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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

There’s Always Someone Watching… Leo Benedictus-Consent / James Lasdun- The Fall Guy

 

This book is an experiment.
We’re experimenting together.

You are part of the experiment, if you’ll agree to it.

Normally I don’t let my subjects choose to be subjects. If you know you’re being watched, you cease to be you.

But I want you to read this. I wrote it for you.

This magnetic book pulls you in its wake even as you resist its force. Sometimes you don’t want to know what’s next…

Just to make my reviewing equally difficult, here is another book,  that in common with the book jacket itself, I am going to tell you hardly anything about in terms of plot. I saw the author being interviewed by James Naughtie recently, and my interest was piqued by what I was liberally describing as a creepy ass psychological thriller to my bookselling colleagues….

I thought this was absolutely superb and a truly dark and deliciously twisted thriller, entwining us in the psyche of a stalker, and providing a commentary on the repercussions of his actions on just one of his many chosen targets, Frances.  Benedictus is completely without fear in his representation of this despicable individual and the measures he takes to inveigle himself more and more deeply into Frances’ life, and the danger this poses to both her associates, both personal and professional, and to Frances herself. I was mesmerised by the supremely cool and dispassionate first person narrative of the stalker, whose actions seem perfectly reasonable to his own consciousness, but grow increasingly unsettling and worrisome to us, as we pre-empt the effect his actions will have on Frances. Likewise, the growing unease and persecution of Frances, slowly gathers pace, again feeding into, and adding to the chilling nervous tension that Benedictus perfectly builds. I enjoyed his depiction of Frances, as such a normal, hard working, ambitious, and unencumbered by personal vanity type of woman, as this sense of her being such an ‘everywoman’ resonates much more strongly with a female reader, and making her plight all the more tangible, and ramping up the effect on us as a reader.

I am always held in the thrall of writing that has a tangible physical effect on me as a reader, and Consent did this admirably, as I felt my heartbeat quicken on several occasions, and a slight roiling of the belly at one particularly graphic moment, that discomfited even this normally strong stomached reader. I didn’t, however, object to the use of violence in this particular context, unlike say the gratuitous violence of American Psycho (which I do have a wee soft spot for), as to my mind it actually worked extremely well within plot, and allows the book to remain on the right side of the needlessly voyeuristic.  It merely elevated the fear quotient a little more, and gave the narrative a swift injection of kapow, before carrying us along to that unexpected, supremely creepy denouement…shudders…

I thought the pacing, use of language and increasingly uncomfortable feeling that this book produced in me was cleverly done, perhaps reflected by my reading this in pretty much one sitting, and putting down the book with a palpable sense of satisfaction, despite that truly dark and unsettling ending.

As it says on the cover, Read Me….

Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Consent, published by Faber Books)

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It is summer, 2012. Charlie, a wealthy banker with an uneasy conscience, invites his troubled cousin Matthew to visit him and his wife in their idyllic mountaintop house. As the days grow hotter, the friendship between the three begins to reveal its fault lines, and with the arrival of a fourth character, the household finds itself suddenly in the grip of uncontrollable passions. Who is the real victim here? Who is the perpetrator? And who, ultimately, is the fall guy?

A new author for me, and a great introduction to his work, as The Fall Guy, resonates with a feel of Patricia Highsmith, and kept the Raven hooked in its clutches…

As is natural with an intense character driven psychological thriller of this kind, the synopsis above is all I am going to give you in terms of plot reveal. Like me, I would urge you to read this largely in a vacuum of unknowing, as the tension both in personal relationships, and the air of deceit and disloyalty, gradually builds and builds. With such a finite group of characters, I felt like I was almost observing a stage play, and for some reason I had an echo of Albee’s brilliant  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf tickling in the back of mind throughout. I thought the relationship between the three main characters and the dips, ecstasies and growing dislike and distrust were beautifully played out, against the backdrop of a sultry heat that seemed to add to the tension of the piece even more. There is an increasingly poisonous relationship building between married couple Charlie and Chloe and cousin Matthew, and be warned your sympathies will be toyed with, and your allegiances shifted along the way…

Lasdun shows his perfect control of pace, as slight reveals and little moments of trickery, lulling us into the feeling that we know exactly what’s going on, and how this will all play out. Wrong tiddly wrong wrong. I was sucker punched by the ending, and was just so, so pleased that it caught me completely off guard. Beautifully paced, a brilliant escalation of tension, and great characterisation. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC)

 

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Joe Thomas- Gringa

São Paulo, 2013: a city at an extraordinary moment in its history. Mario Leme, a detective in the civil police, has developed a friendship with a young English investigative journalist, Ellie. When she goes to meet a contact in central São Paulo, Mario observes from the street as she walks into a building and doesn’t come out. Inside, he discovers the dead body of a young man he doesn’t recognise, and Ellie s phone lying on the floor.

Set during five days in the redevelopment of the centre of São Paulo in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Ellie’s disappearance links characters at every level of the social hierarchy, from the drug dealers and civil and military police to the political class she witnesses, and charts the feral brutality of urban breakdown…

This time last year I had the pleasure of reading  Paradise City , Joe Thomas’ gritty debut, introducing us to mercurial Brazilian detective Mario Leme. Being both an intuitive and compelling read, I was more than keen to see what lay in store for Leme, and to become even further immersed in the impoverished locale of downtown Sao Paulo…

One of the stand out features of Thomas’ debut was his ardent attention to the social, financial and political spheres of Brazilian society, and by using the backdrop of the urban regeneration needed to host the World Cup, Gringa puts the corruption and neighbourhood cleansing into sharp focus. As happened in South Africa, the book particularly focuses on the destruction of a shanty area of Sao Paulo, dubbed Cracolandia, where developers, legal personnel, and politicians, run roughshod over the lives of the less fortunate, to achieve their vision. With his innate feel for the hardboiled, pared down style of prose, Thomas consistently unsettles the reader with his depiction of these greedy, and not entirely legal practices, and those who suffer in its aftermath. Fortunately though, this is counterbalanced by a series of murders connected to those involved in the area’s development, and the disappearance of a young female journalist eager for a scoop. I found the level of factual detail intertwined with the main ‘thriller’ plot absolutely fascinating, and felt my hackles rise on more than one occasion at the social injustice that the book centres on. The level of corrupt nefarious practices that Gringa exposes was a real eye opener, and I appreciated the way that Thomas consistently exposes the naked truth behind the power and oppression of the more vulnerable in society. It was both powerful and thought provoking.

The weighty social issues of the book, are more than balanced with the superb characterisation, which I felt was even more assured than in the first book. Detective Mario Leme in particular has achieved a certain level of settled equilibrium in his personal life, after the emotional trauma of losing his wife, but in the style of all good crime thrillers, his new investigation threatens to turn this swiftly on its head. I like the slightly morose air of Leme, who is one hundred percent one of the good guys,  and his jocular partner Lisboa, who are set apart from their less reputable police colleagues. Leme reminds me strongly of a kind of world weary American detective, and his self questioning, but keen sense of morality,  reflects this further. There is a consistent attention to all of Thomas’ characters, from bright eyed but singularly naïve journalist Ellie, to Fernando and Leandro, two eager young chaps embroiled in  illegal practices relating to the slum clearance, and a host of other ne’er-do-wells who reek of violence and corruption.

With reference again to Thomas’s writing style, Leme’s and Lisboa’s interactions, along with all the dialogue in the book is sharp, snappy, and has a rhythmical fluidity consist with the sound and cadence of the Brazilian tongue. The book is punctuated with the Brazilian vernacular, some in the glossary at the back, some not, but with the flow of the prose you begin to take the meanings on by osmosis, and I have learnt some very choice Brazilian expressions of disgust or outrage that I’m sure will be valuable at some point! Joking aside though, I thought the structure and language of the book was perfect, and I loved those small episodic interludes of whipcracker paced streams of consciousness that punctuate the book. A great read for those who like their crime on the darker side of the tracks, and dare I say it, even better than the debut. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

A Quick Round Up- Chris Carter- The Gallery of the Dead/ Elly Griffiths- The Dark Angel/ Craig Robertson-The Photographer

Here are three authors that I read on an incredibly regular basis, but aware that they get reviews from far loftier reviewers than myself, here are just a few thoughts on their latest releases…

That’s what a LAPD Lieutenant tells Detectives Hunter and Garcia of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit as they arrive at one of the most shocking crime scenes they have ever attended. 
 In a completely unexpected turn of events, the detectives find themselves joining forces with the FBI to track down a serial killer whose hunting ground sees no borders; a psychopath who loves what he does because to him murder is much more than just killing – it’s an art form.
 Welcome to The Gallery of the Dead.

There’s always a wonderful sense with Chris Carter that his books have a what you see is what you get feel about them, and that’s not to deride them in any way. I hesitate to use the word formulaic, but you know that there will be a central killer, brutal, mentally unhinged, and with an arsenal of gory methods of despatching their victims, to fulfil their own twisted raison d’etre. With his background in criminal psychology, Carter never fails to unnerve his readers with a plethora of individuals capable of haunting our dreams. The Gallery of The Dead ticks all the boxes as usual…

Deranged killer operating from what he believes is a perfectly normal mind-set

Interesting/bloodcurdling/”ugh gross” methods of despatching victims 

Detectives Hunter and Garcia, (who have acquired a near superhero/indestructible status from their preceding investigations) doggedly pursuing said killer, but wearing their underpants inside their trousers and not over the top of a pair of tights

Hunter beginning to realise that maybe he should be succumbing to his more ‘base’ needs and dallying with a member of the opposite sex 

An absolute belter of a closing line that references an earlier book, and is set to unleash a whole host of trouble for Detective Hunter… 

Some women read delightful nauseatingly pastel books with winsome singletons to turn on, tune in. and drop out. To unwind I read Chris Carter, the master of the dark, the dangerous and the seriously twisted, and The Gallery of the Dead is an absolute cracker.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!
So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.

I will say from the outset that over the course of the Ruth Galloway books, I have had an up and down relationship with them, but feel almost a sense of guilt if I decide not to pick up the next in the series. The Dark Angel reaches the landmark of ten books, featuring the everywoman character of Galloway, who set apart by her sheer ordinariness, intelligence,  frequent crisis of confidence, and somewhat unbelievably tangled personal relationships, has accrued a significant following of readers in her wake.

I will be honest, and say that this book didn’t really fill me with any sense of satisfaction. As the whole love triangle, now love square, rumbles on unabated, I felt that Griffiths focussing on the machinations of this neglected to provide any sort of interesting plot, despite despatching both Ruth and her on/off/on/off/on/off lover policeman Harry to the steamy surrounds of Italy. The central ‘mystery’ that Ruth finds herself embroiled was all a wee dull, and I didn’t really care who was being killed and for what reason. Also I think that Griffiths has slightly shot herself in the foot, by despatching a character one book too early, as the continuing existence of this person could easily have let them survive a bit longer to spice things up a bit. In fact, the way they were despatched was a bit ludicrous too. Also it felt a bit one-out, one-in as the closing sentence of the book heralds the reappearance of a figure from Ruth’s past, who may or may not add a bit of energy to the series.

On a more positive note, I always appreciate Ruth’s witty asides, and her day to day battles with weight, appearance, and desperately seeking to not say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I love her groundedness, and her professional demeanour, along with the insight into archaeology that arise from the books. I will read the next one, and undoubtedly the next, but unfortunately The Dark Angel didn’t quite hit the spot for me this time.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

A dawn raid on the home of a suspected rapist leads to a chilling discovery, a disturbing collection of photographs hidden under floorboards. DI Rachel Narey is terrified at the potential scale of what they’ve found and of what brutalities it may signal.
    When the photographs are ruled inadmissible as evidence and the man walks free from court, Narey knows she’s let down the victim she’d promised to protect and a monster is back on the streets.
    Tony Winter’s young family is under threat from internet trolls and he is determined to protect them whatever the cost. He and Narey are in a race against time to find the unknown victims of the photographer’s lens – before he strikes again.

And so to Craig Robertson, whose series featuring DI Rachel Narey, and her other half photographer Tony Winter, does in all senses go from strength to strength. I’ve read every book to date, and there’s not been a duffer yet, and this one ranks easily as quite possibly the most polished and sensitive yet.

The Photographer revolves around the identification of a serial rapist, who seems to be able to defy prosecution, instead given free reign to stir up the misogynistic forces on social media to persecute his accuser, and by extension, Narey herself who is steadfastly working to bring him to justice. I thought this whole storyline was handled beautifully and extremely sensitively throughout, with Robertson not shying from representing the hatred that women endure through sexual violence, and the loathsome trolls of social media who hide behind their keyboards to vent their vicious diatribes and air their foul opinions. I felt that Robertson wrote some scenes with such compassion and depth of feeling that I was genuinely moved, and it is to the author’s credit that he captured this sense of desperation, and persecution so well. I liked the way that Robertson also didn’t resort to a stereotypical sexual predator, which added an extra level of tension in his interactions with Narey in particular, finding herself in confrontation with a successful, intelligent and extremely devious opponent.

As usual, the central relationship of Narey and Winter worked well with the added dimension of their new baby, and as things become more perilous, the welcome reappearance of Winter’s Uncle Danny, who is always a tonic, and a source of comfort to the reader knowing he has their backs. Robertson always achieves a good balance between the professional and the personal, with neither overwhelming the other in terms of the narrative. Likewise his books always have a resounding realism, and it’s always interesting how this resonates with his reader’s own experiences or their views on, or experience of, the issues he constructs his stories around. As usual, highly recommended, and generally a series that it is well worth discovering for yourselves.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Julia Dahl- Conviction

Journalist Rebekah Roberts works at New York City’s sleaziest tabloid, but dreams of bigger things. When she receives a letter from a convicted murderer claiming his innocence, she sees both a story she can’t ignore and, possibly, a chance.
Twenty-two years earlier, just after the Crown Heights riots exploded between the black and Jewish neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, DeShawn Perkins was convicted of the brutal murder of his adoptive family. Rebekah’s search for the truth is obscured by the decades that have elapsed: almost no one wants to talk about that grim, violent time in New York City, not even Saul Katz, a former NYPD cop and once her inside source….

A new-to-me author, despite Conviction being the third of Julia Dahl’s books to feature spirited and tenacious reporter Rebekah Roberts. Grappling with the weighty issues of race, religion, and justice this proved to be a markedly different, and thought provoking read…

In Rebekah we have a confident, young woman eager to prove herself and progress in her career, and what Dahl captures so well is her flexible, but not always completely unquestioning pursuit of information as a reporter. Instead of Rebekah just being depicted as a cold hearted, unfeeling reporter who will stop at nothing for a story, Dahl introduces in her moments of conflicted interest, and the sometimes very personal conflict that will arise from her investigation. Although we do see Rebekah adopt some little underhanded tricks of the trade to wheedle out the necessary information from people, there is a charm to her as a person that deflects us from condemning her methods on these occasions. Admittedly, she sees her current investigation as a chance to improve her career prospects, but as she delves deeper into what becomes a personal crusade for her to save a man from execution, she endears herself to us even more by making some difficult decisions on the information she must expose. Despite the ramifications for those closest to her, and with the potential to destabilize a recently rekindled relationship with her estranged mother, Rebekah’s navigation of this case kept me enthralled throughout, and I appreciated those small moments of vulnerability balanced with the clear sighted determination that Dahl weaves into her character.

As a depiction of the inherent racial conflicts that have plagued American society, I found this quite an even handed portrayal. Obviously, by exploring the differences between the Jewish and African American communities in New York in 1992 and 2014, Dahl provides a balanced assessment of both changes to, and the continuation of, the underlying resentments between the community of people she focuses on. As a black man convicted of multiple murder with little evidence and a coerced confession, sadly his story is all too familiar in the biased justice system and racial profiling so beloved in the American legal system. Equally, Dahl does not shy away from apportioning blame to the original investigating officers, and the whiff of corruption that pervaded this case from the beginning. I also found the focus on Jewish culture throughout the book extremely enlightening, and liked the no punches pulled attitude of the author to expose the best and worst of people’s behaviour no matter their ethnicity or creed throughout the story. The balance of morality and tenacity in Rebekah’s character to both reveal the tensions, yet applaud the instances of co-operation, between the two communities is firmly echoed by Dahl’s even handed and largely balanced authorial voice.

I enjoyed Conviction very much, and despite the necessary signposts in the book relating to the back story of Rebekah’s previous investigations, and the troubled relationship with her mother, I will definitely catch up with the first two books in the series at some point, having enjoyed the playing out of the story, and Dahl’s interesting dissemination of the issues of race, religion and justice. Recommended.

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Blog Tour- Thomas Enger- Killed

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life…

So we’ve been  Burned, Pierced Scarred and Cursed so now prepare to be Killed by the last instalment in Thomas Enger’s superlative Henning Juul series. A reading experience of mixed pleasures it has to be said, with the excitement of a new book by Enger, but equally a tinge of sadness that this appears to be where we and Henning Juul go our separate ways…

Not afraid to repeat myself, as I have reviewed every book to date, I would once again draw your attention to Enger’s consistently polished storytelling, and ability to really bring his character’s traits- both weak and strong, good or bad- straight into the reader’s consciousness. Having concealed and revealed various people’s involvement in the tragic fire that resulted in the death of Juul’s son, this book again throws some curveballs Juul’s way, and Enger seems to delight in raising our suspicions, and then deflating our theories as Juul doggedly continues to pursue the truth. I think this book also fulfils a fair quota of the Tertullian seven deadly sins, as there is more than enough greed, murder, fraud and false witness to go round. Balanced with this, there is also a subtly nuanced depiction of the softer and vulnerable side of some of the characters, that toys with our perception of them, and at times invokes in us an equally subtle shift in our sympathy for them. I think this is why I have enjoyed Enger’s series so much, as in far as it is steeped in the recognisable tropes of much Scandinavian crime fiction, there is another arc to his writing that is sensitive and emotive, and really allows the reader to connect beyond the superficial narrative of an ordinary thriller. I also enjoyed the switching between two locations, the contrasts that Enger draws between the European and South American temperaments, and their differing attitudes to life, wealth, and justice.

This is one of the few series that I think works better by starting from the first and reading sequentially. As much as you can join in with the trials and travails of Juul in Killed , there is a gripping and layered back story waiting to be discovered, and with the accrued knowledge of events from the previous instalments, it definitely heightens the enjoyment of this final book. Having followed Juul’s story for some time, I felt it was time that this poor man achieved some sense of closure, and it has to be said that this book brings many chickens home to roost, with the obligatory dishing out of physical violence that Juul seems to attract. In the light of what I have just said about reading the series in its entirety, I have rather boxed myself into a corner, as to how much more I can tell you, and my lips are firmly sealed. Just keep that chilling prologue in the back of your mind as the story weaves to its conclusion…

As the curtain is drawn down on the ballad of Henning Juul, I am curious to see what Enger will produce next, and what the liberty of finishing this series will spark in his imagination. This has been an exemplary series, and well worth reading all five books. So after being Burned, Pierced Scarred  Cursed and Killed, I am now sated too.

Recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Blog Tour- David Young- A Darker State

The body of a teenage boy is found weighted down in a lake. Karin Müller, newly appointed Major of the People’s Police, is called to investigate. But her power will only stretch so far, when every move she makes is under the watchful eye of the Stasi.

Then, when the son of Müller’s team member goes missing, it quickly becomes clear that there is a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of this case, one that could fast lead Müller and her young family into real danger.

Can she navigate this complex political web and find the missing boy, before it’s too late?

Eyes down and here we go everybody for the next instalment of David Young’s gripping series set in 1970s East Germany, placing us at the heart of Cold War fear and suspicion. Following on from Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf  the book opens with a new home, a seemingly settled family life, and an unexpected promotion for Oberletnant Karin Müller, and yet a creeping feeling of unease as to just what the payback for these rewards will be…

Although I experienced a little dip in my perception of Müller in the previous book, she is back on fine form in this one, despite the pressure she comes under in both her personal and professional life. There’s a good balance between the doubt and self questioning she experiences as a new mother, and in her supposedly solid relationship with her partner Emil, set against her day to day trials and tribulations in a particularly knotty investigation, under the unwavering eye of the sinister Stasi. It is the latter element in her life that really brings her character to life, as she has to out-think and pre-empt the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, sabotage of her investigation, at times putting her in extreme physical danger, but never once denting her sense of morality and focus to get the job done. Reunited with her right hand man, and sometime lover, Werner Tilsner, Young is given the opportunity to not only show the solidity of their professional partnership, but to also insert some moments of lighter, teasing humour into the proceedings. Likewise, Müller’s interactions with slippery Stasi man Jager, whose presence adds another frisson to the investigation, also allows her to show us her steely determination, and her ability to use and manipulate him as much as he does her. Although he does have one particular revelation to foist on her at the close of the book that neither she, nor us, would entirely expect…

As we have come to expect from the two preceding books, Young does not stint on the historical, political and social detail attendant to this period of German history. Not only do we become fully conversant with the ramifications for the individual living in the grip of Communist rule, but also the differences in existence between two halves of the same nation. Interestingly, there are small freedoms that those in the supposedly more totalitarian east experience, and Young also contrasts the feelings of acceptance and pride that some hold, as a juxtaposition to those who feel trapped and surveilled at every turn. The book is absolutely brimming with research, applied in such a way as to not outweigh the natural flow of the plot, but enough to give the reader an inherent feeling of time and place. With a surprising, and unsettling, premise for the murders that occur, Young inveigles us in an underground world of sexual intolerance, and blackmail that is truly disturbing, and one cannot help but feel supremely sorry for the victims of these heinous crimes. I enjoyed the split narrative and timelines, and as the story segued between the two, Young once again showed his knack for pace and tension building. I remember reading somewhere that good authors always write the kind of books that they themselves would like to read , and with Young’s balance of fiction and fact, coupled with a genuinely compelling and exciting plot, I think in this case he has written as a reader and not just a churn-‘ em-out writer that the crime genre is sadly littered with.

Although there is a danger in coming into a series part way through. I think A Darker State actually works extremely well as a stand alone for those late to the party. With a nifty tie up with a certain event in the first book, there is ample opportunity to go back to the beginning before the next book appears. Definitely a series that I have enjoyed, and with an overview of all three books, this has been my favourite to date. Highly recommended and bring on book 4!

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Blog Tour- M. P. Wright- Restless Coffins

1969, Bristol. Bajan ex- cop and reluctant private detective, Joseph ‘JT’ Tremaine Ellington is still trading in cash and favours, lending a helping hand to those too scared to go to the police or anyone trying to stay one step ahead of them.
Life is tough for JT, who is broke. It is about to get a lot tougher when he receives a telegram informing him of a tragedy that has unfolded thousands of miles away. Ellington’s sister, Bernice has been murdered. Ellington wants to make the long journey back to his home on the island of Barbados to pay his final respects and to settle his late sister’s affairs. To do so, he must accept a ticket from his shady cousin, Vic, on condition he travels to New York first, where Vic is building himself a criminal empire in Harlem.
JT soon discovers that Vic is the American end of an operation that stretches back to Barbados, and that Vic’s business partner is Conrad Monroe, the man responsible for the death of JT’s wife and daughter. As JT finds himself embroiled in the world of drugs, bent law, voodoo and the bitter legacy of slavery, he must return to the island of his birth and face the demons of his past

Having quietly championed the first two books in the J. T. Elington trilogy , Heartman and All Through The Night , as both a blogger and a bookseller, it was with a sense of anticipation that I approached the reading of Restless Coffins.  As life conspires to kick Ellington in the teeth again, you know things are going to get a bit lively, but with the intervention of his wayward cousin Vic, it can only get downright dangerous…

Obviously, having been following the books already, the doom laden back story of JT is firmly established in my mind already, but fear not dear reader, the set up of Restless Coffins is quite accessible to the first time reader, if you randomly begin here. With the first two books being so firmly set in the UK, this book also strikes a broader appeal as the story travels from Bristol, to the gangs of Harlem, to the hoodoo voodoo of New Orleans and then propels us to the bloody denouement in JT’s native Barbados. By broadening the book in this way, it also enabled Wright to consolidate his position as, in my opinion, one of the finest purveyors of descriptive fiction in the thriller genre. His attention to detail, to atmosphere building, to location, to the very make up of whatever environment he places his characters into, is absolutely second to none. Every scene is loaded with precise and vivid detail, more commonly encountered in literary fiction, which enshrouds you completely, and transports you with absolute clarity to the environs of his character’s experiences. Every location, every means of transport, every person, everything JT sees and experiences, puts us there with him, entwining us even more intensely with the book.

Likewise, Wright’s characterisation is pitch perfect as usual, and the intensity he imbues in JT in particular, is absolutely compelling. JT’s emotional, complicated, self questioning inner life must be exhausting to convey to the page, and every scene that puts the spotlight solely on this character, is an emotional rollercoaster for JT as well as the reader. As well as the constant pull on his emotions through the loss of those closest to him, both by birth, by marriage, and by association, he undergoes an extreme amount of physical assault. Indeed, the fight scenes are so precisely written I have an image of the author throwing himself his writing room choreographing them to the nth degree of detail, and by extension in the aftermath of JT’s physical encounters, the reader, through the exact descriptions, can feel every cut, every bruise. As well as being a hugely sympathetic character, there is always a degree of questioning from him, at times struggling to keep his emotions and impulses in check, showing his very real human frailty, but steadfastly demonstrating his loyalty to those closest to him, and to the memory of those he has lost. A troubled and complicated man, but also one of great integrity.

And then there’s cousin Vic.

Glorious, dangerous, slippery, sharp-talking Vic. I adore him. You just know that Vic’s gonna turn up, shake up JT’s world a little more, and tweak the nose of death along the way, and that he does. Brilliant. With the new American cast of characters, and some unwelcome faces from JT’s past, there are a host of good, bad and in some cases, exceptionally ugly people to keep JT and Vic on their toes, and the reader thoroughly entertained, horrified, or enraged. There’s some real bad folks in this one.

With Wright’s finely honed ear for the lilting cadence and rhythm of the Caribbean and American dialects, the use of language and dialogue is never less than perfectly authentic, and you quickly assume the pace and rhythm of each interaction. The heat, the atmosphere, the pulsing of human life, the frailties and strengths of his characters, and the rush of blood in violence, assails your mind and senses throughout Restless Coffins, leading to a completely immersive reading experience. Highly recommended.

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

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Blog Tour- Olga Wojtas- Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar

Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.

Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.

But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?

In the year that all of us Muriel Spark fans are taking advantage of the centenary celebrations to revisit her books, a lovely random invitation to join this blog tour enticed me with the dangling carrot of a book with shades of Spark’s most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Quite frankly I didn’t need asking twice, and although I rarely pick up comic crime capers, my interest was piqued by this one, and into the world of Shona, I eagerly scampered…

I think apologies are due to my fellow bus travellers, and staffroom sharers, who had to endure a flurry of guffaws and sniggers as I read this. This book is an absolute hoot, packed to the gills with entertaining misunderstandings, acerbic asides, and comic set ups that although by their very nature were farcical were not annoyingly so. Wojtas has an absolute field day with the inevitable gaps in communication- contemporary Scottish vs 19th century Russian- as Shona responds to each situation with her mellifluous brogue and earthy vernacular, underpinned by her obvious raw intelligence, and mischievous delight at bamboozling those around her. Although her use of language is the primary way she establishes an exotic difference from those around her, this is compounded by her encyclopaedic knowledge of facts and figures, accrued by her ‘crème de la creme’ education, and her by day. mild mannered librarian guise. She continually trawls the depths of this knowledge,  to try to establish which period of history she has been transported into, and readily draws on it she needs to extract herself from potentially socially awkward, or perilous situations. I have read other books that have used this conceit in relation to the character, but unlike those I found this clever, witty, and brain-tickling.  I have also absorbed a host of possibly useless knowledge, that may stand me in good stead one day, during a particularly knife-edge game of Trivial Pursuit…

Still on the subject of Shona, I would like to applaud the author on putting a more mature woman- no need for the ‘o’ word- as her central character, and the additional layer of fun it brings to the proceedings. With her obvious intelligence, comes a wonderful bluntness, and sense of self awareness that carries the plot beautifully, colouring her interactions with others, but also delightfully lowering her defences at times when her slight susceptibility to flattery becomes evident. She is proudly Scottish, totally adept at manipulating situations to her advantage, and exudes an air of confidence and charisma that charms and alienates in equal measure. As potent a figure as she is in the book, Wojtas does not neglect the need to provide Shona with a consummate surrounding cast, and this she achieves with her merry band of fatuous, wealthy upper class Russian women, and Shona’s inherited serfs, who ramp up the comic aspect of the plot, but allows us to recognise the unfairness and brutality of Russian life and society at this time. With reference to that, Wojtas places both Shona and us firmly in this period with her historical detail, and a heightened sense of place and atmosphere, with colourful, rich description, and accomplished scene setting.

Although I am not an ardent fan of the time travelling trope in fiction generally, I thought this was well executed, even if an amount of suspension of disbelief was needed, and the foray into the upper echelons of Russian society from the rarefied air of Morningside in Edinburgh was easy enough for Shona to insinuate herself in. Yes, the plot was a little obvious from a fairly early stage in the case of whodunit and indeed whydunnit, but to be honest, the book just carries you along on a stream of hilarity with our gung-ho gal Shona, that this matters little. A faint air of the ridiculous, more than a few belly laughs, and you may well pick up some interesting factoids too… Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

Catch the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

Banish Those January Blues… Alan Parks, Oliver Bottini, Mari Hannah, Donato Carrisi, Masako Togawa

Hello everyone. In the whole killing two birds with one stone thing, and realising I am already behind with my reviews (despite my resolution to do better), here is a little round-up of books to chase away that January feeling of gloom. As you would expect, I had issues with one of them, but you may be intrigued nonetheless, and the rest were pretty damn fine indeed.

You may need a little book retail therapy…

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn’t a random act of violence.
With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow’s wealthiest family, the Dunlops.
McCoy’s boss doesn’t want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

Gritty, unflinching, perfectly non- politically correct, and with echoes of the grandmasters of black-hearted noir, Lewis, McIlvanney, Raymond, Bruen et al, this was an absolute corker.

From the outset I was heartily entertained by the exploits of Detective Harry McCoy, with his nefarious relationships and more hands-on methods, and his wet-behind-the-ears sidekick, Wattie as we find ourselves firmly rooted in 1970’s Glasgow. The book is peppered with cultural and political references familiar to those of us born nearer that era- ahem- as well painting a grimly real backdrop for readers less familiar with the period. This is a city down on its uppers, with only occasional glimmers of the city that Glasgow was to become, and Parks’ colourful and inventive use of the Glaswegian vernacular brings a heightened level of enjoyment to the book too. The main storyline is very seedy indeed, involving as it does drugs, exploitation and abuse, which Parks determinedly lays before us warts and all. As I’ve said before I do like a book where I feel slightly soiled by the reading experience, in a similar vein to Benjamin Myers and Jake Arnott,  and Bloody January fitted the bill perfectly. It was feisty, fresh, wonderfully sordid and a sublime blast of noir to welcome in the new year. Highly recommended.

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Louise Boni, maverick chief inspector with the Black Forest crime squad, is struggling with her demons. Divorced at forty-two, she is haunted by the shadows of the past.
Dreading yet another a dreary winter weekend alone, she receives a call from the departmental chief which signals the strangest assignment of her career – to trail a Japanese monk wandering through the snowy wasteland to the east of Freiburg, dressed only in sandals and a cowl. She sets off reluctantly, and by the time she catches up with him, she discovers that he is injured, and fearfully fleeing some unknown evil. When her own team comes under fire, the investigation takes on a terrifying dimension, uncovering a hideous ring of child traffickers. The repercussions of their crimes will change the course of her own life.

Now this one perplexed me, as for the first half of the book I was submerged in the existential peace of tranquillity that gradually evolves into a more straightforward thriller. I loved the concept of this calm, ethereal figure of the monk, traversing the terrain of the Black Forest, pursued by this, as it turns out, very emotionally unstable female detective. I felt a bit like like Manny in Black Books where he swallows The Little Book of Calm as reading this induced a kind of contented relaxation in me, as Bonetti brings the natural serenity of monk, woman and forest into alignment.

Then I got bored.

And increasingly annoyed.

Boni began to irritate me with her constant self obsessed, self pitying keening, and to be honest, my interest was waning from this point. I found the child trafficking plotline slightly repetitive and circular, and I fair scampered to the end of the book just to see how things would pan out. Did feel a huge sense of disappointment in not enjoying this one more, as regular readers know my universal love for translated crime fiction, but alas not this time.

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When a mysterious DVD is delivered to Northumbria Police Headquarters, DS Matthew Ryan and Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil are among the few to view its disturbing content. With little to go on the only lead comes from the anonymous and chilling woman’s voice narrating the blood-soaked lock-up depicted on screen.
But with no victim visible, nor any indication of where the unidentifiable crime scene is located, Ryan and O’Neil get the distinct feeling someone is playing with them. What is certain is that the newly formed special unit has just taken on its first challenging case.
As further shocking videos start arriving at police stations around the country, the body count rises. But what connects all the victims? And why are they being targeted? As the investigation deepens, the team is brought to breaking point as secrets from the past threaten to derail their pursuit of a merciless killer . . 

I know I baulk every time I read the strapline, that so and so author is ‘at the height of their powers’ but, I think in Mari Hannah’s case this is absolutely fair. Not only the author of the brilliant DI Kate Daniels series, but onto a winner with this, the follow up to The Silent Room which first introduced us to Ryan and O’Neill.

Obviously you will discover for yourselves the extremely well crafted storyline, and the highly original compunction the killers have for committing the crimes they do (as usual no spoilers here), but I just wanted to highlight something else. The thing above all else that I admire about Hannah’s books is her way of really fleshing out, and roundly depicting her characters, their fears, their flaws, their missteps in communication, but also their moments of empathy, comradeship and loyalty. Every character in this book works seamlessly with the others, with fluctuating levels of trust, professionalism and friendship. Although there was a significant gap between The Silent Room and this one, I was instantly back in the groove with O’Neill and Ryan, and the brilliant Grace and Newman, who make up their merry band, as if there were just friends that I hadn’t bumped into for a while, but instantly recalling when I had last seen them, and what they’d been up to! Obviously, with my affection for the North East, I was once again, transported effortlessly to my old stomping ground of Newcastle, and the sublime, rugged beauty of Northumberland and beyond.

Cracking story, equally cracking characters, and plenty of thrills, tension and heartache along the way.

Superb.

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Sixty-two days after the disappearance . . .

A man is arrested in the small town of Avechot. His shirt is covered in blood. Could this have anything to do with a missing girl called Anna Lou?

What really happened to the girl?

Detective Vogel will do anything to solve the mystery surrounding Anna Lou’s disappearance. When a media storm hits the quiet town, Vogel is sure that the suspect will be flushed out. Yet the clues are confusing, perhaps false, and following them may be a far cry from discovering the truth at the heart of a dark town.

I must confess I did read this one a little while ago, so I may be a bit shady on the detail, but my lasting impression of this one is that I enjoyed it! Referencing my previous point about translated crime fiction, I think that Italian author Donato Carrisi consistently produces extremely atmospheric and gripping psychological thrillers and The Girl In The Fog continued this tradition. Flipping backwards and forwards in time, tracing the disappearance of the eponymous girl in the fog, Carrisi presents a flawed but fascinating character in the sharply dressed and obviously psychologically haunted figure of Special Agent Vogel. I was particularly enamoured with his one to one conversations with the seemingly affable psychologist, Flores, and the little tricks and twists in the interaction between the two men as the story is teased out. As usual, Carrisi perfectly employs the more sinister aspects of the landscape to colour the tale further, and what ensues is a claustrophobic and tense tale of the darkness of the human psyche. Recommended.

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The K Apartments for Ladies in Tokyo conceals a sinister past behind each door; a woman who has buried a child; a scavenger driven mad by ill-health; a wife mysteriously guarding her late husband’s manuscripts; a talented violinist tortured by her own guilt. The master key, which opens the door to all 150 rooms, links their tangled stories. But now it has been stolen, and dirty tricks are afoot.
A deadly secret lies buried beneath the building. And when it is revealed, there will be murder.

Another bijou delight from Pushkin, in the shape of Japanese thriller The Master Key from the late, multi-talented author Makamo Togawa. Revolving around the female inhabitants of the K Apartments, Togawa weaves a spellbinding tale of jealousy, covetousness and chicanery that I can only compare to the brilliant Patricia Highsmith. As we become involved with the everyday lives of this disparate group of single women, and the secrets they conceal, Togawa has not only constructed a compelling thriller, but also has much to say on the nature of the womens’ experiences in Japanese patriarchal society, and how they are compartmentalised and suppressed by the community they inhabit. By turns shocking and moving, but consistently engaging, I will definitely be seeking out more works by this author. An eye opening read.

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(With thanks to Canongate for Bloody January, Quercus Books for Zen and the Art of Murder, Macmillan for The Death Messenger, Abacus for Girl In The Fog and Pushkin for The Master Key)

 

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