A gargantuan round-up! Parker Bilal, Adrian McKinty, Alex North, Trevor Mark Thomas, Guillaume Musso, Luca D’Andrea,

Stumbling upon a massive pile of books that I have read and failed to review, desperate measures are called for to address the problem, before I get even further behind! So, in an attempt to clean down the decks, so to speak, what follows is probably a rambling and longer than average round up of a veritable smorgasbord of thrillers. Hopefully there will be something for everyone here, and concealed within the round up will be a couple that will make a reappearance later in my Top Reads of 2019. Although some reviews will be briefer than others this is more to do with the stress level of being so far behind, although I’m sure this will fall by the wayside as I start to rave! 

So eyes down and here we go…

 

PARKER BILAL- THE DIVINITIES- When two bodies are found brutally murdered at a building site in Battersea, DS Calil Drake is first to the scene. He sees an opportunity: to solve a high-profile case and to repair his reputation after a botched undercover operation almost ended his promising career in the Violent Crimes Unit. Assigned to work with the enigmatic forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, and on the hunt for an elusive killer, Drake’s investigations lead down the dark corridors of the past – to the Iraq war and the destruction he and Crane witnessed there. With a community poised on the brink of violence, Crane and Drake must put their lives on the line to stop the killer before vengeance is unleashed…

I absolutely loved this opening salvo to a new London set crime thriller series from Parker Bilal, author of the Markana Investigations. Not only capturing the chasm existing between rich and poor in our capital city, and the general feel, spirit and energy of London, Bilal has produced the best police procedural I have read so far this year. The Divinities quickly reveals itself as a multi-faceted thriller, encompassing a gamut of issues and social observation, that gives layers of interest to what could have ostensibly been a straightforward narrative. I was intrigued, shocked and genuinely curious about the issues that Bilal raises, once again demonstrating how so much more of ‘real life’ can be encapsulated and distilled in a crime novel than more traditional forms of fiction. Drake and Crane are two of the most complex and interesting characters, working through and coming to terms with events from their chequered pasts, but adding a vitality and emotional heft to the narrative, sadly lacking from many police procedurals at the moment. What I also liked was the sensitive and compelling handling of the scars both mental and physical left on our protagonists through their prior involvement in warfare, and how difficult it is to make that transition from this life to their civilian careers. Both characters react and act to their own defined moral compass, and Bilal depicts the contrast between them beautifully, as they struggle at first to work together in a complex and testing investigation. This will probably be one of the few crime thrillers that I will re-read in later life (there’s no higher praise than that), but for now I would highly recommend this one, and am anticipating a similarly brilliant book two. No pressure…

(With thanks to The Indigo Press for the ARC)

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ADRIAN MCKINTY-THE CHAIN- Your phone rings. A stranger has kidnapped your child. To free them you must abduct someone else’s child. Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child. If any of these things don’t happen your child will be killed. You are now part of the chain… 

Without a doubt the most hyped crime book of the summer with stunning endorsements by Don Winslow, Steve Cavanagh et al, and to be honest, there is probably little more to be said about this tense, twisty and nerve wracking thriller. It’s great to see McKinty finally getting some of the kudos that is long, long overdue with this breakout book, and hopefully will gravitate people to some of his earlier books which I can heartily recommend having read them all. With shades of Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, McKinty has produced an accomplished page-turner with a unique premise, and although I was not quite as swept away as the majority of my fellow reviewers, I can see why The Chain has attracted the stellar reviews that it has as bringing something fresh to a very overcrowded sub-genre, and it’s tailor made for a film adaptation.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

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ALEX NORTH- THE WHISPER MAN- Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a much-needed fresh start. But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago, a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as ‘The Whisper Man’. Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He says he hears a whispering at his window . . .

Alex North is the pseudonym of an established crime novel whose work I have always admired greatly. With a change of name, publisher and style, North has produced a thriller that will very much appeal to a wider crime reading audience, and is definitely a chilling read to temper the summer heat. With shades of the great James Herbert combined with an interesting exploration of life beyond bereavement and the bond of father and son in the wake of the loss of their mutual anchor, North has produced a sinister and intriguing story with supernatural overtones. I will be a little bit of a party pooper and say that I did find parts of it a little slow and slightly lacking the darker, quirky finesse of the author’s previous books, but for the most part it worked well, and would definitely recommend.

(With thanks to Michael Joseph for the ARC)

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TREVOR MARK THOMAS- THE BOTHY- Tom is grieving for his girlfriend. Her powerful family, convinced he is responsible for her death, place a bounty on his head. On the run, Tom seeks refuge in the Bothy, a dilapidated moorland pub run by ageing gangster Frank. Tom tries to keep the bounty a secret, but news travels fast, even in the middle of nowhere…

Described by yours truly on Twitter as akin to Magnus Mills on meth, The Bothy proved to be something quite special from the outset. Tapping into the rising reputation and visibility of working class writing in the UK of late, Thomas has, with a limited cast of characters, constructed a dark, and unsettling book, packed to the gills with atmosphere and an overhanging miasma of violence. As Tom is sucked deeper into the strange, isolated world of the Bothy, and its attendant visitors and employees, one can’t help but wonder if he would be better off facing the music back home. Thomas’ sharp, punchy dialogue and his use of description to beautifully convey the cold, dirty shabbiness of Tom’s warped place of sanctuary, is absolutely first class. Throughout the book you feel completely immersed in the chaotic beauty of this isolated landscape, the sheer grit and grind of life, and the less than moral code that defines the lives of these characters. As this is a such a sinister and extremely claustrophobic tale of not your everyday country folk, I can’t reveal more about the violent chain of events that come to pass, but if you’re stout of heart and strong of stomach, I would absolutely recommend this to you.

(I bought this copy of The Bothy published by Salt Publishing)

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GUILLAUME MUSSO- THE REUNION- FRENCH RIVIERA, WINTER 1992 On a freezing night, as her high school campus is engulfed by a snowstorm, 19-year-old Vinca Rockwell runs away with Alexis, her philosophy teacher. No one will ever see them again. FRENCH RIVIERA, SPRING 2017 Formerly inseparable, Thomas, Maxime and Fanny – Vinca’s best friends – have not spoken in twenty-five years. But when they receive an invitation to their school reunion, they know they must go back one final time. Because there is a body buried in that school and they’re the ones who put it there…

Oh what tangled webs we weave with the folly of youth, as we soon discover in the dual timeline of The Reunion and a web that will prove particularly tricky for three former students with more than one secret between them. This is a top notch psychological thriller, effortlessly keeping the reader in a state of anticipation as Musso slowly drip, drip, drip feeds the events leading up to the disappearance of femme fatale Vinca, which gradually reveals a tale of jealousy, lust and greed, spanning families and decades. There are tricksy little twists in the narrative that genuinely caught me unawares, and there is a real assured sense of control as to how and when these little surprises are revealed to the reader.  Musso writes with a real sensitivity and intensity about the dilemmas of youthful emotion and obsession, and the changing perception we have of ourselves, and self realisation that we all experience as we grow older and look back on our younger selves. There is a real finesse to this one, and again a wonderful translation by Frank Wynne. Although it is hard to feel any kind of empathy with Musso’s cast of, it has to be said, quite self absorbed individuals, I was genuinely entranced by this clever and knotty thriller. Recommended.

(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)

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LUCA D’ANDREA- SANCTUARY- Marlene Wegener is on the run. She has stolen something from her husband, something priceless, irreplaceable. But she doesn’t get very far. When her car veers off a bleak midwinter road she takes refuge in the remote home of Simon Keller, a tough mountain man who lives alone with his demons. Here in her high mountain sanctuary, she begins to rekindle a sense of herself: tough, capable, no longer the trophy on a gangster’s arm. But Herr Wegener does not know how to forgive, and in his rage he makes a pact with the devil. The Trusted Man. He cannot be called off, he cannot be reasoned with and one way or another he will get the job done. Unless, of course, he’s beaten to it . . .

I read this some time ago, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. It’s a very strange story, somewhat reliant on coincidence, but there is something I can’t quite put my finger on that made it very readable. I’m not helping am I? Maybe, I’ll start with what I definitely liked, which was the isolated mountain setting of Marlene’s place of safety, and the slowly building relationship between her and the incredibly odd Simon Keller- a man at one with nature, with unsettling mystical healing powers and a frankly alarming sty of quite terrifying pigs- yep, said it was strange. Anyway, aside from this quite bizarre aspect to the story, there is all the tension of woman pursued by hitman with unlikely saviour, and there are some genuinely perilous moments for Marlene along the way. As much as this central premise works, there are some odd diversions in the course of the plot about ancient mystical healing, more about the murderous pigs, and a slightly baffling denouement, which further illustrates my general confusion to how much I enjoyed this. I liked it well enough, I think…

(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

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M. P. Wright- A Sinner’s Prayer

1970, Bristol. What’s buried doesn’t always stay buried. It’s a new decade and JT Ellington has taken himself out of the investigation game. But when an old friend asks him to help a doctor whose son disappeared hours after his wedding, JT’s commitment to a life lived under the radar is tested. His quest hurls him back into the underworld he’s worked so hard to leave behind. Charred remains in a churchyard, and a series of cold-blooded threats are stark warnings to JT, and to everyone he holds dear. Amid his terrorised community, JT locks horns with the vile underbelly of British far-right politics and a notorious gangland king. It’s not until JT uncovers a name from his own tragic past that the pieces of the investigation slot into place. But, with dark forces intent on destroying him, JT is pitted against an extraordinary enemy. He must play as dirty and dangerous as those who want him dead…

This is such a consistently excellent series that I would say from the outset it is an incredibly valuable use of your time to backtrack and begin from the beginning if you get the opportunity : Heartman, All Through The Night and Restless Coffins.  However, if you’re diving in to this one, The Sinner’s Prayer first, have no fear as you will soon become very well acquainted with Mr J. T. Ellington, his turbulent past and the very real dangers that threaten his present. Transporting us to Bristol in the 1970s, with an impeccable realisation of the city and the seamless inclusion of cultural and social references to root us firmly in this period, Wright leads us into a false of security with Ellington ( an ex colonial police officer hailing from Barbados) leading a quiet life as a school caretaker and caring for his adopted daughter, but trouble swiftly arrives on Ellington’s doorstep, and his natural impulse as an ex police officer and a ‘resting’ private investigator takes a hold when his newly acquired peace is threatened.

What defines Ellington as a character is his unerring sense of morality, the sense of atonement he carries from the dark events of his past, and his general compulsion to ‘do the right thing’ and give comfort to those that innocent victims leave in mourning. Sometimes his heightened sense of morality leads to him acting in ways slightly contrary to the law, but throughout the books there is just this resonance of goodness about him, whatever ends may justify the means. Of all the crime series I’ve read this is one of the few where I have a real picture of Ellington in my head, as due to the vividness of Wright’s characterisation I instinctively picture how Ellington dresses, moves and hear the cadence and rhythm of his speech. I hesitate to use the word flawless, but if any budding writer wants to know how to convey a character with absolute clarity to their reader, using relatively slight descriptions and implied characteristics that imprint on the reader’s imagination, this is a good place to start. Just to linger on characterisation for a little longer, this aptitude for an incredibly visual realisation of his central character is also extended to Ellington’s family, friends and criminal acquaintances, and tempted as I am to rattle on about Ellington’s colourful, criminal, unscrupulous and violent gangster cousin Vic, I will contain myself. I adore Vic, despite his borderline psychopathy, and the fact that the minute he enters the fray, you know that the danger and violence will be ramped up to the nth degree…

Once again, the storyline is tightly plotted, weaving in echoes of past events and people previously encountered as Ellington finds himself in the crosshairs of a powerful and influential local figure. Tasked with tracking down those responsible for two particularly insidious murders, Ellington faces a tricky task to discover who is be trusted or not, and how this case could be the dangerous he has faced to date. By engaging us so comprehensively with his characters, the twists, turns and inherent dangers of Ellington’s quest, become totally consuming as you feel very invested in him, and his less than honest associates. There are a more than a few unexpected twists in the narratives, and one demise of a character was followed by an audible gasp from me. On a bus. Full of people. In the course of Ellington’s investigation, outside of keeping up the necessary pace of the story, you are given space as a reader to think about and absorb some of the wider issues that Wright brings to the narrative, so it’s an incredibly satisfying blend of thriller and social and cultural observation.

I’m actually writing this review with a slight sense of loss hanging over me, as it would appear that this series is being put to bed for a while, with M. P. Wright stating that he wanted to deliver a sense of peace to Ellington and his kinfolk at the close of the series. All well and good, but by heck, does he put some of  them through an emotional and violent wringer first, once again proving the author’s prowess at plot, pace, characterisation, and his absolute ability to capture the zeitgeist of the period that he sets this series within. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a dip in the pure readability of all the previous books, and The Sinner’s Prayer is no exception to the rule, completely mirroring the obviously very high standard of writing that this author consistently produces. Absolutely recommended, and do bear in mind my advice to read all of the series. You won’t regret it…

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Raven reviews: Heartman / All Through The Night / Restless Coffins

An interview with M. P. Wright

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

Oliver Bottini- The Dance of Death

One wet and misty weekend in October, the Niemann family find a stranger in their garden. He is armed and tries to force his way into the house, but disappears as soon as the police are alerted. That night he’s back with an impossible ultimatum . . .

Freiburg detective Louise Boni and her colleagues are put under enormous pressure. Traces of evidence lead her to a no-man’s-land, and to a ruthless criminal who brings with him the trauma of conflict in the Balkans…

And so to the third of Oliver Bottini’s Black Forest Investigation series, The Dance of Death, which sees stalwart investigator Louise Boni, drawn into a case of retribution precipitated by the turbulent history of the Balkan states…

Whilst confessing to the fact that I did find the first of the series, Zen and the Art of Murder a tad ponderous for my tastes, and having read and enjoyed the second A Summer of Murder, I have come to appreciate the more meandering and slow moving pace of Bottini’s writing. Veering very much more towards literary fiction than crime thriller per se, I found myself adjusting to the pace and style of it the further into the book I read. This more measured feel to Bottini’s prose does rather dilute the feeling of this being a crime thriller, but  interestingly does give a platform for the author to really get beneath the skin of his characters, and to thoroughly interrogate the actions of the main antagonist, Antun Loncar, threatening retribution on one man’s family for the perceived sins of the past. We become as intimately involved with the motivations and history of this perpetrator as the police investigation team, and as his turbulent, unsettled and ultimately tragic story is slowly revealed, Bottini poses some interesting questions as to the balance between justice, revenge and compassion. As a reader it is good to feel conflicted about a character, where the boundaries of black and white merge into a mysterious grey, and this was an incredibly interesting facet of the book as a whole.

Talking of conflicted, police investigator Louise Boni, is a mass of contradictions, being a quixotic, emotionally challenged and a sometimes  slightly unfathomable protagonist. I still can’t quite decide if I like her or not, as her compassion and clear-sightedness, is so often blurred by her own self absorption, with a messy and unsettled private life, and her recovery as an alcoholic. At times, more often in her professional life, she shows a huge clarity of thought and sense of action, underscored by compassion and determination, but all too often in her private life be it due to drink or relationships there’s an overarching feeling of indecision and naval gazing  that makes you want to grab her by the shoulders, and give her a good shake. She proves to be a consistently complicated character, sometimes overwhelmed by her own feelings of guilt in relation to events of the past, and I still don’t know quite what to make of her.

The Dance of Death is not an easy read as there is a huge weight of historical factual detail, that although entirely necessary to the plot, does slow the pace of the book considerably, but it is difficult to see how this information could be imparted to the reader in any other way, tracing the history of war and resettlement between the Balkan states and Germany post Second World War. Although at times somewhat dense, and a little overwhelming, I did find the historical aspect fascinating, looking at the history of conflict and resettlement in the Balkans, from a new and interesting angle- special mention to translator Jamie Bulloch for the singular challenge this presented. Overall,  I actually enjoyed the final part of the book more, as Boni physically retraces Loncar’s past, and takes her own journey through the Balkans, and although it did feel rather truncated in comparison to what  had proceeded it, this section of the book had a real vividness and verve as Boni encounters the strange environs of Loncar’s home state. This is also quite possibly a journey for Boni that will take her life in an entirely new direction, so will be interested to see where Bottini takes her, and us, as readers…

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(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

Pre-order a copy of The Dance of Death here

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#Blog Tour Sergio Olguin- The Fragility of Bodies

When journalist Veronica Rosenthal hears about the suicide of a local train driver who has jumped off the roof of a block of flats, leaving a suicide note confessing to four mortal ‘accidents’ on the train tracks, she decides to investigate. For the police the case is closed (suicide is suicide), for Veronica it is the beginning of a journey that takes her into an unfamiliar world of grinding poverty, junkie infested neighborhoods, and train drivers on commuter lines haunted by the memory of bodies hit at speed by their locomotives in the middle of the night. Aided by a train driver informant, a junkie in rehab and two street kids willing to risk everything for a can of Coke, she uncovers a group of men involved in betting on working-class youngsters convinced to play Russian roulette by standing in front of oncoming trains to see who endures the longest. With bodies of children crushed under tons of steel, those of adults yielding to relentless desire, the resolution of the investigation reveals the deep bonds which unite desire and death…

Right, where on earth do I begin, to get across to everyone how intensely, sublimely brilliant The Fragility of Bodies is? A book shot through with painful truths and gritty realism, and with the ability to put its reader through a whole gamut of emotions with its pared down prose, perceptive exploration of the human compulsion to make connections, and larger themes of trust, exploitation and social injustice. This is a huge, important book hiding behind the deceptively simple label of an Argentine noir thriller, but has much to say about the nature of human relationships, and the power and exploitation of the few on the lives of the many…

With such a self assured, dogged, yet emotionally turbulent central character as journalist, Veronica Rosenthal, I was instantly entranced by her. She sets about her investigation into the worrying trend of suicides on local railway lines, with verve and energy; a verve and energy that also extends to the more base needs of her character, and the mutual seduction that occurs in the course of her investigation. She is flighty and independent, in relation to her friends and siblings, but she has a real strength of character and essence of self control, that her peers can only aspire to. Not only does Olguin put his readers through the emotional mangle, but Veronica is tested constantly in her pursuit of the truth behind the pattern of suicides occurring on train tracks of late, sucking her into a world of bribery and exploitation that will prove dangerous in the extreme. I can truthfully say that she is one of the most well-realised, compelling and authentic female characters that I have encountered for a long time, and this mix of tenacity and bravery, is beautifully tempered by the more impulsive, reckless and passionate side of her nature, be it in her professional or personal life.

The breadth of crime fiction set in South America has been a recent revelation to me, and Olguin naturally captures the grinding poverty, misplaced optimism, and dangerous existence of the lower classes of Buenos Aires society. Young boys believe that football is their ticket out of the slums and the path to riches, but putting them squarely into the path of those that would exploit them, and such is their desperation to escape the clutches of poverty and to help their families, or just to feel valued that they are easily coerced into the dark activities of the adults in whom they trust. Olguin perfectly captures the conflicts that arise in these young boys, lured into a dangerous form of ‘chicken’ to satisfy the men who place bets on these youngster’s bravery and ultimately survival, with the lure of a hundred pesos.

The world of these boys is unflinchingly depicted by Olguin, capturing the deprivation of the neighbourhoods they live in, the struggles of their families, and the thin line that exists between survival and criminality in the dangerous world of the favelas. Olguin’s depiction of this world is written with sharp clarity appealing to the reader’s senses, and which cannot fail to move the reader’s emotions too, but what is also detectible is the thin veneer of hope that lies behind the most meagre of lives, the feeling that not all is lost, and that a sense of morality can breach the divides Olguin so truthfully depicts. As long as journalists like Veronica, and honest citizens seek to expose the morally bankrupt despite the risks, there can always be hope, despite the inherent danger in society of those in positions of power.

The Fragility of Bodies has rocketed into my best books of the year, and all I can say to Sergio Olguin and his wonderful translator Miranda France, is that I am already salivating for the next in the series to be translated. This book shocked, moved and completely absorbed me from beginning to end, and think this will leave a few of my future reads trailing in its wake. Gritty, beautifully prosaic, and intensely moving, I cannot do justice to the power of this book, which moves the emotions, sparks the social conscience, but pays heed to the need of a thriller to excite and entertain us too, with a truly compelling central character. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)

 

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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#BlogTour #Extract-Adam Southward- Trance- “A tense, original thriller”

To mark the publication of Trance by Adam Southward, I am delighted to be hosting an exclusive extract of this very book. Billed as an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller, with a speculative twist, Trance is, according to crime writer John Marrs,  A tense, original thriller that perfectly blends the nail-biting suspense and shocks of Silence of the Lambs and Shutter Island.”

So what’s it about?

Three university scientists are found dead in a gruesome murder-suicide, and the only suspect in the case, Victor Lazar, is quickly captured. When the spate of violent suicides follows him to prison he is moved to solitary confinement, reserved for the highest-risk inmates. And then his assigned psychologist inexplicably takes his own life. Alex Madison, a former forensic psychologist turned private therapist, is brought in to interview Victor. He suspects that Victor is controlling his victims, somehow coaxing them into a suggestive trance. It seems like science fiction, but as Alex digs deeper he uncovers a frightening reality of secret research and cruel experimentation—and the perpetrators are closer to home than he could ever have imagined. Too late, Alex learns the true extent of what Victor is capable of—and who he’s after. With everything he holds dear at risk, can Alex take control of a dangerous mind—before it takes control of him?

Intriguing huh?

So here for your enjoyment, is an extract of the book, just to whet your appetites a little more…

Sophie kept glancing at Alex as they descended the stairs to the guard station. He noticed it and wondered what was bothering her.

‘Will you be assessing him?’ she said, after several steps.

‘Him?’

‘Him. Thirteen. Victor Lazar.’

Alex slowed and turned to her. ‘Mr Lazar is why I’m here. Thirteen?’

Sophie’s eyes narrowed. ‘It’s what he called himself when he arrived. Thirteen. So that’s a yes?’

Alex was surprised at her reaction. ‘What do you know about him?’

Sophie bit her lip. ‘Not much,’ she said. ‘His case is sensitive. Robert has access to the full case file. I don’t.’ She shrugged and walked faster.

Alex hadn’t seen the full case file yet either. He’d had a summary history emailed to him by the CPS but was told the full information would be available once he was on site.

As well as the unusual circumstances surrounding Victor Lazar’s arrest, there was the headline mystery, which was that Victor’s previous psychologist had committed suicide while treating him. Dr Henry Farrell, an experienced clinician close to retirement, had interviewed Victor alone in his cell for an hour. He’d left the cell complaining of a headache and driven home to call his wife, who was out of town. He’d made various nonsense statements over the phone, which his wife couldn’t accurately recollect, then jumped out of a third-floor window, landing on the concrete driveway. He was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

Alex could no doubt suggest several theories why a sane and intelligent man would take his own life, but the association with Victor was bizarre and curious. Victor appeared to be special – a potentially untreatable psychopath if the initial report was anything to go by. But that didn’t explain Dr Farrell’s behaviour. Connected or not, Alex intended to find out.

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Trance is published 1st July by Thomas & Mercer (published in paperback and ebook, price £4.99)

Available at Amazon

Twitter: @adamsouthward

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen- Wolves At The Door

One dark January night a car drives at high speed towards PI Varg Veum, and comes very close to killing him. Veum is certain this is no accident, following so soon after the deaths of two jailed men who were convicted for their participation in a case of child pornography and sexual assault, crimes that Veum himself once stood wrongly accused of committing. While the guilty men were apparently killed accidentally, Varg suspects that there is something more sinister at play, and that he’s on the death list of someone still at large. Fearing for his life, Veum begins to investigate the old case, interviewing the victims of abuse and delving deeper into the brutal crimes, with shocking results. The wolves are no longer in the dark, they are at his door. And they want vengeance…

I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Gunnar Staalesen is singularly the most difficult author I have to review, as his books are just so consistently superb, and beautifully translated by Don Bartlett. To this end, each new instalment of the Varg Veum series just puts an increasing strain on the scope of my vocabulary and my stash of superlatives, so apologies for any noticeable repetition detected of previous reviews for We Shall Inherit The Wind , Where Roses Never Die, Wolves In The Dark, and Big Sister. So now we come to Wolves At The Door, where the shadow of the misdemeanours of Veum’s past, both real and imagined come back to haunt this most tenacious of private investigators in the streets of his beloved Bergen and beyond…

This book is closely linked to the catastrophic events of Wolves In The Dark, but as ever with Staalesen, each of these books can be read in isolation, with the precise, and concise use of back story always contained within the books. Consequently, the reader can quickly get a handle on why Veum is once again under threat, and  the dangerous lengths he needs to go to in order to discover why. As is usual, the slightly gung-ho actions of Veum, also have ramifications for those he is closest too, and places a maybe unbridgeable strain on his most personal relationships. Staalesen always exhibits a sublime skill in his plotting, with a smooth, assured grip on the tension, pace and use of reveals in particular, so we experience the same level of frustration as Veum as his lines of investigation are consistently blurred by a web of lies, deception and interludes of violence.

I thought this plot was exceptionally well realised, bringing to the fore the age old hypothesis of nature vs nurture, the issues of familial dysfunction and how this manifests itself in the victims and survivors of abuse, and is natural justice more warranted in some cases than the grinding wheels of legal justice. Staalesen explores these themes with an intensity and clear sightedness through his conduit Veum, a former social worker illustrating once again, that alongside his innate ability to draw the reader in to an extremely well-structured and compelling thriller, these additional levels of societal and behavioural exploration serves to raise his books above the depressingly familiar norm of thrillers exploring the world of domestic abuse and family conflict.

Aside from Veum being such a vivid, slightly flawed and genuinely likeable character, with his tenacious attitude, his companionable relationship with aquavit, and his sometimes foolhardy denial of not being the spring chicken he was, these books always appeal to my own love of language and taut dialogue. I have never reached the end of one of Staalesen’s books without noting down several pages containing sharp and snappy exchanges, or just brilliant punchy little observations such as “On the way up to the house I passed a thawing snowman bent at the hip, an arthritic terpsichorean,” Staalesen has an elasticity of phrase, and what I perceive to be a general love of, and skill for, honing his language to compress a visual panorama into a pared down image, or short, taut description which reveals so much to the reader by saying relatively little. I also get a large amount of enjoyment from Veum’s perfectly delivered cynical asides in the face of other people’s stupidity- an admirable quality that dissipates the general irritation that the sometimes crotchety Veum experiences pretty much every day in his interactions with pretty much everybody. There are exceptions to this rule of course revealing an assuring soft-centeredness to him, which then quickly dissipates yet again, bringing a welcome return to cynicism and irritation as the idiots raise their ugly heads again.   

So, once again, Wolves At The Door accrues a five star rating for a five star book from a five star author, and a five star translator Don Bartlett. There is little more to say, apart from a personal note to Gunnar Staalesen in the light of the ending this book, you might want to rethink the beekeeping idea for both Veum’s sanity and ours…

Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- A. A. Dhand- One Way Out

A bomb detonates in Bradford’s City Park. When the alert sounds, DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt.

The worst is yet to come. A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtaroon – the chosen ones. The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.

There is only one way out. But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtaroon, to offer the Patriots his own deal.  Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them…

Of late there have been a couple of “completely unputdownable, the only thriller you need to read this year, blah…” action thrillers, hyped to buggery that sadly have actually been quite disappointing. Oh no, you say, surely there must be a book that combines the pace of a high octane thriller, underscored by an incisive commentary on the nature of radicalism, with a thought provoking and touching meditation on family conflict and forgiveness. Well, funny you should say that. Having read the first three of Dhand’s DI Harry Virdee series, this being the fourth, I can honestly say that these books have quickly secured their grip on me, and boy, does this one ratchet up the action, with a backdrop of a terrorist atrocity in Bradford, and a race against time to prevent a further one.  Also, where the first three books are intrinsically caught up with Harry and his criminal brother Ronnie (the devil and the angel of Bradford with a nice blurring of these seemingly straightforward definitions), this book sees Ronnie absent, and Harry, his wife Saima and Harry’s parents, Ranjit and Joyti, firmly in the spotlight. So, let the fun begin…

Right let’s start with the pow, kaboom aspect of this book, and that is quite clearly, the energy, pace and tension that Dhand so assuredly weaves into the tick-tock race to foil another terrorist attack in Bradford. This is proper high-octane thriller writing as the clock ticks down towards a potential attack that could cost the lives of many people. I must admit throughout the entirety of this book, I was astounded by Harry’s mental flexibility, and physical prowess, as he is tasked by the Home Secretary, Tariq Islam, to round up a group of terrorists, before disaster strikes. Harry is nothing if not tenacious, quick thinking and seems to be able to absorb a fair amount of physical punishment along the way too, and I can totally guarantee that as each twist in the plot hits home, you will be reading breathlessly throughout. It’s fast and furious, compounded by some sublime plotting, and yet moments of solemn pause for thought, as Dhand explores the theme of radicalism, in all its guises, be it through religion, right-wing prejudice, or for the manipulation of society by political chicanery. This is definitely a plot filled with thrills, spills and compelling action, that, to use a well worn adage, will keep you on the edge of your seat, but also with some beautifully weighted moments of reflection on the greater forces at work behind this abominable course of events.

Having been on the periphery of the opening attack with his mum, Joyti and young son, Aaron, Dhand uses this as a recurrent motif in the book, that being the fundamental impulse of Harry as a husband, father and son, to protect his family, and something that not only influences his actions in the book, but also, importantly distracts him periodically from the task in hand. The theme of family, as in previous books, sounds loud as having Harry and his wife Saima so deeply involved in the main thrust of the action, Dhand dedicates an equal part of the book to the ongoing familial conflict that Harry has experienced through his marriage as a Sikh to his Muslim wife Saima and the seemingly unbridgeable gap this has caused in his relationship with his parents, and most significantly with his father Ranjit. Tasked with caring for Harry and Saima’s young son Aaron as events unfold, Harry’s parents Ranjit and Joyti provide perhaps the most emotionally charged element of the book, as Ranjit tries to come to terms with his prejudice and dislike of Harry’s involvement with a Muslim woman. There is an incredibly enlightening account of Ranjit’s experiences as a child which shines a light on his fear and prejudices, and what we witness is a man in a huge amount of emotional turmoil, where hatred and love clash so deeply in his psyche, particularly in such close proximity to his grandson. Dhand depicts this beautifully, putting both his characters, and us as readers, through an emotional wringer, and I felt myself increasingly moved by Ranjit’s struggle to come to terms with his ingrained prejudice, with some truly heart wrenching and poignant writing in this part of the narrative.

So, as you’ve probably gathered this was a superb read, and demonstrates once again, how Dhand excels in particular with the issues that surround family conflict, and how relationships flounder and stall when prejudice raises its ugly head. Equally, this is a terrific thriller, with a verve and energy that sits as a wonderful counterpoint to the more soul searching dilemmas that arise as a consequence of the unfolding terrorist plot, so relevant to the increasing grip of radicalism across the world today. What I love about Dhand as a writer is the obvious pressure that he puts himself under as an author, and there is a real sense of him pushing himself a little bit further with every book, that is leading to some absolutely superlative writing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Transworld/Bantam for the ARC)

 

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