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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

BlogTour- Rory Clements- Corpus

515ioix1vhl-sx3161936.
Europe is in turmoil.
The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland.
In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror.
Spain has erupted in civil war.
In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers. In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand?  When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…

Corpus sets the scene for a new series of novels from historical crime thriller writer Rory Clements, already established with his John Shakespeare series. To be honest if Mr Clements had chosen a different career path, I and others may well have passed their history exams in a much more convincing fashion. Clements packs this book full of political and social detail, not only of England in a time of unrest and uncertainty, but extending the locus of the book to the worrying events across Europe. It is immensely gratifying to read a book that not only entertains and thrills consistently throughout with its compelling storytelling, but that uses the backdrop of historical events in such a clear and assured fashion, so much is learnt along the way too. Although as something of a Red, I’ve always had a lively interest in Russia and the Spanish Civil War, my previous knowledge of events in England, in particular, during this period was a little sketchy to say the least. Hence Clements’ depiction of the political scheming behind the abdication, and the social period detail did prove of real interest to this reader, and what a cast of absolute rotters Clements was given leave to draw on in the process.

The author perfectly incorporates some of the most momentous events from this period to add a vivid and atmospheric feel to the central plot, whilst also touching on issues of class and gender and the constraints of these on some of his protagonists. Equally, there is a studied and dispassionate air to characters from either the upper classes, or those who walk tall in the corridors of power, and who so firmly influence the lives of the masses. Using the Cambridge based American Professor Tom Wilde as a main character, is a clever touch, as the more nonsensical aspects of English and European society and politics are filtered through him to the reader, so we too can stand back and wonder at the rise of the fascists in England and abroad, and just how dangerous the establishment can be. Also by using the hallowed confines of a Cambridge college, Clements has a nice opportunity to expose some of the dissenting voices to the English political system with their communist leanings, albeit from the safety of their academic rooms.

There is an utterly convincing cast of characters in this book, each with an absolutely integral part to play as the plot twists and turns, and dangerous conspiracies are revealed. The reader is truly filled with an intriguing and alternating sense of trust and distrust, but also a real sense of empathy as Clements really does mete out some cruel and unusual punishments along the way. I was particularly drawn to Lydia Morris, a friend of the murdered girl, with her shambolic lifestyle, poetic leanings, appalling dress sense, and her earnest belief in helping others less fortunate than herself, though sometimes this doesn’t pan out too well. Clements really puts her through the wringer, as more by accident than design, she is drawn into the amateur investigation by the dashing Professor Wilde of murder and political skulduggery. They prove themselves an interesting combination as plotting toffs, Russian spies, and debonair double agents seek to impede their progress, and Clements ramps up the sense of peril as their investigation continues. Another stand-out feature of Clement’s characterisation is how neatly he forms our impressions of individuals even if they only have a minor part to play and appear solely at random intervals, leaving behind a striking visual image of themselves, but firmly rooting them into their particular niche in quite an extensive cast of characters.

All in all, I was rather impressed with this one, not only as a tense tale of political conspiracy and derring-do, but also as a very well characterised and compelling historical thriller. Looking forward to the next in the series too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Catching Up…

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)To begin, I would like to thank all of you who left such lovely messages here and on Twitter during my self imposed break from blogging. Although little has been resolved on the personal front, I have continued to read, but circumstances have curtailed the production of reviews. Realising I’m about a gazillion books behind, here for your delectation and delight is a round-up of some terrific, and not so terrific, smorgasbord of reads that have helped keep me sane along the way and more to come. It’s good to be back, and enjoy!

painted-dollFirst up, all the way from the USA is a highly readable Japanese set thriller, Painted Doll by Jonelle Patrick. Part of the Only In Tokyo series. Tokyo detective Kenji Nakamura is more than a little distressed to discover that the death of his mother ten years previously in a supposed accident, is actually connected to a string of murders of young women attributed to the Painted Doll Killer. What follows is not only a complex and compelling investigation to catch a killer, but also a brilliant study of Nakamura’s emotional turmoil when dark secrets from his own familial background come to the surface. Patrick balances both facets of the book with a deft touch, producing a genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, and drawing us in emotionally to Nakamura’s travails both professional and personal. The case proves itself to be violent and disturbing in equal measure, and there are some good turns of pace in the narrative. The book is steeped in Japanese cultural references, and proved to be incredibly enlightening about the conflicts of old fashioned tradition, and contemporary society, and the gaps between the generations, as well as being highly informative on Japanese life generally. Suffice to say, I will be seeking out the other instalments of the series. Highly recommended.

crossIn a change of pace, Cross Purpose by Claire MacLeary, quickly revealed itself to be a quirky, but nonetheless absorbing debut. When Maggie Laird’s disgraced ex-cop husband is found dead in the office of his private investigation business, various distasteful truths come home to roost, leaving Maggie financially strapped, emotionally wrought, and drawn into the dark criminal underbelly of Aberdeen. Through necessity, and some cajoling from her loud, blousy and utterly loveable next door neighbour ‘Big Wilma’, who joins forces with her, the intrepid duo set out to clear the besmirched name of Maggie’s husband, but find themselves navigating some dark and dangerous waters along the way. MacLeary’s prose is assured and engaging, bursting with the liveliness of the Aberdonian vernacular, particularly in evidence in the contrasting personalities and social standing of Maggie and Wilma and in the criminal world of the drugs trade they find themselves immersed in. Not only does MacLeary paint an unflinching picture of the sink estates, and those drawn into the drugs trade, but also a simple but effective study of people doing what they need to, to simply get by or to profit by the misery and dependency of others. I found it interesting how every character had some semblance of damage or insecurity in their characters in some form or another, and the way that these flaws evinced themselves in their actions or moments of epiphany. Despite the grim realities of life that MacLeary explores, the book is underscored by a wonderful black humour at times, which drew more than one chuckle or knowing nod from this reader. Really enjoyed this one, and an impressive debut.

51kvpsnjk6l-_sx323_bo1204203200_Right, from Aberdonian sink estates let’s time travel back to 1666 and the Great Fire of London, in Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London, where the body of a man is found in the smoking ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, stabbed in the neck, with his thumbs tied behind his back. So far, so good, and what unfolds from this is a delicious and vivid exploration of London society, and through a world of cheats and traitors, class and gender oppression, and a damn fine murder mystery. Absolutely central to my enjoyment of this book, apart from the perfectly realised period detail, was the character of Catherine ‘Cat’ Lovett, a young gentlewoman, and daughter of a notorious regicide, condemned to live with grasping relatives. As a result of an attack on her person, she goes on the run, assuming the position of a housemaid, but is drawn into the sphere of the men charged with redesigning London, but into further danger due to her father’s reappearance having plotted against the former king. Cat is a mercurial and striking character, compartmentalized by society by virtue of her gender and class, but with a keen mind and inquisitive spirit which reveals itself in her aptitude for, and interest in the world of architecture. Equally, she is feisty and brave, and has a determination to track down and confront her father at odds with the demeanour that society expects from her being of a certain social class. Taylor’s characterisation throughout is lively and reminiscent of the band of good natured fellows and absolute rotters that inhabit the works of Dickens for example. Outright villains sit cheek by jowl with characters you root for throughout, particularly those labouring for acceptance in the shadow of the sins of their fathers. Taylor conjures up all the sights, smells and atmosphere of the period with aplomb, and provides an intriguing and twisty murder mystery into the bargain too. Recommended.

51xx4wfgial-_sx324_bo1204203200_Now to London in the contemporary era in the company of Kate Rhodes’ Crossbones Yard which has been languishing on my shelves for far too long. The first of a series introducing claustrophobia-suffering, relationship-fearing psychologist, Alice Quentin, who finds herself unwittingly drawn into the world of a serial killer by virtue of her consultancy work for the Metropolitan police. Using Crossbones Yard, a neglected piece of London ground that was used as a cemetery for fallen women as a locus, Rhodes weaves an intriguing psychological thriller, with a sublime nod to the real life case of murderers Fred and Rosemary West. Alice is a likeable enough character, fitting wonderfully into the mould of psychologically troubled psychologist- physician heal thyself perhaps- who finds herself in some degree of peril throughout. Perhaps, because of my voracious crime reading, the identity of the perpetrator of the heinous crimes was a little too obvious quite early on, but despite this I had a resolute compunction to read on, as I found Alice a compelling figure throughout, and found the band of emotional misfits and miscreants she encounters both professionally and personally rather engaging. I have bought the next in the series so that’s probably a good recommendation.

31300946And so to the pseudonymous J. P. Delaney and The Girl Before, the first contender for the mantle of this year’s Girl On The Train. Brace yourselves. Despite my resolution to steadfastly avoid any domestic noir thrillers in 2017, I had already signed up for this one and its attendant blog tour. Having read the book, I then bowed gracefully out of the blog tour (thanks to Quercus for their understanding) as I really, really disliked this book for a whole host of reasons. My trademark tag-line of Grand Designs meets Fifty Shades of Grey, probably tells you most of what you need to know, about this tortured tale of enigmatic, but emotionally stunted control freak architect, entrapping hapless young women in a prison of his own creation. Still with me? Good. Excruciating dialogue and clunky plotting dismayed me further. However, with a prime spot on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Bookclub, soaring sales, and probably a film, my opinion matters little. One to make your own minds up about.

(With thanks to Jonelle Patrick for the review copy of Painted Doll, Saraband for Cross Purpose and Quercus for The Girl Before. I bought The Ashes of London, and Crossbones Yard.)

Raven taking a break…

Just to let you all know that the Raven is taking a little time-out to deal with some life stuff.

Will endeavour to…

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#BlogTour- Erica Ferencik- The River At Night- Review/ Exclusive Giveaway #WIN

515pukkp9hlWin Allen doesn’t want an adventure.  After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.

Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.

No phone coverage. No people. No help…

Well, this one certainly ushered in the new year with a blast of adrenaline fuelled excitement and no mistake. The River At Night quickly reveals itself as a  glorious mash up of Deliverance meets Eat, Pray Love, played out in the remote backwoods of Maine. How could you possibly resist?

At the outset, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re simply reading about four female friends baring their souls and personal tribulations, the trials of their families, health, relationships and so on, as they embark on their annual trip together to shoot the breeze, and renew the bonds of their friendship. But you’d be wrong. So wrong. The author is quoted as saying that she writes what she wants to read, “frankly I was desperate for a novel about four female friends pitted against each other as they tried to survive” and this she achieves with aplomb. As the women’s situation becomes increasingly more perilous, Ferencik neatly maps out the changes in each of their characters, and in Win’s character in particular, highlights moments of intense self-realisation and the growth of her emotional and physical resilience. She is an incredibly empathetic character, bruised and battered emotionally, but leading us to feel that is day one of a tumultuous change for her, albeit in some dramatic style outside the touchy-feely confines of the counselling environment. Ferencik’s characterisation of all four of her female protagonists, and those they encounter within this doom-laden trip is enthralling and suffused with moments of sheer emotional intensity.

By wrong-footing the reader from the start, another stand out feature of this book for me is Ferencik’s control of pace and tension throughout. The way she manipulates the rhythm of the story, carefully tapping into the darkest fears of her readers with the ominous underlying tension that suddenly explodes into moments of visceral violence, is utterly chilling with devastating effects for the protagonists. Married with Ferencik’s atmospheric use of the wild, uncompromising landscape, and its attendant dangers, there is much to fear and as the women find themselves adrift before physically and emotionally, at the mercy of the natural environment and nerve shredding tension ensues. I loved Ferencik’s razor sharp, visual depiction of the seemingly unnavigable wilderness, and how the hostility of this environment hampers the women’s progress and thwarts their escape to safety, shrouding the book with an air of complete menace. There seems to be an intense feeling of appreciation on the author’s part for the natural world, and an inherent respect for the majesty and danger of nature untamed by man.

 It was so refreshing and gratifying to read a book that not only held my attention with both its dramatic intensity and seat of the pants action, but also its portrayal of ‘real’ women in the grip of a horrific series of events and their responses to it. An early contender for a stand-out read of the year, and definitely one that you should all seek out as soon as possible. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Bloomsbury for the ARC)

EXCLUSIVE GIVEAWAY

To celebrate the inaugural publication for the Bloomsbury Raven imprint I have 3 copies of Erica Ferencik- The River At Night to offer in an exclusive giveaway which I will be running from my Twitter account.

To take part simply tweet me @ravencrime

with the phrase

I want to be swept away by #TheRiverAtNight @BloomsburyRaven

and you’ll be entered into the draw.

Giveaway closes on the 27th January 2017.

UK only.

To celebrate publication day the ebook is currently on offer for £1.49 on Amazon.co.uk and from other e-book retailers.

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#BlogTour- Simon Kernick- The Bone Field- Extract

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Welcome to the next stop on The Bone Field blog tour marking the release of the new heart pounding, blood pressure raising thriller from Simon Kernick. Marrying the talents of two familiar characters from Kernick’s previous books, DI Ray Mason (The Witness) and former police officer, now private investigator, Tina Boyd (Relentless, Target, The Last 10 Seconds) gird your loins for a fast paced read, full of thrills, spills and unrelenting action…

When the bones of a 21-year old woman who went missing without trace in Thailand in 1990, are discovered in the grounds of an old Catholic school in Buckinghamshire, an enduring mystery takes on a whole new twist. Her boyfriend at the time, and the man who reported her missing, Henry Forbes, now a middle-aged university lecturer, comes forward with his lawyer and tells DI Ray Mason of the Met’s Homicide Command that he knows what happened to Kitty, and who killed her.
So begins a hunt for the truth that will focus on a ruthless crime gang, a rich, dysfunctional family with a terrible past, and a highly ambitious man so cruel and ruthless that he must be brought down at any cost…

‘Adrenalin burst through me as I ran back inside the library, having the presence of mind to shove the phone in my pocket. I heard the one on the doorstep tell the other gunmen where I was and to hurry up, that the cops were coming. They were in a rush now. I had to hope they’d make mistakes.

I grabbed the ashtray from the table and swung round as the guy with the shotgun appeared in the doorway. I threw the ashtray straight at his head and dived out of the way as he pulled the trigger.

The ashtray hit him in the face and he stumbled backwards, putting his hand up to his nose and giving me a split second to charge him. I grabbed the shotgun with both hands, shoving it to one side as he pulled the trigger a second time, sending shockwaves up my arms. At the same time I drove my body into him, sending us both crashing out of the door and into the side of the staircase. I tried to headbutt him but he moved his head to once side, and I caught a glimpse of a thin white scar at the base of his collarbone. His skin was golden brown – mixed race or Asian – but I hardly computed this fact as I tried to stop him from tripping me up.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a taller gunman, the one who’d been questioning Reedman and Henry, pointing a semi-automatic pistol at me, but it was clear he couldn’t get a good shot in without risking hitting his friend, and I was hanging on to the shotgun like grim death. I think the third gunman was shouting something but I’d been temporarily deafened by the shotgun blast so I had no idea what it was.

My assailant was strong and wiry and he gave me a hard shove, sending us both stumbling back into the library. I hit the bookshelves with a bang and a couple of books fell on my head. He shoved the length of the barrel against my neck, using it to throttle me. It felt burning hot from the discharge of shot but I ignored the pain, lashing out wildly, knowing I was fighting for my life.

I managed to push him back and we struggled wildly in the middle of the floor. The shotgun went off again and this time the force of the discharge knocked me backwards. One hand slipped from the weapon, and the next second my assailant had slammed the stock against my jaw. This time I lost my grip entirely and fell to the floor, hitting the shelves en route.

I lay on my back, looking up.

The gunman in the ski mask looked back down at me. I noticed then that his jacket had ridden up above the gloved hand revealing the edge of a black, sleeve-like tattoo on his left forearm. I didn’t really look at it though. I was too busy looking at him. He stared back down at me, breathing heavily, his eyes very big, very dark and very cold. The end of the barrel was only a few feet from my face.

I was filled with a leaden feeling of resignation. Death has never been too far away from me, right from my earliest days, so it came as only the smallest of surprises that it had come for me now.

He smiled beneath the ski mask and pulled the trigger…’

 

The Bone Field is published by Century/Penguin Random House on

12th January 2017

Praise for The Bone Field

‘Hang on tight!’ Harlan Coben

‘Breathless’ Sunday Times

‘An addictive thriller full of gritty details and fast frenetic action.’ – Sunday Mirror

‘High Energy, action packed reading that’ll keep your heart rate high and your attention glued to the pages … To be able to maintain such a high level of action and suspense is a real skill and Simon Kernick is a master of the thriller.’ – Damp Pebbles

‘A series? By Simon Kernick? Yes please! [A] powerful, fast moving and intoxicating tale. – Love Reading

‘The Bone Field is one of those intriguing novels that surreptitiously gets under your skin.’ –  Jaffa Reads Too

‘An adrenaline rush of a read’My Chestnut Reading Tree

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Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2016

 

largeWell, what a perfectly horrible year we’ve all had. War, poverty, death, and selfishness on a dizzying scale has defined 2016. We’ve had political meltdown, and our country is now floundering due to the 52% of the British people who really should not have been allowed anywhere near the Brexit vote, by reason of their gross stupidity. (Don’t even get me started on Theresa ‘we know you’re struggling but we don’t give a toss’ May). Then, to cap it all,  the weirdness of the U.S. voting system allowing the ascendancy of one of the most xenophobic and misogynistic individuals to the most powerful position imaginable and I refuse to even utter his name.  Also, I know I am not alone in having personal strife this year too. Yes. It’s all been a bit crap.

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463But, gather round bookish friends and let’s take a moment to rejoice in the good stuff- ‘the books, the books’, I hear you cry. It’s been a superb year for crime fiction this year, and I have discovered some absolute gems along the way. So here’s how Raven’s reading year panned out…

(click on the book jackets for reviews)

 

DEBUT-TASTIC!

With 90+ books reviewed and over 150 read during the year, 2016 has been a bumper year for some damn, fine fiction. (Still 40+ non-starters but we’ll move swiftly on).  I was particularly struck by the quality of the debut authors I have encountered this year. A couple will be featuring in my Top 5, so aside from them, special mentions, and a round of applause to the following…

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THAT DIFFICULT SECOND BOOK…

Also wanted to highlight those authors that blew me away in 2015 with their debuts, and who have now produced second books, the equal of, or even better than their first foray into the world of crime fiction…

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6c217d7a427ef735dcbf85b02b5c40a4AND STILL IT GOES ON….

In last year’s round-up I wrote this… It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.” Unfortunately, I still failed to heed my own advice, and have either abandoned at the 40 page mark, or trawled all the way through on pain of death, a substantial number more of these over the last 12 months.

Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.

Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.

WORDS FAILED ME…BUT IN A GOOD WAY…

492ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAlthough I am not the most prolific of bloggers, and tend to give breathing/thinking space between finishing books and writing a review, there are some books that with fingers poised over keyboard that prove excessively difficult to review, because they are so damn weird/clever/thought provoking/intense (delete as applicable). Courtesy of Orenda Books, two such books have crossed my path this year, and never has it taken me so long to try and write reviews that reflect the sheer cleverness and thought provoking intensity of these two. Mr Yusuf Toropov, Mr Michael Grothaus, I salute you…

fb929b12453a2ce028c765b5197b1a04THE TBR PILE…

Yes, the behemoth of the TBR mountain looms large on my conscience, but to be honest, there are worse problems to have, and no, I am not going to count the number of books vying for my attention. Have started making a dent with my commute to work, which has afforded me the opportunity to finally get round to reading some excellent authors who had slipped the net, for example Eva Dolan, Neil Broadfoot and Helen Cadbury, and some quirky crime in translation too. I’ll keep chipping away…for at least the next ten years…or more…

And so to the winners, no prizes, but big thanks for your sparkling and enthralling books. Not all of these achieved Book of The Month status but have remained resolutely in the Raven’s mind all year…

Raven’s Top 5 (ish) Books of the Year

5.

A RISING MAN

“Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire, sings from every page.”

4.

aa

“A genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake.”

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“This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed.”

tall-oaks

“There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

What do you mean, that’s cheating?

They are all set in America.

(My excuse and I’m sticking to it)

3. 

bird

“It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between.”

2.

dod“The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers.”

1.

blood

“As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense.”

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All the best for 2017 everyone

and just remember…

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Merry Christmas!

thedescendantatchristmasHere’s a special Christmas message from the Raven to not only the regular followers of my blog, but also to readers, bloggers, authors and publishers everywhere who have made this a bumper year of reading fun. I love the recommendations I receive, not only through the blog, but also through my virtual friends and fellow bloggers on the web- keep them coming. I have loved reading the multitude of blogs throughout the year, and thanks to you all for your excellent and honest reviews which have been entertaining and informative, although not much good for my bank balance!!!

I would also like to extend my best wishes to the hardworking publicists who keep me readily supplied with old favourites and new names alike, and to the authors who consistently enrich my reading experience through their imaginative creativity and varying degrees of sanity! As a dedicated bookseller, I would also like to say a special thank you to all of you who strive to keep the bookshops in our neighbourhoods by your continued support, and to all those dedicated booksellers who share their bookish passion every day, despite the pressures we all have to cope with- I salute you!

 I hope that wherever you are, and however you celebrate, that you have a wonderful time- MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

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Travels With The TBR #3- Neil Broadfoot-Falling Fast, Paddy Magrane-Denial, Stefan Ahnhem- Victim Without A Face

In the thick of the Christmas rush, as a retail drone currently battling with the lurgy too, time for reviewing has been a bit limited this month. Here’s the last little flurry of books that have made it to the top of the TBR mountain, before my end of year round-up,  and hopefully this little feature will continue next year *eyeing the Eiger sized pile of books yet to be read*….

1Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist, on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug’s curiosity and diverts his attention – especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder…and the ultimate taboo.

Having been meaning to catch up with this author, having seen him at CrimeFest this year and instantly purchasing the first two of this series. It was a wise decision, as I have now discovered a great author to add to my Scottish favourites! I was instantly drawn to the two main protagonists, Doug McGregor- dogged reporter, and his police contact DS Susie Drummond, and the relationship that exists between them. I loved the underlying feeling of them both being slightly square pegs in round holes, with McGregor’s incredible self reliance which tends to alienate others, and Drummond’s former misguided fling with a senior officer which has marked her out as an outsider to her police colleagues. However, although their professional relationship alternates beautifully between frustration and spikiness, there is a mutual respect underpinning everything, leading to some intense scenes that alternate between danger, humour and high emotion, thanks to their razor sharp characterisation.

I thought the plot was superb, and am always gratified by the exposure of political corruption, and this book takes some incredibly dark turns as the truth behind a young woman’s death at the outset of the book comes to light. Broadfoot captures perfectly the nature of family bonds with their sometimes misguided loyalty, and explores the issue of parental responsibility in both its good and worst forms. Equally, the author uses both the location of Edinburgh, and his own background as a journalist, to add further layers of realism to what is altogether a completely absorbing thriller. Highly recommended.

2A riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes. That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead. He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

Having really enjoyed Disorder , the first of Paddy Magrane’s series featuring psychotherapist Sam Keddie, I’m glad the hiatus has ended and another has appeared! This is real breakneck, edge of your seat thrilling stuff, chockfull of danger, excitement and some very bad men indeed, but tempered by an innate sensitivity to the very contemporary issue of immigration. The character of Zahra, in particular, who has experienced the very worst of human behaviour during her passage to supposed safety in Europe, is mesmeric from the very start, and she holds the reader in the palm of her hand with her mix of,  at times, extreme vulnerability underscored by a steely resolve and bravery to overcome the evil that pursues her. I adored her character, and the way that Magrane uses her so effectively to explore important issues, and bring to the fore elements of corruption, greed and expose those that trade in human exploitation. I also liked the little areas of grey that Magrane employs in relation to one of the men pursuing Zahra, which leads us to reassess our feeling towards him as the tale unfolds.

Despite the more serious issues that the book encompasses, Magrane balances this perfectly with the ‘thriller’ aspect, as Keddie and Zahra are caught up in a  desperate game of cat and mouse across a series of European locations, with all the pace and energy one would expect of the genre. There are some real heart in the mouth moments along the way, and Magrane moves us effortlessly from one impending moment of peril to the next, with a flowing and unbroken narrative. Yes, there are a couple of plot turns which may raise a mildly quizzical eyebrow, but fear not, you are so quickly moved on to more dangerous ground, that these will not deter you. Thrilling, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. What more could you possibly want? Highly recommended.

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Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Fabian Risk is the lead detective on the case. He’s also one of the children in the photograph. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood…

You and I both know that you can’t whack a good old slice of Scandinavian noir, so here’s another author to add to your Scandi wish list. Ahnhem has produced a meaty, compelling and impeccably plotted thriller, with a sizeable body count, and increasingly imaginative ways of having despatching the victims, straying into Chris Carter territory with the sheer ghoulishness of some of their deaths. Which was nice.

Fabian Risk proves himself a feisty, and lone wolfish investigator, having recently relocated to his childhood town, after an ‘incident’, putting him perfectly in place to try and outwit a demented killer targeting his school chums. With numerous twists and turns along the way, too convoluted to try and explore here, inevitably Risk finds himself at well, risk, and experiencing an isolation from his police cohorts as the plot thickens.The plot culminates in a slightly clunky and predictable endgame involving a kidnap, but can be slightly forgiven as the story up until that point, and other reveals at the tail end of the book, did diffuse my sense of annoyance somewhat. Certainly enough here to make me seek out the next in the series, and a good recommendation for you Scandi fans out there…

 

#BlogTour- The Finnish Invasion- Kati Hiekkapelto- The Exiled, Antti Tuomainen- The Mine

41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

Having waxed lyrical about the previous book The Defenceless from edgy Finnish writer, Kati Hiekkapelto, it was great to dive into this one, again featuring Hungarian detective Anna Fekete. I am rather partial to books where the main protagonist is removed from their normal stomping ground, and how the vacations they take are never the most relaxing of affairs. The Exiled fits the bill perfectly…

Anna Fekete is a prickly and forthright woman, with a somewhat abrasive manner that exasperates and delights in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the verbal sparring between herself and her mother, on her trip back to her parental home, and Anna’s general doggedness and interference in the gradually revealed corruption within the local police force. She proves herself a keen and formidable irritant to most people, and Heikkapelto pulls no punches in painting a vivid picture of Anna’s somewhat derisory attitude to both childhood acquaintances and local figures in the community. Finding herself inveigled in the suspicious death of a petty thief soon after her arrival, Anna uses her detective nous, and the resources open to her, calling on assistance back home in Finland, to expose a dark and bleak tale centring on the refugee community.

Through her eyes, the neglect and danger that those traversing Europe in search of a safer home experience is brought to the centre of our attention, and her generally sympathetic view to those she encounters, coloured by her own identity as a migrant, works as a powerful conduit for Hiekkapelto to provide a broad and realistic depiction of the refugee crisis. There are also additional points of interest, as the chequered history of the Balkan region is woven into the plot, and a focus on the issues of identity and belonging that have arisen from the break up of Yugoslavia are explored both through Anna’s familial history, and those she interacts with. It’s always incredibly satisfying to read a book that provides deeper levels of interest alongside the main plot, and gives a richness and texture to the prose to sate the reader. With this added scope to the book, the main plot still stands strongly within it, and the investigation that Anna undertakes to satisfy the numerous questions that arise for her is well-realised and played out, and their is an underlying current of tension throughout. As Anna finds herself increasingly at risk, but being as determined as a dog with a bone, I was totally caught up in this story from the start, and pulled in once again by the magnetism of Anna’s character, and her unerring ability to use the less attractive traits of her personality to get to the root of this mystery. Beautifully translated by David Hackston,  The Exiled is another winner from Kati Hiekkappelto and I, for one, cannot wait to see what Anna gets tangled up in next. Highly recommended.

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mineIn the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life…

I’m going to set my stall out here and say that I would probably enjoy anything that Antti Tuomainen writes, having loved both The Healer, and  Dark As My Heart so did The Mine take me down to the depths of despair, or eject me skipping into the sunlight?…

One of the manifold reasons that I love Scandinavian crime thrillers so much is the unerring ability of the authors within this genre to so finely balance the exploration of the human psyche, and important social and political issues, in total harmony with the essential need of bringing to their readers a believable and compelling criminal mystery. The Mine is a perfect example of this, exposing the less than legal activities of a mining company in the snowy wastes of rural Finland, as a jumping off point for a menacing tale of murder and retribution. The author’s research into the history and workings of this particular industry across Finland, is clearly in evidence, and Tuomainen does not hesitate in exposing the particular follies and dangers linked to it. In common with Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit The Wind and the Danish drama Follow The Money which also addressed issues in relation to environmental issues this adds a layer of interest to the reader, outside of a linear crime narrative. I thought the plot was excellent, and was genuinely interested and engaged with Janne’s refusal to give up in his mission to expose the truth behind the mining corporation and its dastardly deeds, and delighted by the additional weight that Tuomainen’s exploration of human connection brings to the whole affair.

Dark As My Heart was one of my favourite books of last year, due to the mesmeric, lyrical quality that Tuomainen injects into his prose. Despite the weightier environmental issues of this book, that provide the driving force for the story, there are interludes of writing, that resonate strongly with the author’s gift for the rhythm and cadence of emotional expression. I finished reading the book with at least ten highlighted passages of sublime, naturalistic description whether referring to the physical landscape, or the emotional landscape of the characters. I found Tuomainen’s portrayal of the fragile reconciliation between Janne and his father, Emil,  particularly affecting, and the bridging of the gap between their differing sense of morality powerfully wrought, when the true nature and motivations of Janne’s father come to light. Although not entirely convinced by Emil’s day job, it proved an interesting juxtaposition for us to see how Janne and his mother dealt with his absence, and the tentative steps made by Emil to reconnect. Strongly in evidence in his previous books is Tuomainen’s knack for rootling around in the depths of people’s emotional selves, and depicting them so transparently that you cannot be helped as a reader to being utterly drawn into his characters. I felt like I came to know all these people intimately as the story progressed, with increasing amounts of either complete empathy or moral outrage at the situations they find themselves in. This is fiction writing at its best, highlighting the power to move, unsettle and educate the reader, and hold them completely into its thrall. Highly recommended.

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