Raven’s Yearly Round Up and Top 10 Crime Reads Of The Year 2018

And so another year of superb reading has ended, throwing all bloggers into a state of rumination, indecision and mild despair, as we seek to narrow our reads down to our particular favourites. Although, for various reasons I won’t bore you with, I had a slightly lower reading count this year, I feel I have unearthed some real beauties, and delighted that my general plan to ignore the most overhyped books of the year worked a treat for me! I only read two of these (for work) and was totally gratified that my new rule held true- if it’s hyped it’s probably a turkey! Joking aside, I genuinely have struggled to narrow my reading to a definitive list, so I’m going to cheat slightly and round up a few of those that just missed the final ten, as they are completely worth your close attention, before revealing the final line-up…

I already have a substantial list of books coming this year that have caught my attention, both crime and fiction, so I may mix it up a bit and do some fiction reviews too, as I love both genres. I’m also going to pull back a bit on participating in blog tours, to allow me a little breathing space, and better time management for reading and reviewing. My reading list has also been significantly increased due to my inclusion as a judge for The Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, as a replacement for the most excellent Barry Forshaw. It’s all very exciting and looking forward to discussing and comparing notes with Sarah Ward, Kat Hall and Karen Meek on a not insubstantial list- there’s been some great reads so far, but my lips are sealed…

So my honourable mentions go to these that only missed the cut by a hair’s breadth (click on the image for the review). From Barbados to Brazil, from Denmark and the USA to Belgium and France, all of these are brilliantly character driven, atmospheric, socially perceptive or just damned thrilling reads, that were close, so close, to my favourites of the year. If you missed them, add them to your New Year reading lists, and you won’t be disappointed…

   

So, eyes down and here we go for the Top 10 of the Year- click on the images for the full reviews…

10.

“It was feisty, fresh, wonderfully sordid and a sublime blast of noir to welcome in the new year.” 

  9.

“Without resorting to soapbox declarations on the state of Britain, Shaw holds a mirror up to the conflicting sides of the immigration issue, whilst keeping the book solidly on track as a crime thriller. Consequently, Salt Lane is never less than a wonderfully multi-layered contemporary thriller, replete with the highest calibre characterisation, and a looming feel of unease.”

8.

“Caleb’s character works well on several levels, due to the authenticity that Viskic brings to him and his voice. Here is a man that recognises his own weaknesses, and by extension the weaknesses of others, and carries with him a real sense of emotional intelligence, despite the constraints that his aural impairment places on him.”

7.

Grimwood handles all aspects of this book with a deft touch from setting, to characterisation, to pace, to the plot itself, and if you love a twisty, cerebral Cold War thriller as much as I do, I would definitely recommend that you seek out Nightfall Berlin. Duplicitous spies, and conniving Russians seems oddly prescient at the moment.”

6.

“It is so gratifying to reach the third book in a series and for it to feel as fresh and vibrant as the first two. Partly, I would put this down to the developing working relationship, and growing friendship of our chalk and cheese partnership of Sam and Surrender-not, and the sheer level of engagement Mukherjee creates with the reader in how he presents the social and political unrest of this turbulent period of Indian history.

5.

“The sultry, suffocating feel of Mississippi drips from every page, and the laconic cadence of the Deep South, resonates in your mind, in the stripped down, bare bones dialogue, that says as much in the gaps that it leaves, as the spaces it fills. The book oozes atmosphere and tension, and as Smith weaves his tale, I would defy you not to surrender to this dark,  brutal, but utterly beautiful story with its glimmers of redemption, and the power of human connection.”

4.

“I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of people that read, aside from the pure enjoyment of reading, do so to provide themselves with an enhanced comprehension of the world around them, and to encounter and experience people, places and cultural differences, and this is what Miller achieves here. American By Day is smarter than your average thriller, but containing all the essential components of good crime fiction that keep us reading and reading.

3.

“Sins As Scarlet is not only compelling as a thriller should be, but has layers of scrutiny and observation on the themes of race, gender roles, social division, migration and more, which makes it punchy and thought provoking, and at times exceptionally moving.

1.

Yes, I know you’re thinking where has number 2 gone?

Well, all year I was convinced that a certain book would be my top read of the year until November when I read a certain book by Lou Berney called November Road, which was completely inseparable from Tim Baker’s City Without Stars, which deservedly held the number one spot since January! So I have two favourite books of the year and here’s why… 

City Without Stars is an intense, emotive and completely absorbing read, suffused with a violent energy, and with an unrelenting pace to its narrative. It heightens the reader’s senses and imagination throughout, completely enveloping the reader in this corrupt and violent society, with instances of intense human frailty and moments of strength, underpinned by precise description, and flurries of dark humour. I thought it was absolutely marvellous.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I appreciate my crime reading is always influenced more by those books that span the genres of crime and contemporary fiction, as I find the more linear, and therefore utterly predictable crime books, less enriching as a reader. November Road held me in it’s thrall from the outset, with its clarity of prose, and perfect characterisation, digging down deep into the nature of human relationships forged in troubled circumstances. This is unquestionably one of those books that will haunt me for some time to come.  

So there we have it. Another year packed full of brilliant books, so thanks as always to my regular followers of this blog and on Twitter, to the publishers for the advance reading copies, to Netgalley for the same, to the wonderful bookshops across the land, and to my fellow bloggers who have directed me to many more amazing reads over the course of the year. A big Happy New Year to you all, and wishing you all another splendid year of reading delights. 

 

Raven’s Really Very Belated November Round Up…

And so November is but a distant memory, and the Yuletide season is upon us, welcome news for just about everybody, unless you work in retail. It strikes fear into many a heart when people who obviously never shop during the course of the year suddenly emerge blinking into the dazzling Christmas streetlights, intent on making life as awkward as possible for the hapless shop assistants in their paths. Now call me a masochist, but I really quite enjoy these strange interactions with these mythical beasts, mainly because it gives me a chance to gush about brilliant books, or conversely steer them on the sometimes safer course of a gift voucher, avoiding the inevitable conversation:

What type of books do they like to read? Don’t know, just thought I’d buy them a book.

What was the last book they read? See above.

Do they have any particular interests?

Actually this last question often proves to be the most interesting, as I have sold copious amounts of books on whittling, trains, animal husbandry or the Kama Sutra on the back of this one, fervently hoping the last two interests were not connected. Ho ho ho…

November has been a glorious mash-up of weirdness as far as my reading has been concerned, so while it has been my normal lacklustre performance in actually writing reviews, I have read oodles of books. So four reviews posted-

Margaret Millar- Vanish In An Instant

Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

Lou Berney- November Road

Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

 

I’ve also read this little bevy of beauties too, all of which I bought, as book bloggers do buy books too you know!

It goes without saying that I am an ardent fan of all things raven related, and so reading the excellent The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife was a tremendous source of pleasure. What I love about this book is that Skaife could just as well be sat next to you in the room, just shooting the breeze about his singularly different and totally fascinating job. Laden with interesting historical detail, accounts of Skaife’s exploits in his previous army career, and if course th ravens themselves, this is a joy!

Stick Together by Sophie Henaff, is the brilliant follow up to The Awkward Squad, which introduced us to the chaff of the French police service, transplanted into one investigation unit full of misfits, overseen by the eminently more sensible, though formerly trigger happy, Commissaire Anne Capestan. I love this collection of disparate souls, from there first outing solving cold cases, and now thrust into the limelight of a particularly baffling murder investigation. Fast, furious and funny.

Keigo Higashino’s The Newcomer, features Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo police department, who is a curious blend of Columbo and the Dali Lama. Formed as a series of vignettes into local residents and tradespeople’s lives, Kaga drifts in and out of each story, uniting families, and spreading benevolence, whilst chipping away at his investigation, with his slightly distracted air. I really enjoyed the interplay between Kaga and the community, and also the sweet moments of extreme poignancy that suddenly drop into the narrative. Strange, beautiful and highly recommended. 

I can’t believe how long Back Up has languished on my TBR pile, as this tale of rock ‘n’ roll and murder by Paul Colize was just brilliant from start to finish. As members of a sixties rock band start to meet their deaths in troubling ways, the story criss-crosses between past and present, weaving their story with a mysterious man hospitalised with locked in syndrome. The evocation of one of the most important periods in the development of popular music was perfectly depicted, with numerous references to the known and lesser known artists of the period, in addition to the cleverly crafted murder mystery that lies at the heart of it. Colize’s characterisation, and expression of the strengths and weaknesses of the human psyche was never less than masterful, and the sinister undertones of the reasons for the self destruction of these young men was truly chilling. Excellent.  

Last, but not least, is Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds with a double recommendation from a bookselling colleague and a fellow blogger Mrs Peabody . Set in a small Texan community in the middle of nowhere, the inhabitants of which have their own disturbing criminal back stories, a murderer is loose and unlike a traditional murder mystery the suspects seem innumerable. The members of this unique community have opted in to an experimental programme, where memories of their previous crimes have been erased, but all with the knowledge that if they leave The Blinds they will most likely turn up dead. Not only has Sternbergh delivered a singularly different premise for a crime thriller, but the level of tension and shock reveals he injects is absolutely compelling. With a broad spectrum of characters who you will like, despise, pity, or empathise with in equal measure, this has to be one of the most unusual thrillers I have encountered. There’s a slight whiff of Stephen King about the main set-up, but Sternbergh easily proves himself equal to the master, and if you’re looking for crime writing with a difference, this is the book for you. Loved it.  

And so I am almost up to date, as the hurly burly of Christmas in retail descends. Now I just have to make a decision on my Top 10 of the Year- never an easy task- but all will be revealed at the close of December as I may not have even read my favourite book of the year yet….  

Happy book shopping everyone! 

 

A Rather Splendid #Giveaway! @PushkinPress

Hey everyone, Christmas has come early on Raven Crime Reads, as those lovely people at Pushkin Press have offered me two sets- yes- two sets- of the brilliant Resurrection Bay, and And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic to give away. And who doesn’t love a giveaway?

 

I can say without fear or favour that I absolutely loved both of these Australian set thrillers, featuring the truly unique and utterly compelling character of Caleb Zelic. As well as being incredibly well written, with an engaging cast of characters, Emma Viskic embraces some big issues along the way, which make these a series that you cannot afford to miss. Resurrection Bay featured in my Top 10 of last year, and when this year’s Top Ten is revealed later in the month I think you can be safe in the knowledge that And Fire Came Down will be putting in an appearance too! (Click the links for my spoiler-free reviews)

#WIN#WIN#WIN#WIN#WIN#WIN

So if you fancy entering to win a copy of these two, quite frankly unmissable books, just fill in the contact form below with your details* or tweet me @ravencrime using the hashtag #CalebZelic.

Two lucky winners will be selected at random to receive a set of both books.

And the winners are…

Paula Evans and Diana McDougall

Congratulations and your books will be winging their way to you shortly!  

 (*Your contact details will not be displayed publicly when using the contact form and all personal data will be deleted by both myself and Pushkin Press at the close of the giveaway, in accordance with GDPR guidelines.)

 

#BlogTour- Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

In a near-future Pacific Northwest, a made-to-order sex robot tests a married couple’s concept of fidelity; in the Tennessee hills of 19th-century America, an itinerant preacher forces others to prove their devotion to God – at gunpoint; and in a settlement town of the Old West, a former outlaw seeking to rescue his deceased brother’s family from a life of poverty discovers to his horror the true meaning of blood. In The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity, Edgar Allan Poe scholar Chuck Caruso combines his deep roots in the American Gothic with his own contemporary sense of macabre humour. These sixteen stories of dark fiction range from crime thrillers to western noir to grotesque horror. Each twisted tale displays Caruso’s unique blend of wry prose, feverish storytelling, and tragically-flawed characters discovering that even the most innocent encounter can lead to death. Or sex. Or both…

Yes, yes I know, short stories are not usually my thang, but with a showbiz name like Chuck Caruso, and the whiff of Poe that the author’s scholarly interest promised, I found the temptation of perversity a little difficult to resist…

The collection is a strange and successful mix of the contemporary and the historical, where Caruso traverses timelines by putting a traditional or futuristic spin on the age old themes of human frailty, and the extreme actions this can provoke, Consequently, these stories cover a lot of ground in terms of their themes ranging, amongst others, from a couple’s will to survive an apocalypse, a wife’s jealousy of her husband’s new sex robot, a man’s simmering resentment for his altogether more popular friend, a pest exterminator who calls on entirely the wrong customer, oh, and a bit of cannibalism too. I liked the way that Caruso unashamedly makes us wince, either in a knowing recognition of the horror that is about to be unleashed, or just simply because that is what the best and darkest writers do to jangle our nerves. There were some nice little nods to Poe in these stories, and before you start thinking that these may be a trifle too dark, there are some genuine moments of emotional complicity and cohesion amongst his characters, although some may not live to tell the tale…

Reading more about the author on the web, his writing also draws comparison to Elmore Leonard, which is another plus point for this reader, and boy oh boy, I was not disappointed in the tales set in the Old West, with their visceral themes of sex, death, revenge and bloodlust. Permeated with swift and violent retribution, I particularly enjoyed this selection of tales, oozing with atmosphere, a perfect rendition of time and location, and as authentic as the sawdust floors, sharp shooting and cathouse violence that we instantly recognise from the traditional western genre. The violence is uncompromising, meted out with little regard, and has all the earthy and primal feel of a time when men were men, however, stupid or gullible they prove to be at the sharp end of Caruso’s writing. There is also a real authenticity to Caruso’s dialogue, and inflections of speech in these tales in particular, and you can almost anticipate the sound of saliva hitting spittoon between their clipped and precise pronouncements. Loved it!

So all in all, a most satisfying collection of, yes, quite perverse tales, and although I did sway towards the western noir ones a little more, overall there was much to enjoy here with Caruso’s razor sharp, slightly strange, and at times darkly witty writing. Recommended.

—————————————————————————-

Author of The Lawn Job, a wicked, sexy crime thriller from Cloud Lodge Books, Ltd, Chuck Caruso’s crime and horror tales have also appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud, and Dark Discoveries, among other print magazines and anthologies. His western noir tales have been published by The Big Adios, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Western Online. His story “They’ll Call Me Whistlin’ Pete” was included in Kwik Krimes, Otto Penzler’s new best-of-the-web crime anthology.

 

Learn more about Chuck by visiting any of the following online interviews:

Author Interviews

Murder by the Book

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (UK)

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (US)

 

 (With thanks to William Campos at Cloud Lodge Books for the ARC)

 

***COVER*** David Lagercrantz- Millennium VI ***REVEAL*** AUGUST 2019*** @QuercusBooks *** @Maclehosepress ***

                                                            

The sixth DRAGON TATTOO story – more than 90 million copies sold worldwide – the crime fiction phenomenon featuring Lisbeth Salander.

“I WILL NOT BE THE HUNTED – I WILL BE THE HUNTER”

Book four in the series, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, is now a major film from Sony Pictures starring Claire Foy – out in November 2018.

“Rest easy, Lisbeth Salander fans – our punk hacker is in good hands” Patrick Ryan, U.S.A. Today

“Salander and Blomkvist are just as compelling as ever” Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“Not only do the matter-of-fact style and intricate plotting and sexy, chilling atmosphere feel very true to the original novels, but Lagercrantz transcends the source material” Benjamin Percy, Esquire

Elegantly paced, slickly executed, and properly thrilling” Alison Flood, Observer

David Lagercrantz was born in 1962, and is an acclaimed author and journalist. In 2015 The Girl in the Spider’s Web, his continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, became a worldwide bestseller, and was followed by The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. He is also the author of the acclaimed and bestselling I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Fall of Man in Wilmslow.

The Girl Who Lived Twice will be published AUGUST 2019 Maclehose Press/Quercus Books

 

                                                    

 

 

Lou Berney- November Road

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out. A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn–he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspecting he’s next, hits the road to Las Vegas. When he spots a beautiful housewife, Charlotte, and her two young daughters stranded on the side of the road, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit man on his trail. The two strangers share the open road west- and find each other on the way. But Guidry’s relentless hunters are closing in on him, and now he doesn’t just want to survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time. 

Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love. And it might get them both killed…

Parachuting straight into my top three reads of the year is this little beauty from Lou Berney, one of the most engaging and sensitively written books it’s been my pleasure to read of late. Championed by the mighty Don Winslow among others, and with an irresistible premise, this was more than reason enough for me to seek out November Road

As the book is so bound up with the Kennedy assassination, and the violent ramifications for the small group of individuals who enabled it to happen, Berney’s evocation of the period is absolutely perfect. Paying close attention to the social and political fallout of this event, and firmly placing the reader in the heart of 60s America, Berney also traverses the country from New Orleans, to Dallas to the west coast with vivid detail, as Frank Guidry attempts to escape the retribution of his gangster associates seeking to tie up the ‘loose ends’ of those involved in the assassination plot. The sense of the period is always front and centre, from the smallest detail to passing references to civil rights, the filling of the political vacuum, and Berney’s interesting new reworking of the assassination itself, although this is ground that has been trod by many writers and social commentators before. In tackling the Kennedy assassination myth, Berney not only shows belief in himself as a writer, but also succeeds in constructing an incredibly plausible narrative of this most examined and documented event in American political history.

Although the sense of peril looms large with Guidry, and by extension Charlotte and her daughters, being pursued by a particularly pernicious and ice-cold hitman, Berney balances this beautifully with the development of Guidry and Charlotte’s characters, with Guidry in the guise of a travelling salesman, and Charlotte rapidly trying to come to terms with the impulsive decision to leave her alcoholic husband with no plausible plan of what would follow her instantaneous decision. The growing tension in the book, as the sinister hitman Barone unmercifully (for those in his way) pursues them across states, ratchets up the pace of the narrative, and as we focus on the growing relationship between Guidry and Charlotte, the reader has this nagging feeling that danger is just around the corner, as does Guidry himself, and that the clock is ticking down to some kind of showdown. It’s beautifully done, keeping our attention pinned in two strands of the book, inwardly dreading the consequences of these two strands meeting.

Although, theirs is a relationship built on smoke and mirrors, certainly in the case of Guidry, Berney weaves a heartfelt and, at times, incredibly sensitive portrayal of two strangers in flight, drawing closer together, despite the hug chasm between them of their lives up until this point. Suffice to say, we see a gradual change in both of them, and a growing appreciation of how life can sometimes so surprisingly chart a different course, and that these opportunities should be grasped and learnt from. As Guidry becomes more involved with Charlotte and her daughters, I loved the way that Berney handles the initially tentative nature of this, but how he develops and explores both their characters, and the shift in strength and self-determination, particularly in the case of Charlotte. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I can only say that Guidry’s actions both pre and post Charlotte reveal a very different man from the perception we have of him at the outset, and prepare yourself for an incredibly moving denouement…

Regular readers of my blog will know that I appreciate my crime reading is always influenced more by those books that span the genres of crime and contemporary fiction, as I find the more linear, and therefore utterly predictable crime books, less enriching as a reader. Along with two of my reads earlier in the year, Tim Baker’s City Without Stars, and Derek B. Miller’s American By Day, this book held me in it’s thrall from the outset, with its clarity of prose, and perfect characterisation, digging down deep into the nature of human relationships forged in troubled circumstances.

November Road is one of those books that will haunt me for some time. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of November Road published by Harper Collins USA)

 

 

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

When the body of a young woman is found by a Northumberland railway line, it’s a baptism of fire for the Murder Investigation Team’s newest detective duo: DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. The case is tough by anyone’s standards, but Stone is convinced that there’s a leak in his team – someone is giving the killer a head start on the investigation. Until he finds out who, Stone can only trust his partner. But Frankie is struggling with her own past. And she isn’t the only one being driven by a personal vendetta. The killer is targeting these women for a reason. And his next target is close to home…

The Insider is the second outing for Northumbria detectives, DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver introduced in the hugely enjoyable first book, The Lost Our intrepid duo are back in search of a pernicious and twisted killer (rubs hands with glee) and once again Mari Hannah has produced a quality page-turner of a thriller for these increasingly dark winter nights…

I felt a wonderful sense of familiarity stepping back into the world of Stone and Oliver, such was the strong impression that the first book left on me, and was delighted that their working and personal relationship was as emotionally bumpy yet suffused with a genuine feeling of respect as the previous book. Both characters are extremely empathetic, realistic and genuinely likeable- Stone for his calmness and pragmatism, and Oliver for her impetuousness and gumption.  As traumatic experiences from their own lives rise uncomfortably to the surface in the course of this investigation, and as Stone continues to navigate his way as a surrogate father to his teenage nephew Ben, Hannah has a wide scope of emotional upset, and self doubt to convey in her characters. There are some moments of emotional revelation for both, and one storyline in particular will, I’m sure, have further repercussions in the future. What I like about both characters is their unerring ability to handle their own personal upset so incredibly ham-fistedly, but also the rock solid and extremely professional way they go about their search for this killer, overcoming an initially mistrustful and obstinate Murder Investigation Team, and meticulously picking apart the threads of the investigation before their arrival. Once again, the procedural detail is spot on, and the reader experiences all the tension and frustrations that the detectives do themselves in this thorny and distressing case. As the necessity to trap the killer gains in intensity, so too does the pace and vigour of Hannah’s writing, echoing the increasing frustration but slowly appearing chinks of knowledge that Stone and his gradually cooperative team unearth.

What I am consistently impressed with in relation to Hannah’s writing is the extremely well structured and visual quality of her writing. Everything is so clearly described that there is a strange sense that you almost watching the action unfold before you- an experience more akin to watching a thriller on television than reading a book. Even outside of the fact of being incredibly familiar with the various north east locations that Hannah uses, her depiction of landscape, whether town or country, is vibrant and oozes with colourful detail. If ever the Northumbria tourist board is looking for a regional champion, they need look no further than Hannah whose affection and love of her home turf, both its good and bad points, shines throughout the whole book.

Another sterling addition to Hannah’s repertoire, and I am very much looking forward to the next Stone and Oliver investigation, which I think, judging my the unresolved issues in this book, is likely to be another emotional rollercoaster for Hannah’s characters, and us, as readers, too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion for the Netgalley ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: