Search

Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Category

Crime Reviews

Vive La France!(2) Pierre Lemaitre- Three Days And A Life/ Herve Le Corre- After The War/ Antonin Varenne- Retribution Road

En l’honneur de la fête nationale, voici une sélection des thrillers Français qui ont impressionné, déplacé et ravi le Corbeau dans la même mesure.  Ou en d’autres termes, un billet de blog je pourrais simplement étiqueter, voici trois de mes livres préférés de l’année, qui ne risquent pas d’être dépassé n’importe quand bientôt. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture à tous et à toutes!*

Antoine is twelve years old. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in Beauval, a small, backwater town surrounded by forests, where everyone knows everyone’s business, and nothing much ever happens. But in the last days of 1999, a series of events unfolds, culminating in the shocking vanishing without trace of a young child. The adults of the town are at a loss to explain the disappearance, but for Antoine, it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog. From that one brutal act, his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s six year old son are bound forever. In the years following Rémi’s disappearance, Antoine wrestles with the role his actions played. As a seemingly inescapable net begins to tighten, breaking free from the suffocating environs of Beauval becomes a gnawing obsession. But how far does he have to run, and how long will it take before his past catches up with him again?

Being a confirmed admirer of Pierre Lemaitre’s books to date, I rather enjoyed the subtle shift of style and location that Three Days And A Life reveals. Turning his attention away from the big city to the rural backwater of Beauval, Lemaitre constructs a slower and more introspective novel than we have come to expect from him, but equally produces a more heightened, and psychologically deft portrayal of human frailty and morality…

Time after time, I become disappointed, and as you know more than a little incensed, by the unnatural narrative voice given to young protagonists. Consequently I avoid reading many books that have a pre-sixteen narrator or central character. With Antoine, the dislikeable little person that he is, Lemaitre captures beautifully his perception of the world, and his reactions to the consequences of his severe misdemeanour. Antoine is realistically imbued with a child’s thought processes, as to how to conceal and avoid punishment of his crime, and I enjoyed the authenticity of his under-developed sense of morality, which he seems to carry quite happily into his adult years too. I thought the portrayal of his mother was also excellent, and how Antoine’s childish perception of her as just his mother actually spoke volumes to the reader about her true emotional state. Equally, I loved the depiction of parochial small town jealousies, and ill-feeling, that reminded me of the observational prowess, and skewed morality that is so familiar in the works of the late Pascal Garnier. Lemaitre reveals a boiling pot of tension and envy that perfectly fits with the feel of a small community under pressure, and the distrust of their neighbours.

The latter stages of the book are hewed from Antoine’s re-visitation of childhood events from an adult perspective, and Lemaitre’s control of his narrative once again comes to the fore. With Antoine being as utterly self-absorbed as he was as a child, but perhaps with a greater perception of the fall out for others from his actions, and indeed, closer to home, there is another twist in store for the reader, and there was me beginning to worry that the king of the psychological twist would disappoint! Once again, a precise and engaging translation from Frank Wynne allows us to fully appreciate this tawdry and morally ambiguous tale of childhood mistakes, and Lemaitre has again demonstrated his flexibility and natural flair as a storyteller. Three Days And A Life is entertaining, thought-provoking, and as always highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

1950’s Bordeaux. Even now, the Second World War is never far from people’s memories, particularly in a city where the scars of collaboration and resistance are more keenly felt than ever. But another war has already begun. A war without a name, far away across the sea, in Algeria, where young men are sent to fight in a brutal conflict. Daniel knows what awaits him. He’s heard stories. Patrols, ambushes, reprisals, massacres, mutilations, all beneath a burning north African sun. He has just a month left before he leaves but, haunted by the loss of his parents and sister in the atrocities of the last war, Daniel questions why he is even going to fight in the first place. Meanwhile, past crimes are returning to haunt Albert Darlac, the godfather of Bordeaux: corrupt police chief, fascist sympathiser and one-time collaborator. Before long, a series of explosive events will set off a spiral of violence that will bring the horrific legacy of wars past and present to the streets of Bordeaux…

During the reading of After The War, I posted on social media that “This is astonishing. I have been moved, perplexed, disturbed, and enthralled in equal measure” and to be honest, in the wake of finishing it, I could simply leave it at that. Comprising of past and present timelines, the dual locations of the seedy underbelly of 1950’s Bordeaux, and the contentious French conflict in Algeria, and with one police protagonist that is evil incarnate,  Herve Le Corre has produced a truly uncompromising, multi-layered masterpiece…

In common with many crime thrillers this is a story driven by, and built on vengeance, as Daniel, a young man, on the cusp of war,  becomes aware of his estranged father returning to Bordeaux to seek revenge on the man who committed the ultimate betrayal during WWII. Through the powerful narrative of Daniel’s experience fighting in Algeria, juxtaposed with Jean, his father’s, meticulous plan to heap as much misery and wrath on Albert Darlac, an immoral, violent and thoroughly odious police detective, Le Corre raises the emotional intensity, and therefore the reader’s engagement with some considerable skill. His characterisation is absolutely superb, with all three male protagonist’s exposing to the reader the very best and worst of human nature, and digging deep into the notion of how we can be morally compelled to do bad things for good reasons. In the character of Darlac, we see the ultimate realisation of the bete noire, with a man whose actions come from the darkest recesses of immorality, and whose revenge on those around him is driven by evil of the highest order. I was equally repulsed and fascinated by him throughout, and will from this day forward acquire the mantle of one of the darkest characters ever to grace the pages of crime fiction.

Le Corre’s depiction of Daniel experiencing the sheer intensity and dubious morality of men’s actions in war was my personal highlight of the book. As a regular reader of contemporary literary  war fiction, I thought that the author’s realisation and visualisation of the terrain itself was perfect in every detail, and the mundanity of a soldier’s life, interrupted with these big, bold and terrifying incidences of combat was hugely affecting on the reader. Le Corre never turns his full gaze away from this harshest of moral issues as to how the men in Daniel’s platoon react so viscerally to attack, and how they vent this rage on the enemy, contravening the rules of war. The scenes he presents are uncompromising, and yes, uncomfortable at times, but so real and necessary to underscore Daniel’s gradual realisation of the futility of that for which he fights, and in which he loses comrades. It was breath-taking in its depiction.

After The War is a behemoth of a thriller, that challenges and perplexes the reader, testing our notions of morality and empathy, and through the adept translation of Sam Taylor, a thoroughly rewarding, if emotionally troubling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

And last, but by no means least, and quite possibly my book of the year…

Burma, 1852. Arthur Bowman, a sergeant in the East India Company, is sent on a secret mission during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the expedition is foiled – his men are captured and tortured. Throughout their ordeal, a single word becomes Bowman’s mantra, a word that will stiffen their powers of endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering: “Survival”. But for all that, only a handful escape with their lives. Some years later in London, battling his ghosts through a haze of alcohol and opium, Bowman discovers a mutilated corpse in a sewer. The victim appears to have been subjected to the same torments as Bowman endured in the Burmese jungle. And the word “Survival” has been daubed in blood by the body’s side. Persuaded that the culprit is one of the men who shared his captivity, Bowman resolves to hunt him down…

I have tried and failed to write a coherent review of Retribution Road, with several attempts, as it’s impossible to do justice as an amateur reviewer to the sheer magnificence of this novel. Adopting the form of an allegoric odyssey, Antonin Varenne has produced a sprawling, magisterial novel that defies comparison to anything I have read before…

Structured as three interlinking parts, and traversing more than 700 pages, I could feel the influence of a quest serving as a plot device in mythology and fiction, with a difficult journey towards a goal, in the character of Arthur Bowman who inhabits, and influences, each stage of the novel. As he journeys from his military service in Burma, then on to Victorian London, and finally to the swathes of  unconquered territory of America in the grip of the gold rush, each section of the book is wonderfully visual, with Varenne depicting each landscape with pinpoint precision. In his use of location the ordinary is made extraordinary, and the reader’s sense of us being such a small inconsequential part of the natural world is continually brought to bear. Bowman is beautifully cast as both avenging angel and pioneer, weighted down by the brutal events in his personal history, and hence a man of changeable moods and impulses that wax and wane during the course of his mission to track down a killer.

The prose throughout is as tender and sensitive, as it is violent and vengeful, and our emotions and feelings are challenged and manipulated throughout, as Bowman navigates through both testing terrain, and human interaction. The book also poses some interesting theories on  morality and immorality, particularly as a consequence of Bowman’s actions, and those of the man he so ardently and doggedly pursues, at intense personal cost. I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that this is a true magnum opus, and held me utterly in its power along the long road to redemption and justice. It was just a completely wonderful emotional rollercoaster,  suffused with historical detail, and a totally authentic evocation of place. It is a hugely complex and challenging novel, addressing themes of war, religion, revenge, human connection and emotional strife. As ever, Sam Taylor provides a perfect translation, that subtly captures the nuances of Varenne’s intensity of emotion.  I cannot praise Retribution Road enough, and would highly recommend it for fiction and crime fiction readers alike. C‘est vraiment magnifique!  

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day, here are a selection of French thrillers that have awed, moved and delighted the Raven in equal measure.  Or in other words, a blog post I could simply label, here are three of my favourite books of the year, that are unlikely to be surpassed any time soon. Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

Vive La France! (1) Philippe Georget- Crimes Of Winter/ Frederic Dard- The King of Fools/ Emmanuel Carrere- The Adversary

En l’honneur de la Journée de la Bastille, il y a trois livres français criminellement bons pour vous ravir et vous divertir avec adultère, meurtre, femmes dangereuses et hommes stupides. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture!*

 

This winter is going to be a rough one for Inspector Gilles Sebag, for he has discovered a terrible truth: Claire has been cheating on him. Bouncing between depression, whisky, and insomnia, he buries himself in work in an attempt to forget. But his investigations lead him inexorably to bigger tragedies – a woman murdered in a hotel, a depressed man who throws himself from the roof of his building, another who threatens to blow up the neighborhood – all of them involving betrayals of some sort.  Perpignan seems to be suffering from a veritable epidemic of crimes of passion. Adultery is everywhere and each betrayal leads to another dramatic crime…

Inspired by the encouragement of other reviewers to read Philippe Georget, this is my first dip into the Inspector Gilles Sebag series of thrillers. I thought the characterisation was truly excellent both of the cuckolded Sebag, with his melancholy wistfulness, and growing dependence on the demon drink, and the surrounding cast of police characters. Sebag himself is a walking contradiction being so incredibly intuitive and effective in his job, but a mass of neuroses when dealing with the fallout of his wife’s affair, and the increasing strain placed on him by a succession of cases involving adultery.  I loved  his colleague Jacques Molina, a big bear of a man, with his bawdy humour and distinctly non-PC view of the world, and the shifty and duplicitous Francois Menard, jealous of Sebag’s innate ability to read and disseminate a crime suspect and scene so effectively. The interactions and relationships between all three both personally and professionally really held the book together, as well as the intermittent entrance of others affiliated to the police force, and the tensions or humour they brought to the story.  Although I enjoyed the various strands of the plot and its intricacies, regarding cases of murder and suicides arising from a range of adulterous behaviour, I felt that there was a little too much repetition and naval gazing afforded to Sebag as he sought to make connections between his own wife’s betrayal, and the cases he’s involved in.  I like a slow-burner as much as the next person, but sometimes it felt more like stopping than slowing, so felt the book could have been shortened slightly  to a more consistently steady pace. That aside, I did really enjoy the book overall, and will be seeking out others in the series soon. Recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

 

From the moment he first gazes at Marjory across the roulette table in the Cote d’Azur Jean-Marie is entranced, and when their feverish holiday romance comes to an end he decides to take the biggest gamble of his life – to follow the beautiful Englishwoman back to rainy Edinburgh. But Jean-Marie’s luck runs out as soon as he arrives. His infatuation with Marjory draws him into an impenetrable mystery and soon he finds himself with blood on his hands, trapped in the grey-granite labyrinth of the city streets, and running out of time to save his sanity and his life…

The works of Frederic Dard are a constant source of delight for me, and The King of Fools is one of the best I have read to date. With its compelling blend of the suspense of Hitchcock, and the psychological claustrophobia of Simenon and Highsmith, this is a taut and tense tale of infatuation and murder played out on the Cote D’Azur, and the grim, dark streets of 1950’s Edinburgh. Jean-Marie is a wonderfully flaky man, ruled by his baser instincts, that lead him to pursue the pale, and lets be honest, quite unprepossessing Marjory from sensual France to down at heel Scotland. Dard delights in painting a dark and depressing picture of Scottish life, and its environs, that causes the reader to question further the indefatigable will of Jean-Marie to wrest the seemingly hapless Marjory from a loveless marriage. But Dard being Dard, you know that there will be dark deeds afoot, that will explode in a moment of madness, but which of our loved up pair will be caught in the crossfire? That would be telling, and I’m sure you will accrue as much pleasure from finding it out as I did. Dard once again shows his knack for ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances, with all the psychological darkness and violence that became his trademark. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin for the ARC)

 

 “On the Saturday morning of January 9th, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…” With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

Working for a major book retailer in the UK, we are currently promoting this as our Non- Fiction Book of the Month, and whilst some of my colleagues seem keen to foist this on our customers as a true crime book, I would say that The Adversary is so far off the scale of slasher-style true crime so as not to really resemble a true crime book in its traditional form, the notable exceptions being In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. With a subtle and thoughtful grace, that mirrors Emmanuel Carrere’s dual style as a writer of high quality literary fiction, he presents a tale revolving around a truly Walter Mitty-esque man, whose whole identity and life is built on a tissue of lies and deceit with horrific results. Carrere stands at a distance from his subject for much of the book, although slightly peppering the tale with instances of his own life as a family man, but encourages the reader to form their own opinions, and moral judgement on Romand’s life and crimes. The writing is succinct, and at times, beautifully lyrical as The Adversary explores Romand’s twisted and, at times, inexplicable relationship with the world, leading to an original and disturbing portrait of the mind and psychosis of a killer. Recommended.

(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day here are three criminally good French books to delight and entertain you with adultery, murder, dangerous women and foolish men… Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

#BlogTour- Matthew Richardson- My Name Is Nobody- Extract

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for Matthew Richardson’s debut spy thriller, My Name Is Nobody. I reviewed this book a few weeks ago, and was struck by how it retains all the tension and atmosphere of a very traditional spy thriller, but with a refreshingly contemporary take on spies, lies and espionage. Here is the opening chapter from the book for your delectation and delight, and read my review here .

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

Prologue

Istanbul, August 2016

‘I know a secret,’ he says. ‘A secret that changes everything.’

Solomon Vine pulls out the rickety plastic chair and sits down on the opposite side of the table. The room is stark and empty. Dust clings to the walls.

‘That wasn’t my question,’ Vine says, holding the man’s gaze. His voice is without colour, bare of any emotion.

‘No. But it is my answer.’

‘I don’t want your secrets, I want names.’

There is an interruption as the door screeches open. Gabriel Wilde fills the space, offering a slight nod of apology. He pads across the concrete flooring and takes the chair on Vine’s left. He slides over a manila folder. Vine doesn’t look at it immediately, as if he has already memorized its contents. Instead, it sits there, free of any official marking or classifica­ tion, anonymous and deniable.

Vine lets a beat of silence fall. He needs to make the sus­ pect hear the full, noiseless force of it. There is no one else here to save him. This isn’t official embassy territory, soft­ ened by rules and edicts. There are no platoons of lawyers ready to ambush the interrogation. He is theirs, to do with what they will.

You don’t understand,’ the man says now. There is a spike of volume in his voice. He leans forwards so his upper­body weight pivots on his elbows. Despite the handcuffs, he fights for dexterity with his hands, prodding his index finger at the

1

table top in rhythm with his voice. ‘What I know changes everything. Whatever you think you can do, you are mistaken.’

Vine reaches for the file and brandishes it. He opens the cover and scans the first page.

‘Mobile ­phone records show recent contact with five British citizens who have travelled to Syria,’ he says. ‘We have evidence confirming the supply of fake passports and illegal arms. Her Majesty’s government has an isolation cell pre­ pared specially for your return home. With the material we have in this folder alone, you will be sent down for life . . . Write down the names of your contacts, and we can talk.’

The man looks up, lips creasing into a smile. It is not a reflex, but a carefully calibrated action, the jaw wounded with amusement.

‘There will be no trial, no sentence, no cell,’ he says.

‘No one will save you, Dr Yousef,’ says Vine. ‘No one even knows you’re here. You have disappeared off the face of the earth. You’re lucky you ran into us before the Americans. Though if you would like to be transferred, I’m sure that can be arranged . . .’

He shakes his head. This time the smile thickens into laughter. ‘One word from me and they will let me go . . . Trust me, they will call.’

‘Who will call?’ says Gabriel Wilde, breaking his silence. He gets up from the chair and starts roaming the boxy parameters of the room.

‘The people who matter,’ says Ahmed Yousef. ‘They always do. If they want my secret, they will pay the price. It is the terms of business. Nothing more.’

‘A secret that changes everything?’ says Wilde. He stops behind Yousef ’s chair and dips his voice to a whisper. ‘It

2

better be a bloody good one. A grass can never be too careful . . .’

‘It’s the best,’ says Yousef. ‘They will call. You will see.’ ‘And if they don’t?’

Yousef doesn’t answer. He looks to the closed door. As if on cue, there is the flash of the alert light, a throb of red that upsets the blankness of the room. Vine feels the first cramp of unease as he gets up from the table and makes his way to the door.

It is cool outside. There is another sound behind, and Vine turns to see Wilde following him down the long line of grey corridor to the control room. An RMP guard all fi ety eyes and nervous speed waits with the phone.

‘Who is it?’

‘The switch at HQ,’ he says, handing over the red receiver.

As Vine waits to be connected, the guard turns to Wilde. ‘Your wife also called, sir. She needs you back at base. She

said it was urgent.’

Wilde doesn’t display any twinge of anxiety. Instead, he says to Vine: ‘You OK to finish this? I’ll be back as soon as I can . . .’

Vine nods, careful not to react at the mention of Rose. The control room is full of monitors, a glassy panorama of concrete floors and airless turnings. He sees Wilde make his way down the hall and in the direction of the car park. A voice emerges through the crackle on the other line.

‘Please hold for the Chief . . .’

One burr later, the gravelly tones of Sir Alexander Cecil fill the speaker.

‘Is it true?’ the voice says. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘Is it true, Vine? You have Ahmed Yousef in custody?’

3

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘He’s not talking at the moment. But we’re getting there. The product he was carrying should be enough to put him away this time.’

There is no response on the end of the line. Vine can feel the weight of it, like a silent throat­clearing. ‘I never said this, Vine. Are we clear? This never came from me.’

‘I’m sorry?’

Youre to release Ahmed Yousef immediately. I don’t care where you drop him, but see that you do so within the next half hour.’

I know a secret . . . A secret that changes everything . . .

Vine halts, unable to reply immediately. Sweat begins to gather on his forehead, a tightness pressing on his gut. ‘The line’s bad. Repeat please.’

‘You caught it perfectly well, Vine. Just do it.’

Vine waits for another moment, topping up the compos­ ure in his voice. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Nothing’s going on,’ says Cecil. ‘Drop him and continue with whatever you were doing. Don’t ask questions. Not this time.’

‘Sir, we have direct evidence implicating Ahmed Yousef in the cases of at least five British citizens arriving in Syria. He is a priority­one target on the NSC and CIA Most Wanted lists. We have more than enough material here to prosecute. This makes no sense.’

Cecil’s voice frosts over now, the words newly brittle. ‘This isn’t a discussion, Vine. There are more important things going on here than you can possibly imagine. Carry out this order or I’ll damn well get someone else to.’

With that, the line cuts off. Cecil’s voice is replaced by a scratchy monotone. Vine hands the receiver back to the RMP guard. He glances at the monitors.

4

He turns to the guard. ‘Is there anyone else in the building?’ ‘No, sir,’ he says. ‘Just you, me and the prisoner.’

Vine waits. Once said, the words can’t be unsaid. ‘Good. I want you to go dark until I say so. If anyone asks, blame it on a power cut.’ He notices the scrunch of concern on the man’s face. ‘Refer any questions to me.’

He looks up at the monitors for a final time to see Gabriel Wilde’s car inching out of the driveway escaping all conse­quences with immaculate timing. He watches as the guard begins methodically turning the cameras off, each screen blinking fuzzily and then blank.

Then he leaves the building and walks into the blast of heat outside. He unfurls a lighter and a cigarette. The sun bruises his face. He can already feel the pincers moving to­ wards him. Cecil will have engineered things in London to make sure the call was never logged. If it goes wrong, Cecil will be able to plausibly deny he ever gave instructions to let Ahmed Yousef free. But, if Vine doesn’t follow through, he will find the full might of the fifth floor against him. The game demands a scapegoat, and he is now theirs.

He keeps on smoking, letting the minutes drift away, try­ing to will things clearer. Eventually, he douses the final one and turns. As he walks, the words repeat, tumbling over themselves.

There are more important things going on here than you can possibly imagine . . .

Curiosity compels him forwards now. The secret looms like a challenge. He treads back through the dour hallways, not yet sure what he will do. But he finds himself suddenly longing to be away from here, tired of patrolling the huts and compounds, starved of oxygen and scenery; tired of the decisions and the choices.

5

He buzzes back into the secure area and makes his way down the thin final corridor. The interrogation room lies at the end, aglow with a harsher whiteness. Vine wonders again what hold Yousef has on London. What does he know? What grubby deal has he engineered that sees him immune from further questioning? Why would the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service intervene personally to demand his release?

I know a secret . . . A secret that changes everything . . .

Vine reaches the door and pauses for a moment. He feels a new anger begin to work its way up from the pit of his stomach until it fills his throat.

He presses his card against the scanner and hears the door click open. He tries to brush aside any final doubt as he steps into the brighter light. He knows what he will do, what he must do.

It is then that he stops. In front of him is an empty chair, a hollow space where Ahmed Yousef should be. But that isn’t it. There is something else wrong. He looks down at the floor and sees the first splashes of colour against the grey­ ness. It seems to ooze and wander according to a logic of its own. Slowly, he traces the source, a lump of shadow behind the table.

Ahmed Yousef is lying on his back, blood haloing around him. It looks like a gunshot wound. Without stopping to cal­culate the consequences, Vine finds himself pressing the alert button. A keening noise smothers the building.

Soon the steps of the RMP guard sound outside. The door opens with a ponderous click.

He knows they have minutes at best. With the amount of blood loss, they could already be too late. He strains to feel a pulse. But there is just flesh, slippery and raw.

6

‘Call for an urgent medical team,’ he shouts. ‘We need to evacuate him now. As the guard turns, Vine says: ‘Find out who’s been in here and how the hell this could have happened.’

The delay seems to last for ever. He takes out the emer­gency medical kit and begins doing everything he can to stem the blood loss. But the blood spatters his fingers and up his arms. His clothes become damp and sticky. He tries again to find any signs of consciousness, feels just the fading echo of a pulse.

Minutes later, the guard returns. ‘Evac team on their way from base, sir. ETA five minutes.’ He starts to walk further into the room then stops and hovers.

‘What is it?’

Vine turns. He realizes what he must look like a butcher, or a surgeon.

‘I’ve found the card that was used to enter the building, sir,’ he says. ‘Ten minutes ago. With the CCTV down, that’s the only identifier we have.’

And?’ Vine says impatiently. Who was in here? Who did this?’

The guard doesn’t answer at first. He looks nervous, as if unable to summon the words.

‘It was you, sir.’

Meet the author…

Matthew Richardson studied English at Durham University and Merton College, Oxford. After a brief spell as a freelance journalist, he began working as a researcher and speechwriter in Westminster, and has also written speeches for senior figures in the private sector. My Name is Nobody is his first novel.

My Name Is Nobody is available now- published by Penguin Books

 

 

 

Clare Carson- The Dark Isle

Sam grew up in the shadow of the secret state. Her father was an undercover agent, full of tall stories about tradecraft and traitors. Then he died, killed in the line of duty. Now Sam has travelled to Hoy, in Orkney, to piece together the puzzle of her father’s past. Haunted by echoes of childhood holidays, Sam is sure the truth lies buried here, somewhere. What she finds is a tiny island of dramatic skies, swooping birds, rugged sea stacks and just four hundred people. An island remote enough to shelter someone who doesn’t want to be found. An island small enough to keep a secret…

Having been utterly bewitched by Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh , it was with some trepidation that I embarked on The Dark Isle as I desperately wanted to be as in awe of this book as the previous two. I’m pleased to say that my fears were completely groundless and Clare Carson has triumphed once again…

The Dark Isle moves seamlessly between two timelines spanning the intensely hot summer of 1976, and the political unrest of 1989, with the poll tax demonstrations firmly rooting us in this particular period. Likewise, the story pivots between London and Orkney within both periods of time, with Carson once again demonstrating her particular skill in scene setting and atmosphere, so unlike other books with split timelines , the reader is instantly transported to, and settled within the locations, even without the date stamps on the chapters. Carson’s depiction of landscape, weather and nature,  is completely entrancing as ever. The rugged wilderness of Hoy which seems to teeter on the edge of the earth is as vital and real as the suburban streets of London that Sam frequents in her formative years, and affords Carson ample opportunity to showcase both, and how they impact on, and play such an important part in Sam’s realisation of the world as a whole, and within her own troubled and secretive family history.

In the London scenes, Carson adopts the viewpoint of a flaneur, with the careful demarcation of Sam’s stomping grounds both as a child and as a young woman. In the wilds of the Scottish Isles, Carson casts Sam as an old style explorer as she works to uncover real history through archaeology, and her own personal history whose secrets lie buried in this  mystical and  unforgiving terrain. The locations are absolutely intrinsic to the development of the storylines, and play as much of a role as any character contained within its pages. There are precise and naturalistic descriptions of flora and fauna which flow beautifully in and out of the narrative, giving a sharp vitality and visual panorama to the reader. Carson weaves in mythical tales, adding to the sense of unknowing that permeates the book, and subtly enlightening the reader on folklore which still remains totally in keeping with the story.

Sam is a complex and engaging character, and this book is no exception. There’s a quote that says “Be like a spy. Keep your true self hidden,” and one that Sam along with other characters all seem to adhere to. With her father’s influence, as a shadowy and secretive undercover operative, I found it fascinating how despite losing him some years previously this influence has steadily increased in her own psyche, and how the more subtle aspects of his personality are revealed in Sam from time to time. She is resourceful, determined, not unnaturally brave, and refreshingly susceptible to the duplicity of others. There’s a realism and truthfulness to her character, that makes us admire her gumption, and empathise with her less glorious moments of naivety, and I have a great affection for her as a character. So as not to unwittingly reveal anything, all I would say to the other protagonists who encourage or seek to thwart Sam’s efforts, is that you will be surprised and frustrated by their various deceptions, and most importantly as you’re reading…trust no one…

I suspect that I will have a similar trepidation when I read Clare Carson’s next book, having been so enamoured with this series to date, but I’m willing to endure it! The Dark Isle is another great addition to this beautifully written series, and I would recommend all three books heartily. Great storytelling, pitch perfect plotting, and a wonderful sense of time and place. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author and Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

#BlogTour- J. G. Sinclair- Walk In Silence

Keira Lynch may be a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean she plays by the rules. She has been summoned to give evidence against an Albanian hit man. She was there the night he murdered the mother of a five-year-old boy. She remembers it well – it was the same night he put three bullets in her chest and left her for dead.
But there are powerful people who want the hit man back on the streets. When they kidnap the boy, she is given a choice: commit perjury, blow the trial and allow the killer to walk or give evidence, convict him and watch the child die. Keira must make a decision. This time, does she have to cross a line to win?

Following Seventy Times Seven and Blood Whispers, this is the third of J. G. Sinclair’s crime thrillers featuring the character of forthright and feisty Irish lawyer Keira Lynch. Lynch is juggling the dual concerns of an explosive court case back in her adopted city of Glasgow, but also tracking down the whereabouts of an orphaned boy in Albania to provide a better future for him after the violent death of his mother. Still recovering from the violent events recounted in the previous book, once again Lynch is in a killer’s sights, and must call on all her mental and physical strength to outwit the bad guys…

Quite honestly I could just say that I absolutely blooming loved this, and leave it at that, but as this is not an Amazon review, although I did receive the book well-packaged, I will share a little more with you. J. G. Sinclair was speaking at a recent crime festival, and said that his writing was incredibly influenced by the visual nature of the scenes and how this committed itself to the page, and I was incredibly struck throughout by the very strong sense of scene setting that Sinclair ingrains in his book. Be it the austere surrounds of a Glasgow courtroom, the terrace of a hotel in Albania, or a small village in which one particularly beautifully described building houses a horrific discovery. A sense of location and atmosphere suffuses the book consistently throughout, giving added depth and colour behind the central action as a backdrop to the increasingly precarious and dangerous situation that Lynch finds herself involved in.

The plot is utterly compelling, bolstered to some degree by the strength of Lynch’s character, but more simply that Sinclair has a knack for pure thrilling storytelling. There are bad guys, good guys, good guys that could be bad and vice versa, and the relentless pressure of Lynch’s mission to rescue this small child, and seek justice for his murdered mother driving the plot on at a furious pace. The violence is swift and uncompromising, but unlike many thrillers I have read where the degree of violence visited on one woman seems somewhat incredulous, Lynch is very much physically capable to meet violence with violence. Aside from her physical prowess, and her amazing knife skills, she is strong, mentally resilient and quick witted, continually assessing, planning, premeditating  and changing tactics to overcome the peril she finds herself in. She’s also a pretty good lawyer. And justifiably killed a man when she was a small girl. She’s great.

I read Walk In Silence at a frenetic pace, as the speed and energy of Sinclair’s writing, just pushes you on mercilessly, and avoiding spoilers I think the ending could be an interesting set-up for a new fork in Lynch’s life. Action, spills, thrills and some emotional depth it has to be said, amongst the maelstrom of violence and duplicity. Great thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Kristen Lepionka- The Last Place You Look

Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.
Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she thinks she’s linked Sarah’s disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad’s life and her own…

And so to a debut thriller from Kristen Lepionka, The Last Place You Look, revolving around her troubled female private investigator Roxanne Weary, and a perplexing case in which she seeks to clear the name of an allegedly falsely accused man on Death Row. The plot plays out pleasingly enough, as Weary finds her own family connections inextricable linked with her investigation into this case, and encounters some harsh resistance along the way as she probes deeper into the missing links between these violent events. A few twists and turns along the way keep the action moving along at a pace, and despite a slight hackneyed scenario towards the close of the book, enough is initially kept hidden from Weary, and by extension the reader, to satisfy us with its twists and turns. However, the real strength of Lepionka’s writing lies within her characterisation of  Weary herself…

Being a little world weary (excuse the pun)  of crime thrillers featuring private investigators, I did approach this one a little tentatively at first, but my fears were assuaged somewhat by some nifty characterisation on the part of Lepionka. Although other reviewers have drawn comparison with the hardboiled tradition of Raymond Chandler, I felt that Weary was definitely more closely aligned with the forthright private investigator characters redolent of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and a smattering of a more worldly wise Nancy Drew. I think these influences shine through in her portrayal of Weary, reeling from her father’s death, combating her personal demons with alcohol and sex, and being very much of the mould of act now and think later. I did find the dynamics of her  personal relationships with her father’s police partner Tom and the frosty artistic Catherine interesting, and how her behaviour morphed and changed when in their company, or fretting about the emotional depth of her involvement with them.  This added a nice tangential aspect to the storyline, and gave us a greater insight into Weary’s character and her emotional complexity. I had a growing admiration for her as her travails increased, and rather liked her gung-ho attitude in the face of this complex and dangerous case, so much so that the strength of her character rather over-shadowed other characters in the book, who are a trifle hazy in my recollection a few weeks after reading the book.

Overall with The Last Place You Look,  my attention was held mostly by Weary, and the ups and downs of her emotional state, along with the clear-sightedness with which she approaches this troubling case. Although a little less convinced by the final denouement, this was an engaging enough read, and think that Lepionka has a few more roads to travel yet with this character. Recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Bill Mesce Jr- Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File

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

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

#BlogTour- James Hazel- The Mayfly- Exclusive Extract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody idiot. Burning the fish was bad enough…

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

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

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

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

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

“Gotcha!” the fake copper announced.

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

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

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

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

“What do you want?” Priest asked.

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

“And you know me?”

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

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen-Wolves In The Dark

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

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

   Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Up ↑