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Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- A Patient Fury

When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death.
Three bodies discovered – a family obliterated – their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: One mother, one murderer.

But D.C. Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery. What Connie Childs fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health – this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career.

I must confess that I have experienced a slight sense of disenchantment with some writers of Derbyshire set crime of late, but Sarah Ward has proved to be as refreshing as a window suddenly opening in an airless room. Having previously reviewed, and enjoyed, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw it is no exaggeration to say that Ward is honing her writing more and more with each book, and has just produced, in my opinion, the best of the series to date in A Patient Fury

The first aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the undercurrent of darkness that undercuts the whole book. The central plot is exceedingly grim, with the crime of murder/suicide of a family laying at the heart of this twisted morality tale. The unconscionable act of a child’s murder strikes the investigation team particularly hard, and the initial suspicion of the mother being guilty of this crime sits uneasily with the fictional protagonists, and us as readers too. I thought the plotting was superb as the book is permeated by small twists, and teasing reveals, the instances of which are perfectly placed in terms of narrative pace, and to increase the suspense. As the net is cast wider to include other relations of this family, Ward plays with our perceptions of each protagonist, and invites us to engage in our own crime solving, as the police team grapple with this particularly tricky investigation. I thought the whole premise of the crime, and the conclusion to it, was entirely realistic, and I enjoyed the way that it unashamedly approached the very real issues of child abandonment, familial abuse, and brought to the fore the varying degrees of emotional intelligence that the members of this family exhibited. With all the elements of a soap opera, but infinitely better written, it certainly kept this reader fully engaged.

Obviously being three books into a series, there is an added enjoyment at my now familiarity with the two main police protagonists of D.I. Francis Sadler, and D.C. Connie Childs, and the way that Ward pushes their personal stories and tribulations onwards. In particular, Connie, still recovering from events in the previous books, is put through the wringer further in terms of her professional behaviour in relation to this case, and her own insecurities as a single woman. I like her character very much, admiring both her tenacity, impetuousness and those small moments of fragility that suddenly appear. Likewise, Sadler is not immune to moments of self doubt and sometimes blindness, both in his treatment of Connie, and his involvement with a face from the past. Ward balances this growth in their characters in parallel to the main plot with an assured touch, leading the story off in different directions, but never to the detriment of the reader’s involvement in the central investigation.

Ward draws heavily on the atmosphere and surrounds of her Derbyshire setting, bringing the area alive to the reader’s imagination, and using the unique landscape of the area as a rich texture to the human drama that plays out. Coupled with the strong, perfectly placed plotting, the examination of human frailty, and her innate talent for realistic characterisation, I found A Patient Fury a hugely satisfying read, and would urge you to discover this series for yourselves. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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A. A. Dhand- Girl Zero/ Felicia Yap-Yesterday

There are some surprises that no-one should ever have to experience. Standing over the body of your beloved – and murdered – niece is one of them. For Detective Inspector Harry Virdee, a man perilously close to the edge, it feels like the beginning of the end.

His boss may be telling him he’s too close to work the case, but this isn’t something that Harry can just let lie. He needs to dive into the murky depths of the Bradford underworld and find the monster that lurks there who killed his flesh and blood.

But before he can, he must tell his brother, Ron, the terrible news. And there is no predicting how he will react. Impulsive, dangerous and alarmingly well connected, Ron will act first and think later. Harry may have a murderer to find but if he isn’t careful, he may also have a murder to prevent…

And so we return to the seedy underbelly of Bradford in Girl Zero, the striking follow up to the excellent debut Streets of Darkness, that introduced us to D.I. Harry Virdee. Following the brutal murder of his niece, and the pressure this puts on Virdee in terms of his family loyalty, and the boundaries of his professional status as a police officer, Dhand is given ample opportunity to explore the issue of morality. For me, this was the absolute crux of the book, as Virdee has to navigate this intensely personal investigation, whilst balancing the demands of his brother Ron, a lynchpin in Bradford’s criminal community. Throughout the book, I kept drawing on the analogy of angels and demons, as Harry in particular, repeatedly seemed to be in conflict between these two forces. Dhand captures the tension and frustrations that exist between the brothers perfectly throughout, and as Harry’s professional loyalties are stretched and bent to the limit, their relationship and quest for justice lies at the very heart of the book.

With the estrangement from his parents because of marrying outside of his own religion, but obviously by necessity being drawn back into these familial conflicts, this added an extra frisson to the plot as the whole. As in the first book, Dhand explores the painful truths that exist in many Asian families when love overrides religious boundaries, and the exile that often occurs when individual are seen to be turning their back on their faith, and going against the wishes of their family. He handles this sensitively and clearsightedly throughout, with this storyline injecting an intensely human feel to what could have been a linear police procedural. Likewise, Dhand portrays the city of Bradford with an unflinching realism, unafraid to expose the social ills of this city, but with an underlying affection that the reader can easily discern.

I enjoyed Girl Zero very much, perhaps more so than the first book where I did criticise one aspect of it. It not only works as an effective and readable thriller, but is underscored by the some very real human dilemmas that heightened my enjoyment even more. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

There are two types of people in the world: those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before. You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did. Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police?
Can you trust your husband?
Can you trust yourself?

As the intriguing tagline of debut thriller, Yesterday, reads, “How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?” , my interest was thoroughly piqued by the seemingly unique premise of a thriller that would explore memory,  and the unreliability of our recollection of past experiences.

Undoubtedly, this is a clever premise, and for the most part I was ready to be convinced by the unique difficulties this societal structure of Monos and Duos would present in the course of a murder investigation. I’m afraid to say though, that I, in common with quite a few reviewers, was not entirely convinced by the way the theme of memory played out within the book, with some serious flaws in the way that certain memories would come to the surface within the structured remit of having either 24 or 48 hour recollections. I was intrigued by the way that memories were recorded, and the fallibility of this, using electronic diaries, but I think the mechanics of this were stretched in credibility. I also had an overriding feeling that too many elements of the crime genre were mixed into the central plot, as well as a huge imitation, and not entirely successful endeavour, to draw on the field of dystopian fiction. Also, the book is punctuated by quotes and the factual presentation of research material, that inhibits the flow of the story, and at times reads like an undergraduate’s dissertation.

I wanted to like the characters, and care about Yap’s startling portrayal of a woman’s descent into mental instability, and a marriage in crisis, but aside from the central police protagonist, Detective Hans Richardson, there was little to endear me to their plight. They seemed very closed off on an emotional level, and normally this reader would begin to form some alliance with a certain character on an empathetic level, but I just found them intensely dislikeable and weak. I also had a problem with the closing section of the book, but in the spirit of non-spoilers, I will not identify the problem. Truthfully, I was much more drawn to the intelligence and trials of Richardson, with Yap’s portrayal of him working much more favourably, and in tune with her presentation of the book as a crime thriller. I found myself itching to get back to the segments featuring this character, and enjoyed the air of subterfuge that colours him,  the pressure this puts on him within the remit of his position as a detective, and how this comes to the fore within the progress of this somewhat turgid investigation.

Obviously, this is my personal opinion, and as Yesterday has already garnered much praise throughout the media, I am probably only one of a few that couldn’t quite be convinced by it. I have no reticence in praising Yap’s attempt to use an interesting premise to play with the boundaries of the crime genre, but I did rather feel that too much had been thrown at it to produce a coherent whole. Maybe just a little too clever for its own good…

(With thanks to Wildfire for the ARC)

#BlogTour- Simon Lelic- The House- Extract

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of a terrifyingly tense new psychological thriller- The House– from Simon Lelic.

Tantalise your crime tastebuds with this exclusive extract…

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.
So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.
Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door…

When my hand slips from the knife, my first thought is that using it wasn’t as difficult as I assumed it would be. I feel elated, initially, until I notice the blood. It flows quickly, determinedly. It stains my sweatshirt, my trousers, even the floor, and that’s when my elation turns to fear. It’s gone wrong, I realize. This thing I’ve planned for so carefully: it has all gone drastically, horribly wrong.

Jack

The police were outside again last night. I watched them in the alleyway from the spare- bedroom window. They couldn’t have seen me. I’m fairly sure they couldn’t have seen me. And anyway, so what if they had? It’s not like I was doing anything wrong. It’s perfectly natural, isn’t it? Like the way motorists slow down to get a view of an accident. Probably the police would have assumed it odd if I hadn’t been watching. I mean, I couldn’t tell from where I was standing, but I bet the rest of our neighbours were all watching too. All with their lights off. All cloaked discreetly by their curtains. What I didn’t like was the impression I had that everyone out there was also looking discreetly at me. That the police being out there, at that time of night, was all just a show. A reminder.

God, this is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. It’s knowing where to begin as much as anything. I’m not Syd. I know what she thinks, what conclusions she’s drawn already, but I don’t process things the way she does. If she had gone first, I don’t know where we would have ended up, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had a clue about where to go next.

I guess for me the only logical place to start is the day we first saw the house. This was back in April. It’s September now. The fourteenth. At 3.17 in the morning, to be precise. Syd’s in bed, but I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. I doubt she’s sleeping either, to be honest. I don’t think she’s slept properly in weeks. Me, I drop off easily enough. Every night I don’t think I’m going to, but it’s exhaustion, I suppose, the weight of worry. Tonight, though, our decision made, I just wanted to get on with it.

There’s a lot to get through and not a lot of time.

The open day, then. I suppose it has to be, though there’s very little about the day itself that was unusual. I recall how busy it was; how many people, when the time came, narrow- shouldered their way through the front door. Because there was a queue, you see. Not a line, but one of those messy, I- was- here- first scrums you see at bus stops. We’d arrived forty minutes early and already there were half a dozen couples ahead of us. But that wasn’t uncommon. Not for a house viewing in London. The strange thing was that it wasn’t just the house that was up for sale. Whoever bought it would also be buying everything the house contained. And once Syd and I had got inside, we saw that the entire place was stuffed with junk. Actual dragged- home- from- the- skip junk. Books, too, and clothes, coats, pictures on every square inch of wall, boxes stacked heedless of shape or size, plus furniture big and small in every crevice. It was like a live- in, life- and- death version of Jenga.

Oh, and birds. Clearly the current owner was into dead stuff. Taxidermy: doing it, hoarding it, I couldn’t tell. There was a hawk, a seagull, even a pigeon amid the scattered flock. Syd must have noticed them, too. I remember being surprised she didn’t turn around the moment she did and walk straight out.

The story the estate agent gave us was that the owner had met a woman on the Internet. She lived in Australia, apparently, and he’d dropped everything to run off and be with her. Just like that. He’d been approaching retirement age anyway, but even so he chucked in his job, abandoned his friends and signed over his house, dead pets and all, to the estate agent to sell as one bumper package. Which made a good sales pitch, I suppose, and accounted for the state of the place, but personally, right from the off, I just couldn’t see it. I mean, what sort of person would do that? And, setting the storybook explanation aside for a moment, why?

So yes, that was odd, and for me more than a bit off- putting. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I’d fallen for the house itself. I mean, the layout wasn’t a problem and there was more than enough space (lounge, kitchen, separate dining room, plus one, two, three bedrooms, not including the unconverted attic). The building, though, it was creepy. There’s no other word to describe it. The garden was overgrown and the paintwork about as attractive as a skin complaint. The house stood alone (‘detached’, marvelled the brochure) as though it had been shunned. There was a row of terraced houses on one side, huddled together as though for safety, and a block of flats with its back turned on the other. It looked, and felt, somehow ostracised.

So I suppose all I’m saying is I didn’t like the place. All that junk, the building itself: it just felt wrong. The problem I had was that Syd was clearly smitten. I knew she would be. She knew she would be: it was Syd who’d found the house on the Internet and who’d insisted we arrive at least half an hour early.

So- oo,’ I remember her saying to me, once we’d finally finished looking around. ‘What do you think?’

We were in the lounge, beside the fireplace. I remember this older guy kept staring at me from across the room. I was conspicuous in trainers and a T- shirt, whereas all the other blokes my age wore a collar, pressed jeans and polished brogues. They were City types, basically, or, like the man who kept staring, fathers of spoiled little rich kids. And probably that was the other thing that was stopping me sharing Syd’s enthusiasm. It had taken Syd and me more than two years to scrimp enough for a deposit, whereas most of the couples we were up against had likely earned theirs from a single bonus. So on that playing field, with London rules, how could the two of us be expected to compete?

I think it’s like The Hunger Games,’ I answered uncomfortably. What I meant was that bit in the film before the action starts, where the contestants are drifting around, pretending to be friends, to be allies of whatever, when really they’re just itching to kill the crap out of one another.

Syd looked at me blankly. I knew for a fact she’d seen the movie at the cinema, but her memory about stuff like that isn’t the greatest. She smoked a lot when she was younger and I’m not talking Marlboro Lights. She did a lot of drugs, actually. I’m not saying I’ve never dabbled myself, but there’re certain people they affect more than others. Syd had a difficult upbringing. Horrendous, actually, so bad that she’s still never told me the whole story. And when, later on, she had her troubles, the drugs I reckon played a part. She says they didn’t. She says all the damage had already been done. But weed, coke, pills, what have you: that stuff definitely leaves a mark.

Just . . . all these people,’ I explained. ‘I mean, I knew there’d be other interest, but nothing like this.’

Syd slipped her hands around my waist. ‘Forget about everyone else for a moment. What do you think about the house ?’

I paused for half a second too long. ‘I like it,’ I said at last. ‘I do.’

But?’

But . . . nothing. It’s just . . . it’s kind of dark, that’s all.’

I think Syd assumed I was merely playing my role, in house- hunting as well as in life. Syd dishes out her affection as though she’s sharing wine gums, whereas I trail stoically beside her, kicking tyres and knuckle- tapping walls. It’s rare that I know what I’m wary about exactly (what’s actually supposed to happen when you kick a tyre, other than the reverberation in your toes?), but it’s a part I’ve somehow settled into. It’s what men do, I’ve learned from somewhere. My father, probably, who could suck the joy out of riding on a rollercoaster. Plus, as I say, Syd definitely needs a counterweight. It’s why we’re so good together. She stops me gazing at my feet so much; I stop her floating off into the sky.

That’s just the weather,’ Syd countered. ‘All these people. Plus, I mean, have you seen all of this stuff?’

I was half expecting her then to mention those birds. She didn’t.

There’s an attic, too,’ I said. ‘If the rest of the place is like this, what must it be like up there?’

Syd glanced towards the ceiling. I joined her, worrying in that moment whether the whole building was liable to suddenly cave in.

Well,’ said Syd, ‘we’ll just have to hire a van or something. A man. Assuming we can still afford it.’

She smiled then and tucked a stray strand of hair behind a perfectly formed ear. In the house in which I grew up there was this blossom tree outside my bedroom window. Cherry, apple, I’ve no idea. It flowered pink, but never actually bore any fruit. The leaves, though, were this deep, rosewood brown, which came aglow when caught by the light. Syd’s hair, which she never dyes, is exactly the same colour.

Jack? I’m not going to make you live somewhere you don’t want to. If you really don’t like it, then let’s just leave.’

It wasn’t a guilt trip. Syd genuinely meant what she’d said. So maybe I should have said something. Maybe I could have put an end to it all then and there.

We did leave . . . but in the end we put in an offer as well. Just for the hell of it. And, I’ll admit, because Syd was clearly head over heels and I wanted her to be happy. Besides, what harm could it do?

I didn’t love the place, but I didn’t hate it exactly, and anyway we couldn’t afford it. The mortgage we had agreed wouldn’t even get us to the asking price and the details stipulated offers over. So there was no way we’d get it, not given the level of interest. All those people, with all their money . . .

I felt safe because we shouldn’t have had a chance…


Simon Lelic is the author of The House, Rupture (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger), The Facility and The Child Who (longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2012).

The House is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.

Simon is married, with three young children, and lives in Brighton, England. Other than his family, reading is Simon’s biggest passion. He also holds a black belt in karate, in which he trains daily.

You can follow him on Twitter @Simon_Lelic.

The House is available to buy here

 

#BlogTour- Simon Booker- Kill Me Twice- Extract

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of Kill Me Twice, a compelling and nerve-shredding psychological thriller from Simon Booker, and a follow up to his debut Without Trace which introduced us to feisty investigative journalist Morgan Vine.

Read on for a tantalising extract…

Karl Savage is dead.
He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.
So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn’t matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she’s petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he turns up outside Morgan’s window . . .

Her solicitor said the evidence against her was purely circumstantial. No jury would convict.

But here she is. And here she’ll stay, unless someone champions her cause.

They said I’d have done anything to stop Karl taking my baby, which was true.’ Angelica checks herself, swallowing. ‘But not that. Not setting fire to his flat…’ She swallows again, eyes brimming with tears.

Morgan lets Anjelica sob. She scans the woman’s bruises, the cuts on her cheek. She doesn’t need to ask how they got there. Weeks of hostile press coverage cemented the woman’s reputation as a callous killer. A heartless mother.

Mum murdered lover while sick baby cried.

Devil woman.

Time’s up.’

The overweight prison officer is in the doorway, hands on her hips.

Morgan checks her watch.

Still got twenty minutes.’

My shift’s over. There’s no one to supervise.’

Anjelica looks panic-stricken.

We don’t need anyone to supervise.’

The officer rolls her eyes.

Two minutes, make ‘em count.’

She steps outside. Anjelica starts to babble, running out of time.

The good Lord knows I’m telling the truth but he’s testing me every day. I need you to believe me. There’s no CCTV of me driving across London, the car doesn’t show up on the number plate recognition thing – the ANPR…’

She knows all the jargon. But still Morgan isn’t convinced.

You could have taken a friend’s car. Or a night bus. Or a minicab.

I need to review everything,’ she says. Her ribs are aching.

Anjelica fixes her with a glare.

Easy to write a book, make money,’ she says. ‘Harder to help people.’

Morgan forces half a smile. The woman is short on charm but has a point.

I’ll give you a decision as soon as I can.’

She gets to her feet. Anjelica follows suit, fear in her eyes, panic in her voice.

I can’t lose my baby. I can’t be in here. Not for something I didn’t do.’ She pauses, her voice falling to a whisper. ‘God forgive me for saying this, but if you don’t help me I’ll kill myself.’

The threat makes Morgan bristle with anger. The words harden her heart.

You know I’ll have to report what you just said.’

A steely stare.

Just being honest.’

The officer is back, tapping her watch, lips pursed.

I’ll be in touch,’ Morgan says. But Anjelica isn’t finished.

I read your book. It says you have a daughter.’

Yes.’

The woman stares Morgan in the eye.

Think about me tonight, when you’re trying to get to sleep. Picture me here. Imagine I’m your daughter.’

I’ll do what I can. I promise.’

Morgan follows the officer onto the landing. She turns. Anjelica is watching, twisting the tissue in her hands, a picture of anguish. Behind her head is a poster.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

——————————————————————————-

Simon Booker is an author and screenwriter who has written prime time TV drama for BBC1, ITV and US TV. His UK credits include The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Holby City and The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. He has written seven plays for BBC Radio 4, worked extensively as a producer in television and radio, and as a journalist. Booker lives in London and Deal.

His partner is fellow crime writer MJ McGrath. They often discuss murder methods over breakfast.

Follow the author on Twitter @simonbooker 

Kill Me Twice is available to buy here

Blog Tour- Ausma Zehanat Khan- The Unquiet Dead

Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?

Once again with The Unquiet Dead I have had the privilege of reading a book that defies any simplistic recognition of it being a ‘crime thriller’. Instead what we experience as readers is a searing testimony to the futility and brutality of war, in this instance the violent break up of the former Yugoslavia, and a sensitive and heartfelt portrayal of survivor rage, and guilt. All this is cocooned within the more linear investigation of a suspicious death; a death that reaches back into the turbulent past, but with severe ramifications for those in the present.

I am rarely emotionally moved by a book to the degree that I need to sometimes halt and take a breath, and in common with this book, those have been occasioned by novels depicting war and its consequences. Given the emotional reach of this book in terms of its depiction of the genocide and rape that occurred in this conflict, Khan’s prose and imagery of war is beautifully controlled throughout. It is written with a clarity and grace of simplicity that every scene of man’s unconscionable violence towards others hammers straight into the heart of the reader. Taking into account the author’s depth of research, this feeling of discomfort is amplified by the knowledge that these scenes are so firmly grounded in truth. These dreadful events happened, thousands died, and many more live with the physical and mental scarring of having witnessed such tragedy. Alternating between the past and present, the reader remains fully engaged with both timelines throughout, slowly piecing together the incontrovertible truth of  history continually reverberating in the present, as all the protagonists experience to some extent. Khan uses this motif not only in those affected by the war, but also other characters who have experienced some form of emotional, marital or familial upset too, so the level of human interest is palpable and certain situations recognisable to the reader too. It’s cleverly done, and merely strengthens the many levels of human relationships and experiences that permeate throughout the book.

For reasons that will be become absolutely clear when you read this book for yourselves, I am loath to delve too deeply in this review on some of the characters in this book for fear of giving too much away. Suffice to say, several of them exhibit the best and worst characteristics of the human condition, from quiet dignity to unbelievable greed and hatred. Instead, I would draw your attention to the unique combination of detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty who prove themselves so defined by their differences, but so symbiotic as an investigative team. There’s a wonderful quote from Getty on her taciturn and reserved boss, Khattak, in which she says, “He wasn’t a man who dealt in ultimate truths as she did, he traversed the underground cities of doubt and discrepancy where human frailty revealed itself in layer upon layer of incongruity.” Khattak remains almost unknowable throughout, being both sensitive and prone to introspection, but retaining an aura of quiet determination, despite certain revelations and his involvement in the case at a more personal level. Equally, Getty has an intriguing back story in terms of her family background which unfolds slowly, giving her some personal revelations of her own. She also proves an excellent foil to Khattak with her propensity to cut straight to the chase, and ask the difficult questions at the right time, without fear or favour. I liked both these characters immensely, and the strength of their partnership and very individual personalities that lie at the core of the book.

With a slow reveal of historic crimes, emotional wounds and the desire for monetary gain, revenge or closure, this books burns with a unique intensity, that is quite difficult to put into words. As a meditation on war and its aftermath it’s powerful and disturbing, and as a crime thriller on a conventional level it transcends the genre in terms of its emotional reach and characterisation. A difficult, yet thoroughly rewarding read, that will linger in my mind for some time to come. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to No Exit Press for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Author Interview: Chris Carter- The Caller

 

July heralds the paperback release of The Caller– the latest thriller featuring detectives Hunter and Garcia, and no doubt depravity and murder await them. Chris Carter has stopped by to tell us more, starting with what the new book is all about…

The Caller is a novel about a new type of serial killer who likes to use Social Media for his victims. The theme of the novel that will hit very close to home with a lot of people because of its theme. It’s also quite scary at times, so by all means, go check it out.

There is an established history of detective duos in the crime genre and Hunter and Garcia form an extremely effective partnership, despite their obvious differences. The steadfast Garcia is the perfect foil for the troubled yet brilliant Hunter, so how did you formulate such a winning partnership? And when they were separated in a previous book, was there a stronger impetus to team them up again?

To be very truthful, Hunter and Garcia’s partnership was formulated by chance. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write about a sole detective. I wanted my main character to have a partner. I guess that the main reason why they are so well accepted is because I have tried my best to keep Hunter and Garcia as real as possible. Yes, Hunter has a high IQ and a very analytical mind, which of course helps him in all the investigations, but he’s not self-absorbed or egocentric. In fact, I write him as one of the most common people one could meet, with the sort of common problems we all face. His relationship with Garcia tends to be a little funny, simply because Hunter is not a “joke” person and Garcia is.

It was fun to write a book where Hunter and Garcia weren’t working together, but yes, there was a very strong impetus to team them up again.

Your background in criminal psychology is well referenced, but what intrigues me is whether you cast mind back to a particular individual and construct a plot around them, or is it plot first and then you select an antagonist?

To be honest I have done both. Sometimes the first thing I think about concerning a possible new novel is the main idea for the plot, sometimes I envisage the antagonist first and then come up with a plot.

I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to say that your regular readers enjoy the more macabre aspects of your writing, but on a more serious note, how cathartic do you find this aspect of writing out the darkness, in terms of those you have encountered in your past?

That’s a very good question. Most of the time, writing out the darkness I have encountered in my past, or even the darkness that undoubtedly resides inside me can be very liberating. Writing down what’s going on inside ones mind is a very well known therapeutic method, but sometimes writing down this dark passages brings back some very strong memories – memories that I’d rather not have disturbed, but I guess that that’s part of the job, really.

Why do we love to read about serial killers, and even form a strangely amicable relationship with them? I would of course mention Hannibal Lector, as it would be rude not to, but I rather liked Lucian Folter from An Evil Mind, despite the fact he was quite a sick puppy indeed…

That’s a very hard question to answer, so here’s the long version.

As a criminal behavior psychologist and as a crime thriller writer, I have been asked numerous times why is it that people are so fascinated by crime and murder? Why are people so fascinated by death and by those who cause it? Why do killers and what goes on inside their heads intrigue us so much?

The truth, I believe, is that there is no single correct answer to any of those questions. Every psychologist, criminologist, author, scholar, or whoever else has ever spent any time exploring the “if’s” and “why’s” that inevitably accompany every possible answer we can come up with, has undoubtedly come to their own interpretation of the possible reasons behind such fascination. The following is merely my own conclusion, based on my understanding of criminal psychology, what I know of the human mind and the many years I spent working with law enforcement agencies and interviewing serious criminal offenders, many of them murderers. My conclusion came from analysing two quite simple human aspects.

One – Human beings are inquisitive by nature. It’s just the way our brains are wired up, for example, do you remember annoying your parents no end when you were a kid, always asking – ‘Why this? Why that? Why something else?’ Do you remember what would happen as soon as you got an answer? That’s right, you would move the goal post back a little bit and the “why’s” would start all over again. Maybe your kids are doing the same to you today. Well, the good news is – they are not deliberately trying to annoy you. Those questions are due to the naturally inquisitive nature of the human brain. As we grow older, the questions change, but the desire to find answers to things we fail to understand never goes away. The human brain is always trying to learn new things, always trying to find answers to questions that are ever changing. The hunger for knowledge and understanding simply never really vanishes.

Two – I guess one could argue that the primordial mystery men have been struggling to understand since the beginning of times is life itself. Some of us have become obsessed with trying to find answers to questions such as – How did we get here and where did we come from? I believe that from that intense desire to understand life comes an equally intense desire to understand the lack of it – death. Where do we go, if we go anywhere, once we leave this life form? Is there life after death? Etc.

Once you add these two factors together – the naturally inquisitive nature of the human mind and an inherent human desire to understand life and death – the answer to the question “Why are people so fascinated by crime and murder?” becomes almost obvious. Murder sits right on that thin line that separates life from death. So, with that in mind, I believe that many of us, trying to satisfy our natural human curiosity, would love to understand the reasons that could lead someone to commit murder, to take away the life of a fellow human being, to play God so to speak, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Our intrigue and curiosity heightens considerably when the person in question is a repeat offender – a serial killer, and even more so when the murder is preceded by torture. In a way, our brains long to understand how can a human being, just like you and I, do something most of us could never even contemplate, and worse yet, take such pleasure from something so gruesome and sadistic that he/she would do it again, and again, and again. We simply want to understand.

A great number of us, searching for that understanding, will turn to books, films, documentaries, research papers whatever we can find. The problem is; we are all different. Every murderer or serial killer out there has their own motives for doing what they do, crazy or not. As a criminal behaviour psychologist I have never encountered two murderers with the same exact reasons behind their actions. So as soon as we finally understand the motivations behind the actions of, let’s say Killer X, along comes Killer Y, with a whole different Modus Operandi, a whole new signature, and a whole new set of reasons for us to try to figure out. We’re then back to asking the same questions, but inevitably we’ll keep getting different answers with every case. So in truth, our curiosity and fascination with crime and murder will never be totally satisfied, and we’ll keep coming back for more. Always trying to understand the reasons behind something unreasonable. That in itself could trigger an addiction, a vicious cycle, and that’s why crime readers and crime fans can become such aficionados – The hunger for understanding simply never really vanishes.

You have made use of the contemporary phenomenon that is social media, and referenced the dark web. Despite the recognised pernicious evils of both, you’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a godsend to crime writers. How deeply have you explored the dark web in the course of your writing?

Yes, I do agree that the Internet is a Godsend to writers. I know it certainly is to me, but to quote a song from Poison – every rose has its thorn. The Internet has its good side as well as its bad side. I did explore the dark web quite a bit, actually and yes, it can be very dark.

I’ve often heard authors say that they cannot read fiction while they are planning/writing their books- is this true of you? Any particular authors you admire?

For me it definitely is. I don’t read at all while I’m writing a novel.

To be honest, after becoming an author myself, I now admire every author out there because this is a tough business to be in.

Who would play you in a biopic of your life, as psychologist, international author, and total rock-god?

Not sure about the Rock God part, but thank you very much. Not sure, maybe Dwayne Johnson as we both have the same physique and the same hair color.

Perfect soundtrack for writing? Musicians you’d like to jam with?

Any sort of metal for me. It gets the thinking gears rolling.

Musicians I’d like to jam with. There are too many, but certainly Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and A Perfect Circle. That would be awesome.

What’s next?

As soon as I am done with book 9 – The Gallery of the Dead – I will take a break of about a month (maybe more), recharge everything then start on book 10.

 

After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring.  The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward.  Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins. Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room.  If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her. As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear…

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed…Recommended.

A big thank you to Chris for answering my questions and to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Blog Tour- M. Jonathan Lee- Broken Branches- Guest Post

Welcome to the latest stop on the Broken Branches blog tour, but before we begin here’s a wee synopsis of M. Jonathan Lee’s widely talked about new book, a twisty and unsettling psychological thriller…

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse…

To celebrate the publication of the book, here’s an exclusive gust post by the author, where he shares with us some of the books that provide the best twist in the tale…

It would be incredible easy to simply list any five stories from Roald Dahl’s immense collection of short stories. Dahl is my favourite writer by some distance and I don’t think that many authors have managed to capture his style or penchant for the unusual, quirky and plain twisty! However, I do think that you probably would wish for a mixture of writers so, here goes.

Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, my all-time favourite story. An exceptional piece of writing, over just ten pages. It’s difficult to talk about any twisty story without giving away possible endings, but the way this is written and even the title is clever beyond belief.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

Not strictly a twisting tale in so far as the changing of direction of the narrative, but the reader is immediate pulled in to a strange and unusual world which keeps getting stranger and stranger as Frank begins to discover the truth behind his existence. The ending is mind-blowing. Highly highly recommended.

John Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil.

 How do you possibly introduce plot twists into a true story? Well, I suppose that you firstly need to find the right story and then write it in such a way that the reader believes they are reading fiction. A retelling of a shooting in Savannah, Georgia in the early 1980’s – this has to be read to be believed.

The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini. One of my all time favourite stories with twist after twist after twist. When I first read the sleeve I really didn’t think it was my type of thing. I think everyone should read this book. It is beautiful, heart-breaking and enthralling.

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk.

Everyone will know this story by now. But, the first time that I read it, I didn’t see it coming at all. What a twist. What a book.

Not sure whether I’m allowed one of my own in here? I’ll try and sneak it in all the same, A Tiny Feeling of Fear. I would suggest that there has never been a twist like this one and I’d challenge anyone to guess the ending.

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee is out now (£8.99, Hideaway Fall)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Nick Kolakowski- A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Bill is a hustler’s hustler with a taste for the high life. He pulls off big scores for one of New York City’s more vicious gangs…until he suddenly grows a conscience. However, living the clean life takes a whole lot of money, and so Bill decides to steal a fortune from his employer before skipping town.  With a bag of cash in the trunk of his car, Bill heads west, ready for a new life. But all that money makes him a tempting target for some bad people he meets on the road—and if that wasn’t dangerous enough, some old friends are close behind him, and they intend to make a trophy of his head.  Pursued by crooked cops, dim-witted bouncers, and a wisecracking assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis, Bill will need to be a quick study in the way of the gun if he wants to survive his own getaway. Who knew that an honest attempt at redemption could rack up a body count like this?

Being a confirmed fan of deep down and dirty hardboiled American crime, and in the style of Castle Freeman’s Go With Me, or Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move, Kolakowski ticks all the boxes in this pert and stripped down tale of cross and double cross. Inhabited by a marvellous cast of emotionally battered, violent, scheming, characters all on the make, and up to their necks in trouble, the story veers between biting, razor sharp humour, punchy visceral violence, and a strangely unsettling probing of the character’s inner lives exposing a strange degree of emotional frailty, and the need to be loved. Despite being a relatively slim read, Kolakowski packs it to the gills with movement and action, and also has the good sense to include a feisty kick-assing female character in the testosterone -fuelled mix, who proves a perfect foil to the hapless Bill.

It’s a maelstrom of fast, furious action with Coen-esque tendencies that I whipped through at a cracking pace, fully appreciative of the more surreal concept of a hitman in strange attire that comes out of nowhere, before a brilliantly violent, and strangely pathos filled conclusion.

I have my concerns over how Kolakowski’s mind works, but I found this deliciously deranged and very pleasing indeed. Worryingly, perhaps this also says something about me. Recommended.

 

With a good dose of this…

A bit of this…

And plenty of this…

 

How could you possibly refuse? 

 

(With thanks to Nick for the ARC)

Purchase links …
Buy from the Down & Out Bookstore or from the following retailers …
Print: AmazonBarnes & Noble
eBook: KindleNookiTunesKobo

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!

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