A Raven Round-Up: Steve Cavanagh- Thirteen/ Andrew Shaffer- Hope Never Dies/ Ragnar Jonasson- The Darkness/ Jorge Ibarguengoitia- The Dead Girls/Frederic Dard- The Gravedigger’s Bread

Haven’t done one of these cheeky little round-ups for a while, but think this is a good pick ‘n’ mix of crime summer reads. From the wastes of Iceland to sizzling Mexico, you may discover a little gem here…

They were Hollywood’s hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. All the evidence points to Robert’s guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie’s mind.

What if there’s more than one actor in the courtroom? What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

Okay for those of you who have been living in a cave, or in deepest darkest Peru, this has to be the most talked about, and well publicised thriller release of the summer. It is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. So is it any good? Is the hype deserved? Well, quite frankly….IT IS!

Having previously reviewed, and greatly enjoyed The Defence The Plea and The Liar I love the character of  Eddie Flynn, the renegade, ex-grifter, quick-witted lawyer always up to his elbows in trouble, and this is a series of books that has restored my interest in the legal thriller genre. Flynn is a fabulous creation who uses humour as a defence, is a good guy to have on your side when the chips down, does okay in a scrap, yet is woefully inept in his personal relationships, which brings an endearing authenticity to his character too.

Apart from his characterisation, if there is one thing that Cavanagh excels in, it is his control of pace and tension, with the machinations of the courtroom ebbing and flowing punctuated by outbursts (in true comic book style) of POW! and KABOOM! I would defy anyone not to read this in a relatively few number of sittings, and get thoroughly caught up in this exciting mash up of legal and serial killer thriller. Edge of your seat stuff and a cracking twist at the end too. Highly recommended.

( I bought this copy of Thirteen)

He’s an honest man in a city of thieves. He has no patience for guff, foolishness, or malarkey. He is United States Vice President Joe Biden. And when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues Amtrak Joe unwittingly finds himself in the role of a private investigator. To crack the case (and uncover a drug-smuggling ring hiding in plain sight), he’ll team up with the only man he’s ever fully trusted the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Wilmington, Delaware, where enemies lurk around every corner. And if they’re not careful, the blood on the tracks may be their own…

I mean this in the most positive and affectionate way, but this is book is UTTERLY BIZARRE but an absolute hoot too. Move over Batman and Robin, there’s a new crime fighting duo in town.

Yes, there is a whole whiff of implausibility about the investigation that the whip smart combo of Biden and Obama become wrapped up in, but that’s not really an issue. The absolute joy of the book is the ingenious hooking up of this completely original and left of field crime fighting partnership. The steady, obviously ageing, slightly resentful Biden, is a joy, with his penchant for ice cream, a quiet and sedentary life, his daily mission to not upset his wife, and his desperate need to build his bond/rekindle the bromance again with his former boss. Obama is this wonderfully sneaky, cool as a cucumber, cat burglar type figure, seeming to lead Biden into all sorts of trouble, but how far is Biden actually controlling this investigation, seeking the truth behind a friend’s mysterious death? I found it an utter joy to see Biden  go from mild mannered ex-politician to slightly unsteady avenging angel, and loved the kickabout humour, and at times sheer silliness of the whole affair. I’m sure American readers will pick up on references to the Obama/Biden administration that may have passed me by, but I loved the subtle digs at the unnamed Tweeter-In-Chief, and other satirical sideswipes. Entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a genuinely enjoyable read with a partnership as great in fiction as they were in the White House. Oh for those days…

( I bought this copy of Hope Never Dies)

 

A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach. She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave. A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .
When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

So, now to a little deviation from the hugely successful Ari Thor series from Ragnar Jonasson, and The Darkness being the first outing for Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir. Featuring a slightly longer in the tooth police protagonist was a nice move on the author’s part, and Hulda was a nice combination of dogged and a tad neurotic, railing against the gender bias of her police department, her looming and unexpected departure from the police, and quite obviously a woman still deeply angered by her former marriage, and the emotional insecurity that a prospective new dalliance puts in her path. With all this going on, and the split narrative that Jonasson uses in conjunction with this, I did begin to wonder how much energy she would have left to investigate her cold case- the suspected suicide of a Russian migrant which is not all it appears. As instances from Hulda’s past rise to the surface, there did feel a little unbalance in the book, and I sometimes felt that the deliberately rushed investigation was a little too deliberately rushed to accommodate the deeper concentration on Hulda’s angst. However, when Hulda knuckles down to her work, sometimes in a wonderfully ham-fisted style, proved to be the more satisfying part of the book for me, and I was genuinely engaged with her investigation and the varying obstacles in her path.

In common with the ‘Shadow’ series by Arnaldur Indridason I also wondered about the order of publication as for reasons I cannot reveal here, I would have liked to read this one later on but hey ho. An interesting flawed protagonist, and Jonasson shows his usual knack for a good crime yarn.

(I bought this copy of The Darkness)

Opening with a crime of passion after a years-long love affair has soured, The Dead Girls soon plunges into an investigation of something even darker: Serafina Baladro and her sister run a successful brothel business in a small town, so successful that they begin to expand. But when business starts to falter, life in the brothel turns ugly, and slowly, girls start disappearing . . .

I loved this strange hybrid of fiction and reportage from the 1970s, taking as its inspiration the real life case of Mexican serial killing brothel owners Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez. Written with a coolly dispassionate tone, the various players in this increasingly bizarre story take their place in the sun, and the twisted activities of fictional brothel owners Serafina and Arcangela Baladro are slowly revealed. It is noted in the introduction that Ibargoengoitia was experimenting with the fictional form to try and represent the increasing rate of violence and crime in Mexico, and how he influenced other writers such as the great Roberto Bolano. I thought the non-judgemental, and emotionally removed tone of the book was incredibly effective, and the story was utterly fascinating too, bringing into play the full scope of human transgressions- corruption, jealousy, greed, obsession and murder. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Picador for the ARC)

Blaise should never have hung around in that charmless little provincial town. The job offer that attracted him the first place had failed to materialize. He should have got on the first train back to Paris, but Fate decided otherwise.

A chance encounter with a beautiful blonde in the town post-office and Blaise is hooked – he realizes he’ll do anything to stay by her side, and soon finds himself working for her husband, a funeral director. But the tension in this strange love triangle begins to mount, and eventually results in a highly unorthodox burial…

Another slice of bijou noir perfection in the excellent Pushkin Vertigo series. As usual I am curtailed by how much I can reveal due to the compact nature of the book, but rest assured, this wicked little tale of jealousy, lust and obsession is just a further demonstration of the singularly brilliant style of Dard. Reminding me a little of The Postman Always Rings Twice, mixed with the darkly psychological edge of Simenon’s standalones, Dard has constructed a taut and claustrophobic tale, and with the backdrop of being set around a funeral parlour, there is an additional little frisson of weirdness too. As with most of Dard’s books, his characters verge on the strongly dislikeable with the inevitable gullible ‘patsy’, the temptation of Eve, and dark passions at its core, and this is a little belter. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

Emma Viskic- And Fire Came Down

EMMA#The woman can only sign two words: help… family. And then she is gone – a body lying dead in the street. Caleb’s search for her killer takes him back to his hometown of Resurrection Bay. Centuries of racism have left it simmering with violent tensions, and this summer the bush is as dry as tinder. All it will take is one spark. He is determined to pursue justice at all costs. But everything he loves is in this town. And what if the truth means his world going up in flames?

Emma Viskic’s previous book, Resurrection Bay featuring private investigator Caleb Zelic was, without question, one of my top books last year, and have been (im)patiently waiting the next in the series. So, yes the time has come to review And Fire Came Down, and it’s a scorcher, no pun intended.

Once again, the real lynchpin of the book is the character of Caleb himself, reeling from the events of the previous book, and the emotional and professional loss it has wreaked on his life. Opening with a brief encounter with an unknown woman which results  in her death, Caleb realises that this encounter has been engineered to ensnare him in an investigation which proves challenging, dangerous, and perhaps more importantly draws him right back into the community of Resurrection Bay from his city life. Caleb’s character works well on several levels, due to the authenticity that Viskic brings to him and his voice. In my previous review, I dwelt on the nature of his deafness, and how Viskic paints such a true picture of the everyday difficulties and stress that his condition brings to his life. I’ve since read two books that have hearing impaired characters at the forefront, and still believe that Viskic has provided the truest representation of this particular character trait.

Another thing I love about his character is his sensitivity and innate morality, and the way that he switches between his emotional states. Here is a man that recognises his own weaknesses, and by extension the weaknesses of others, and carries with him a real sense of emotional intelligence, despite the constraints that his aural impairment places on him on reading others through words and gestures. He is also extremely self-deprecating, and has a sharp wit too. Although he is a perfectly competent and determined investigator, clear in his motivations to ferret out the truth, I like the way that Viskic adds this level of personal emotional weakness and confusion when it comes to dealing with those closest to him, most notably his estranged wife Kat, his fearsome mother-in-law, Maria, and his disgraced former partner, Frankie. Viskic’s portrayal of these three extremely strong women is also a significant point of interest in the book, not only for Caleb’s interactions with them, but also the characterisation of their contrasting natures and personal demons.

The premise of the investigation of the young woman’s death from the outset, leads Caleb into a whole heap of trouble, fuelled by the extreme racial tension in his hometown of Resurrection Bay. The varying reactions and attitude to the Koori people, an indigenous community in the town, is simmering to boiling point, and Caleb’s case leads him straight into the eye of the storm. Racial division is an all too widespread and vile aspect of life, I found this depiction particularly emotive, and was very affected by the sheer ignorance and hatred that certain individuals exhibit in the course of the story, and the violence that this gives rise too on the weaker members of the community. As emotive as this issue is, however, Viskic keeps her own authorial intervention firmly in check, achieving a balanced and objective view of the community tensions throughout, leading to an utterly compelling and thought provoking read. Once again, after my praise for Resurrection Bay, can highly recommend And Fire Came Down, and would urge you to discover this series for yourselves. Roll on book three Darkness For Light.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

 

 

Nicolas Obregon- Sins As Scarlet

obregonLiving in LA and working as a private detective, former homicide detective Kosuke Iwata spends his days spying on unfaithful spouses and his nights with an unavailable woman. Still he cannot forget the family he lost in Tokyo. But that all changes when a figure from his old life appears at his door demanding his help.

Meredith Nichol, a transgender woman and his wife’s sister, has been found strangled on the lonely train tracks behind Skid Row. Soon he discovers that the devil is at play in the City of Angels and Meredith’s death wasn’t the hate crime the police believe it to be. Iwata knows that risking his life and future is the only way to silence the demons of his past.

Reluctantly throwing himself back in to the dangerous existence he only just escaped, Iwata discovers a seedy world of corruption, exploitation and murder – and a river of sin flowing through LA’s underbelly, Mexico’s dusty borderlands and deep within his own past…

Having been much impressed by Obregon’s first book, Blue Light Yokohama featuring Japanese homicide detective Kosuke Iwata, I’m delighted to report that Sins As Scarlet is even better. So much so that it has parachuted its way into my top five reads of the year so far…

Kosuke Iwata is a powerfully constructed character, shaped and formed, but with an underlying sense of self questioning, by his dual heritage and the collision of west and east  almost fighting for supremacy in his identity. He has had a troubled past in terms of his upbringing and former estrangement from his mother, and has undoubtedly been tarnished emotionally by his fraught and ultimately destructive marriage. This book effectively straddles all of these relationships, providing an offshoot of narratives concerning his mother and wife, and cleverly by what we observe of their own characteristics gives us a broader understanding of Iwata himself, as a man, a son, a husband and a father too. I felt that sometimes I was observing him through a prism when it came to his emotional and personal identity, and the only real clarity in his character came through his professional role as a private investigator. I liked the way Obregon did this, and how Iwata then became a man of contradictions, and certain notions about his morality, integrity and so on were undermined by his interactions with, and influence of, the women in his life. An extremely interesting character, beautifully rendered, but undercut with a sense of personal tragedy, and a tangible lack of belonging.

Similarly, to the first book, I admire Obregon’s willingness to tackle big issues head on, showing no fear or favour, and opening the reader’s eyes to aspects of society that some would rather ignore. I think Obregon achieves this cleverly in two ways. First the straightforward narrative of murder within the transgender community, and Iwata’s later, and harrowing, experience traversing the desert from Mexico to the USA, which neatly encompasses the experiences of two groups of people that society as a whole are prone to vilify. Secondly, through the psycho-geography element of the book, where Obregon neatly uses the course of Iwata’s investigation, to crisscross Los Angeles, taking us on a tour of myriad neighbourhoods, divided by race and social inequality that show not only the singularly unique makeup of the city, but the gritty reality behind the showbiz exterior. I found these wanderings of Iwata absolutely fascinating, and the little factual nuggets of Los Angeles  life that these give rise to, summed up by the assertion that, “Kosuke Iwata had gotten used to the staggered pockets of city that made up Los Angeles”, as his investigation becomes ever more difficult and personal.

Having become increasingly annoyed with a recent upsurge in the decrying of crime fiction as somehow inferior to ‘literary’ fiction, this is where a book such as this is worth its weight in gold. As author Jon Courtenay Grimwood commented on my social media rant on the subject saying “Crime novels specialise in asking the hard questions” and this is what Obregon deftly shows here. Sins As Scarlet is not only compelling as a thriller should be, but has layers of scrutiny and observation on the themes of race, gender roles, social division, migration and more, which makes it punchy and thought provoking, and at times exceptionally moving. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Michael Joseph for the ARC)

Abir Mukherjee- Smoke and Ashes

India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.
When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.
With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead…

First there was A Rising Man and then A Necessary Evil and akin to the sound of an angelic host the very words, “There’s a new Abir Mukherjee book out now” made my heart soar with an excitement rarely achieved, since I won a handwriting competition at the age of 10 on holiday on the Isle of Wight i.e very excited indeed. And so we are catapulted back to the inglorious days of the Raj, and to be honest, it would unwise to even countenance the thought that our dynamic duo would be experiencing anything like a straightforward investigation. There is some serious trouble afoot…

It is so gratifying to reach the third book in a series and for it to feel as fresh and vibrant as the first two. Partly, I would put this down to the developing working relationship, and growing friendship of our chalk and cheese partnership of Sam and Surrender-not, and the sheer level of engagement Mukherjee creates with the reader in how he presents the social and political unrest of this turbulent period of Indian history. With the former, I would say that each time we encounter these wonderful characters, there is always a little stretch of unchartered territory between them, little pieces of which Mukherjee brings to the narrative, giving us a different perspective of them as each investigation develops. This book is no different with Sam’s largely deniable opium habit leading to all manner of trouble, and becoming an increasingly large elephant in the room in his relationship with Surrender-Not. Equally, Surrender-not’s personal connection to some prominent political enemies of the Raj, reveals a whole new side to his character, and the very personal toll it has on him, trying to make his way in a career that puts him at odds with his family and fellow citizens. Mukherjee captures perfectly their points of similarity, as much as their points of difference, and how at the crux of their working relationship, these points of separation or conflict actually lead them to be an extremely effective working partnership. This unity of purpose becomes especially evident when pitted against other representatives of law, order and security, and some thorny encounters ensue, and, needless to say when violence comes a-knocking you can guarantee Sam will be in the way. Although, this investigation is markedly more emotive and darker in tone than the previous books, there is still time for the badinage, and affectionate leg pulling that Mukherjee affords his detecting double act, as well as to those they encounter along the way, which is, as always, entertaining.

With the war for Indian independence raging on, and the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales, there is a tinderbox atmosphere in Calcutta, and Mukherjee completely immerses the reader in the stifling heat, social unrest, and the simmering violence that regularly explodes. Peppered with figures in the fight for independence, and their differing attitudes in how to achieve this aim of liberation from suffocating British rule, the book positively throbs with suppressed and overt rebellion, from the average citizen on the street, to those who would keep order, to those who seek to overturn the status quo, and the increasingly less confident smug satisfaction of the British themselves. All this tension and turbulence is delivered in a measured, informative and entertaining style, underscored by the sights and sounds of the city streets, and the building heat, both meteorological and political, sucking you in and ramping up the tension to the nth degree. Brilliant.

I think this just proves, if further proof were needed, that this is a remarkably good book in a remarkably good series, and I cannot find a bad word to say about it.

Which is lovely.

And why you should all seek out these books for yourselves.

Which would be lovely too.

 

(With thanks to Harvill Secker for the ARC)

 

 

#20BooksOfSummer #2 Theodore Brun- A Mighty Dawn #3 Conor O’Callaghan- Nothing On Earth #4 Sam Selvon- The Lonely Londoners #5 Michael Ignatieff- Charlie Johnson In The Flames

Hakan, son of Haldan, chosen son of the Lord of the Northern Jutes, swears loyalty to his father in fire, in iron, and in blood. But there are always shadows that roam. When a terrible tragedy befalls Hakan’s household he is forced to leave his world behind. He must seek to pledge his sword to a new king. Nameless and alone, he embarks on a journey to escape the bonds of his past and fulfil his destiny as a great warrior.

Whispers of sinister forces in the north pull Hakan onwards to a kingdom plagued by mysterious and gruesome deaths. But does he have the strength to do battle with such dark foes? Or is death the only sane thing to seek in this world of blood and broken oaths?

Right, so I’m now embarking on another series chockfull of Vikings, smiting, pillaging, rumpy pumpy, more smiting and so on, set in eighth century Denmark. Having read Tim Severin, Giles Kristian, Robert Low and the brilliant Frans G. Bengtsson amongst others, I thought this might be worth a look. With the reference to Game of Thrones on the cover, I would agree that this book is incredibly, incredibly similar in tone, and story arc with added horns…no sniggering at the back there. It does feel a little more cinematic to some of the series I mentioned earlier, with a steadfast injection of action and shock horror moments, but this is no bad thing and I like the way that Brun has obviously been influenced by the Scandinavian sagas in the way that he controls the pace and moments of high drama within the book. This also feeds into the way that the story takes on a more mythical feel as the story progresses, and this was effectively done without feeling contrived.

When I was toying with buying this I saw one reviewer draw attention to the Shakespearean feel of the book, and this is a very valid observation, as there are marked themes of betrayal, conspiracy, family conflict and thwarted relationships. I enjoyed this first book very much indeed, with its earthy humour, a myriad cast of characters, and yes, a more than satisfying amount of violence, treachery and ambition with which we associate the marauding Viking hordes. Recommended.

(I bought this copy of A Mighty Dawn)

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It is the hottest August in living memory.

A frightened girl bangs on a door. A man answers. From the moment he invites her in, his world will never be the same again.

She will tell him about her family, and their strange life in the show home of an abandoned housing estate. The long, blistering days spent sunbathing; the airless nights filled with inexplicable noises; the words that appear on the windows, written in dust.

Why are members of her family disappearing, one by one? Is she telling the truth? Is he?

In a world where reality is beginning to blur, how can we know what to believe?

Okay, so on a scale of one to nigh on impossible to review without spoilers, this book is one such challenge. So moving swiftly on from any discussion of the plot, I will merely say that that there was a very strong  feeling of Jon McGregor’s mesmerising If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things about this one, and that pleased me greatly. I think O’Callaghan does a masterful job of constantly keeping the reader slightly on the back foot playing with our perception of the characters and causing us to question their motivations, and the face they present to the world. Everything in this book feels slightly gauzy, and unreal, in what slowly reveals itself as a tense, psychological drama, suffused with a Gothic-esque use of misdirection, luring us further into the darkness. O’Callaghan has perfectly married the suffocating atmosphere of a heatwave, with the building tension of a society that has veered from boom to bust, and the havoc this wreaks on ordinary people’s lives. There is a lyrical intensity to the writing throughout, and I would absolutely suggest that this book is read in as close to one sitting as possible, to appreciate the rhythm and imagery that O’Callaghan employs. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Nothing On Earth)

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At Waterloo Station, hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies step off the boat train, ready to start afresh in 1950s London. There, homesick Moses Aloetta, who has already lived in the city for years, meets Henry ‘Sir Galahad’ Oliver and shows him the ropes. In this strange, cold and foggy city where the natives can be less than friendly at the sight of a black face, has Galahad met his Waterloo? But the irrepressible newcomer cannot be cast down. He and all the other lonely new Londoners – from shiftless Cap to Tolroy, whose family has descended on him from Jamaica – must try to create a new life for themselves. As pessimistic ‘old veteran’ Moses watches their attempts, they gradually learn to survive and come to love the heady excitements of London.

Okay, so my first question is why it has taken me so long to discover this little diamond of book, which has been languishing  on the  bookshelves for years? As an account of the particular problems faced by West Indian migrants in 1950s London, this is a glorious mix of pathos and humour, with the narrative reflecting the rhythmical beauty of  Jamaican patois. I loved the almost poetical flow of the dialogue, and the characters are so roundly drawn that you cannot help be drawn in completely to the fate of them as they navigate the often hostile environment that they now inhabit. The dual monsters of poverty and prejudice loom large throughout, but there’s also an overarching resonance of community, resourcefulness, stoicism and hope too . A wonderful read.

(I bought this copy of The Lonely Londoners)

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Charlie Johnson is an American journalist working for a British news agency somewhere in the Balkans. He believes that over the course of a long career he has seen everything, but suddenly he finds himself more than simply a witness. A woman who has been sheltering Charlie and his crew is doused in gasoline and set on fire by a retreating Serbian colonel. As she stumbles, burning, down the road, Charlie dashes from hiding, throws her down rolling her over and over to extinguish the flames, burning his hands in the process. Believing the woman’s life to have been saved, Charlie is traumatized by her death. Something snaps. He now realizes he has just one ambition left in life: to find the colonel and kill him…

With shades of both Greene and Hemingway, I found this is a finely nuanced and, at times, a deeply moving novella addressing the Balkan crisis. Based on the author’s own experience of war reporting, Ignatieff imbues Johnson with all the moral questioning, unbridled seeking of truth and so on, that more reputable and brave journalists have  been renowned for. Interestingly though, he takes the question of morality further still, testing Johnson’s resolve to resist meeting violence with violence after his witnessing of a war crime. I have read many accounts of war reportage, due to my interest in the  factual and fictional representation of war, and although this stood as a strong testament to the nature of conflict and personal responsibility within the Balkan crisis, I think I prefer the author’s journalistic works like Blood and Belonging and Empire Lite. Worth checking out though…

(I bought this copy of Charlie Johnson In The Flames)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour-Jesper Stein- Unrest

When the bound, hooded corpse of an unidentified man is found propped up against a gravestone in the central cemetery, Axel Steen is assigned the case. Rogue camera footage soon suggests police involvement and links to the demolition of the nearby Youth House, teeming with militant far-left radicals. But Axel soon discovers that many people, both inside and out of the force, have an unusual interest in the case and in preventing its resolution. With a rapidly worsening heart condition, an estranged ex-wife and beloved five-year-old daughter to contend with, Axel will not stop until the killer is caught, whatever the consequences. But the consequences turn out to be greater than expected – especially for Axel himself…

In the best possible way, Unrest is very much a what you see is what you get type of thriller, as it ticks every single box required of a Scandinavian crime novel, and is extremely reflective of the genre as a whole. Indeed, as I was reading, I felt echoes of Nesbo, Larsson, Staalesen and Nesser throughout the book particularly in terms of plot and characterisation, and the density and slow burning feel of the plot again fulfils perfectly the familiar characteristics of the genre, so plenty to enjoy here for the Nordic noir fan…

The reader is thrust straight into the familiar realm of police conspiracy, so beloved of the Scandinavian set, suffused with the gritty, unflinching gaze on the political and social ills of Danish society. With a riot in full flow, the discovery of a body would seem an ordinary occurrence, but Stein perfectly hinges his whole narrative on why and how this victim is of such significance on a much larger canvas, and the wider ramifications of this killing. Stein presents a broad spectrum of issues including immigration, police corruption, the drug trade, trafficking and so on, and generally  this is one of the more slow burning Scandinavian thrillers I have encountered, as reasons for, and suspects of the killing are slowly addressed, investigated and discounted as the plot develops. It did take me a while to slow down to the pace of the plot, and begin to appreciate the more laborious style of investigation that the main police protagonist, Axel Steen, finds himself embroiled in, in contrast to say the more compact style of other Nordic writers. I think Unrest is extremely reminiscent of some of the fine Nordic TV dramas that we love, with chicanery, social and political division and big meaty issues at its core.    Consequently, the political and social elements of the plot and the tensions between the investigative branches , engaged me more, and I very much enjoyed Stein’s warts-and-all portrayal of Copenhagen. I thought he depicted beautifully the chasm between the areas of the city, both monetarily and structurally, and I loved the way his writing had shades of the old fashioned flaneur, with the very visual and observant tone of his descriptions, as  Steen traverses the different neighbourhoods.

I’m sure regular readers of my reviews know of my general aversion to too much being made of the familial and romantic upsets of the main police protagonists, and to an extent this book did irritate me slightly in terms of this. Personally I grew a little tired of Steen’s domestic woes and his sexual involvement with a key witness, and the less said about his reves humides the better, but on a more positive note I found his professional persona contained some of my favourite characteristics of an officer operating to his own agenda and with his own methods. Stein imbues his detective with the cynical and slightly hangdog air so beloved in the genre, but this pall of negativity usefully detracts other people’s perceptions of Steen, thus revealing a keen mind and nose for a conspiracy. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty or to take a knock or two along the way, skating the boundaries of professional behaviour, but delighting us with his aversion to following the rules.

Overall, I enjoyed this new-to-me author, and judging by the praise the author receives across Europe, I think there may be more enjoyment to come in the company of Detective Superintendent Axel Steen. A solid Scandinavian thriller, and recommended for fans of the genre…

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

‘Jesper writes about a Copenhagen that’s both full of change yet always the same. Its harsh, dark, yet with a warm, beating heart at its core.’ LARS KEPLER, author of The Hypnotist ‘

‘Jesper Stein’s crime novels cast a strong light on contemporary Denmark in such a way that they deserve readers far beyond Danish borders.’ GUNNAR STAALESEN, winner of the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel Of The Year

‘Stein’s first novel establishes a whole new Scandinavian style.’ ROLLING STONE (Germany)

Follow the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

 

***COVER REVEAL*** Amer Anwar- Brothers In Blood

brothers-in-blood-cover

 

WINNER OF THE CWA DEBUT DAGGER

THE MUST READ THRILLER OF 2018

A Sikh girl on the run.
A Muslim ex-con who has to find her.
A whole heap of trouble.

Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.
But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss’s runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
With time running out and pressure mounting, can Zaq find the missing girl before it’s too late? And if he does, can he keep her – and himself – alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

“An engaging hero, a cunning plot, and a fascinating journey into Southall’s underworld. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Amer Anwar.”

– Mick Herron

“A fine debut novel. With his engaging characters and skilful plotting, Anwar brings a fresh and exciting new voice to the genre.”
 Ann Cleeves

Raven’s review…

Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award, Brothers In Blood marks the start of an incredibly promising crime thriller writing career for Amer Anwar. This one of the most vibrant and edgy crime thrillers I have encountered for some time. From the very start of the book, I was completely immersed in the trials and tribulations of central protagonist Zaq Khan, who through the fickle finger of fate finds himself entangled in a very dangerous situation indeed. Subject to blackmail and intimidation, he is tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of his boss’s errant daughter, Rita, who has ostensibly run away from an impending forced marriage. Finding himself at odds with his boss, Rita’s two meat-headed brothers, and ghosts from the past seeking to inflict some serious physical damage upon him, Zaq needs to be resourceful, cunning and more than a little devious to survive this trial by fire…

Zaq is a truly likeable and engaging character, who immediately gets the reader on side with his mix of easy humour, craftiness, and genuine good guy demeanour. Anwar instils him with a honesty and charm that has you rooting for him from the outset, as pressure is brought to bear on him from all angles. He’s fast-talking and quick thinking, and despite the hole he finds himself in does not lose his keen sense of morality to extricate Rita, and by extension, himself, from a nasty situation.  I loved his interactions with his best mate Jags, and the solid camaraderie that exists between them, despite the twist in fate that sees their lives having progressed on two very different courses. I also admire Jags’ natural ability to act as a second mother to Zaq in terms of tea-making and painkiller providing as his mate gets into a succession of scrapes, and is always happy to play second fiddle to Zaq’s suicidal plans. This has to be one of the greatest friendships forged in crime fiction, and is a constant source of delight throughout. Anwar’s band of bad boys, out for Zaq’s blood are equally well depicted, slow, dull-witted, and handy with their fists, and allowing for some exciting and very well written fight scenes, where there is a realistic and palpable pain. There’s nothing worse than a fight scene where everyone is seemingly unmarked by the experience, and boy, does Zaq take some punishment.

Set around the environs of Southall and its Asian community, the life, colour, languages and atmosphere of this area shines through Anwar’s depiction of its inhabitants. The sights, sounds and delicious aromas of the area bring a vibrancy and liveliness to his descriptions, and gives the reader a real sense of the connections between our main protagonists and their community. The plotting is assured, and I liked the way that Anwar leads us in a seemingly linear direction, which is entertaining enough, but then pulls a couple of startling revelations that take the story in a different direction indeed. The pace is perfectly controlled, and I genuinely found this incredibly hard to put down, as it is punctuated by a glorious mix of fast visceral action, a dash of heart-warming interactions, a further sprinkling of violence and chicanery, and then a steady build up of misdirection to an exciting, and not altogether predictable ending.

I absolutely loved  Brothers In Blood, and having become a little jaded with the British-set crime thriller scene of late, this gave me a right old flying by the seat of my pants reading experience, which seemed fresh and exciting. A cracking new voice on the thriller scene, and yes, I can’t wait to see what Amer Anwar produces next. Pure brilliant and highly recommended.

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Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. Brothers In Blood is his first novel. For everything else, he has an alibi. It wasn’t him. He was never there.

Published by: Dialogue Books
Release date: 6th September 2018
Also available as ebook and audiobook.