other’s perceptions of him and the hero status ascribed to him though cultural forms, the linear narrative of the characters and life within the Crows, and what Winslow and Cross discover in the course of their investigation. Day pits unreliable narration against investigative truth, against media double speak extremely effectively, leaving the reader to unpick and re-stitch what we think we know, until we are cajoled into thinking that we have worked it all out. Rest assured you won’t, as the insanely clever yet wholly believable ending of the book more than demonstrates.

Additionally, the characterisation is superb and within the construct of each individual, Day is given a tremendous amount of scope to meld a psychological commentary within the book too. As we observe the activities of individuals in the Lockdown of the pandemic and how they adjust, survive or fall victim to the new dangerous climate and some of its attendant mumbo-jumbo too, each character brings something vivid and important to the book. It’s clever how Day uses most of his characters to represent the differing reactions and instincts that people would experience in this situation- the survivor, the schemer, the weak, the strong- and so on, and how we then perceive some of them on the other side of the pandemic too. No spoilers!

Throughout the book the reader is kept well and truly on their toes, being assailed by shifting timelines, shifting narrative forms and shifting zombies too. I can truly say that King Of The Crows is like nothing I have read before, and I was blown away by the scope and visuality that Day has achieved with this book. I loved the story, the characters, the crows both feathered and otherwise, the structure, the science and you can’t go wrong with a good old zombie heist combo, in my humble opinion. Mind officially blown. Make sure yours is too.

Highly hot-damningly recommended.

Buy your copy of King Of The Crows (digital format, paperback or incredibly cool limited edition hardback) direct from Fahrenheit Press HERE When buying a physical format of any of Fahrenheit’s books you also get the digital copy free. 

 

Read an interview with Russell Day about the conception of King Of The Crows at Writers Online here

Check out King Of The Crows HQ  here

If you’re still not sure how great this book is check out these reviews too…

Barking Mad Blog Spot

And this one from Grab This Book

King of the Crows – Russell Day

With much thanks to Fahrenheit Press for the ARC

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Kjell Ola Dahl- Sister #BlogTour

Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death. Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…

After a diversion into the historical based thriller The Courier (which I would highly recommend) Kjell Ola Dahl has reverted back to his Oslo Detective series with Sister being the eighth outing. As usual Frank Frølich is in the midst of a couple of tricky cases, and as he discovers connections between the two, his innate powers of detection are put under pressure…

By isolating Frølich from his previous role as police detective, Dahl has opened up a world of possibilities for this character as a private investigator, whilst retaining his connections to his former career. Hence, regular readers of the series will see Frølich retain a relationship with a familiar character from the previous books, yet have the scope to embark on his own probing investigation unfettered by his former restraints as a police officer. As I was reading, I felt that we could be looking at a younger Varg Veum, the central character of Gunnar Staalessen’s excellent series, and a private investigator of some repute. Although Frølich does not have exactly the same characteristics or highly developed cynicism of Veum, the indications are good that this new career will be a good fit for him as the series progresses, and it will be interesting to see into which direction Dahl will lead him. He is a persistent and determined investigator, and as his two initially unconnected investigations begin to meld together, he has numerous red herrings and blind alleys to navigate. One of these cases in particular, highlights Frølich‘s tenacity as an investigator, and also his own personal moral code to challenge authority, and to achieve some kind of justice for the victim, despite, at times, intense personal danger to himself.

As Frølich gradually unpicks the underlying strands of each case, what Dahl constructs is a story that balances equally a cold case of some years previously, a maritime accident and a very pertinent and contemporary case centred on immigration. Dahl is very adroit at taking the reader into the finer detail of a case, in particular the historical case of a devastating fire on board a ship, and he also constructs the narrative so there is a salient repetition of certain information, to keep us in the loop with Frølich‘s discoveries, and to map out the conspiracy theory in a clear and relevant manner. Although I was less engaged with this strand of the story, there were certain elements of it that piqued my interest as the scope of the conspiracy was gradually revealed. I did, however, enjoy the more contemporary element of the book, focussing on the murder of a immigration worker, and how this impacts on her associates, on Frølich and also on a new personal relationship he has embarked on. By its very nature this was going to be a more emotive case for Frølich, and Dahl neatly arouses the readers’ sympathies for both the victim and others, as elements of the past give rise to retribution and revenge.

Once again, translated beautifully by Don Bartlett, Dahl has constructed a multi-layered and thoroughly researched crime thriller where the impact of past and present interweave and impact on each other. The book is peppered with some nice little elements of humour, and I am always impressed by Dahl’s aptitude for constructing such a visual depiction of his characters from relatively few details of their physical features, like mini caricatures. As I said previously, in the long term, it will be interesting how Frølich overcomes the personal disappointments that this case brings to him, and how his career as a private investigator will play out after his ignominious fall from grace as a police officer. It all bodes well for a good solid change of direction in the Oslo Detective series. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

 Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: