Thoughts and Books- A Weekend Round-Up- Emma Cline, Eric Rickstad, Colin Winnette

thVQ9YP5FDI’ll keep this bit brief, but what a thoroughly demoralising turn of events, with much disillusionment both on a personal level with some huge decisions to be made, and at the completely bizarre decision that somehow Britain will be better off out of the EU. As one of the 48% who voted to Remain, I greeted the announcement very early on Friday morning with a twin feeling of anger and sadness. I was incensed that this result was reached by ignorance, intolerance and misinformation, and that our country seems to be imploding politically with this result. I love the diversity of our country and the security, comradeship and strength provided by our relationship with our fellow Europeans, and the contribution that so many people make to our society. The Raven fears the worst, but remains staunchly European.

On to happier things, and although a little distracted, so this may read as a weird stream of consciousness, I will keep going in my personal mission to bring you some more great books. Despite my personal resolution to never again read a book with girl or girls in the title I’ve just read two, back-to-back…

methode_times_prod_web_bin_58260864-2e22-11e6-bb4a-bf8353b79a10Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Time to add my still small voice to the overriding praise that this book is currently attracting. I was absolutely blown away by the maturity and emotional pull of Cline’s writing throughout in her reworking of the Manson legend. Her sense of both the period and location is in evidence through every scene and the book sings with authenticity as to the feel of the 60’s era. The writing perfectly captures the cadence and rhythm of language, solidified by its very vital sense of place. We follow the teenage Evie deeper into the clutches of the cult following, and the moral and sexual questioning that arises from her interaction with this band of emotionally damaged and brainwashed women held in the thrall of a frankly despicable and manipulative individual. Cline’s depiction of the women and their very individual traits and back stories that have brought them to this point in their lives is by turns emotive, horrifying and full of pathos, so that your engagement as a reader is held throughout.

I was particularly enamoured with the character of Suzanne, who is instrumental in Evie’s further integration into the cult, and the sense of light and dark that Cline ascribes to her character. There is always a feeling of not quite knowing her true motivations , that Evie is entranced by, and which drives the reader on to try to get a handle on this obviously damaged but distinctly unknowable young woman, right up to the final conclusion. Evie herself is gauche, naïve and acts exactly as a teenager would, but makes the reader constantly root for her salvation, making the conclusion of the book tense and compelling. I read this book in pretty much one sitting, and am fairly sure that it will hold you in its grip in a similar way. You will also be thinking about it days afterwards. Highly recommended.

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51w3cIiHJpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Frank Rath thought he was done with murder when he turned in his detective’s badge to become a private investigator and raise a daughter alone. Then the police in his remote rural community of Canaan find an ’89 Monte Carlo abandoned by the side of the road, and the beautiful teenage girl who owned the car seems to have disappeared without a trace. Soon Rath’s investigation brings him face-to-face with the darkest abominations of the human soul. With the consequences of his violent and painful past plaguing him, and young women with secrets vanishing one by one, he discovers once again that even in the smallest towns on the map, evil lurks everywhere—and no one is safe…

Any book which name checks both Poe and Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies has to be an instant winner for the Raven, and this Vermont set thriller from Rickstad neatly does both in addition to simply being a great read.  I found this a slick, well- plotted and engrossing thriller from the outset, bolstered by the assured characterisation of the central protagonist, private investigator, Frank Rath, and his police associates, particularly the wonderfully feisty Sonja Test.  Rath was a great character, inevitably haunted by a dark episode in his past, leading to the adoption of his sister’s child to raise as his own, but who enshrines both a moral decency and tenacious doggedness tempered by moments of self-questioning and doubt particularly in the realm of human connection. His reactions and interactions as the case develops is central to the reader’s engagement with the story, and the seriousness of the case as it unfolds is tempered throughout by moments of dry humour and high emotion. Equally, Sonja is a terrific female protagonist, and her natural intelligence and ability to think outside the box, leads to the development of some clever turns in the investigation, providing a contrary stance to her own self-questioning of her personal life and responsibilities.

The plotting is tight throughout, throwing up enough twists and turns so that the resolution is neatly concealed right up to the book’s closing chapters, and, desperately avoiding plot spoilers,  provokes some interesting questions on an always contentious issue. A good read and recommended for that summer getaway.

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I’m going to keep these next two short and sweet, because if you’ve never encountered this unassuming chap…

colin

he’s written both of these …

colin1  coyote

and your lives will be infinitely richer for reading both.

Slim, quirky, description defying, dark, twisted, thought-provoking and pretty much every other complimentary adjective in my personal armour. Haint Stay is a Woodrell-esque Western that will shock, amuse and unsettle you in equal measure, with its violent interludes tempered by moments of extreme sadness and questioning of identity.

Coyote is constructed around the testimony of a mother in the wake of her child’s death. But, this is Winnette, and as he draws us in with an increasingly unreliable narrator you can be damn sure that nothing is as it seems.

And it isn’t.

Utterly chilling.

 

 

 

Raven Crime Reads Exclusive: An Interview With M. P. Wright – All Through The Night (J T Ellington Trilogy)

raven

083It’s an absolute pleasure to host an exclusive Q&A with M.P. Wright on the release of All Through The Night- the second book to feature the charismatic J T Ellington, and the atmospheric setting of 1960’s Bristol. With his first book, Heartman, longlisted for a CWA Dagger and having attracted widespread praise from reviewers and readers alike, there’s also the mouthwatering prospect of a forthcoming TV adaptation too. Today, Wright shares with us not only his thoughts on writing, the journey from page to screen and his influences, but also the lowdown on the world of the Mr J T Ellington himself…

heartmanHeartman was your debut novel introducing us to the world of Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington. Can you give us a quick synopsis of the plot to introduce readers to the atmosphere and setting of the book?

Bristol, 1965. Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex police colonial police officer with a tragic past and a broken heart, has left his native Barbados in search of a better life in the Mother Country. But Bristol in the Sixties is far from the Promised Land and JT faces hostility from both the weather and the people. Then local mogul Earl Linney approaches him. He needs JT’s help finding Stella Hopkins, a young deaf and mute West Indian woman who has gone missing, and who the police aren’t interested in searching for. With rent due, and no job, JT has little option than to accept.

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=With the release of the second in the trilogy All Through The Night what is the indefatigable JT Ellington up to now, and which wrongs will he be attempting to right?

It’s the summer of 1966 and Ellington has set himself up in his Cousin Vic’s gymnasium and is eeking out a shabby living as an enquiry agent, debt collecting, divorce partitions and insurance work. He hates the work but does know what he really wants to do or what the future holds for him. Nursing a nasty hang-over he is approached by a shady administrator from a local orphanage to seek out a Jamaican GP and back street abortionist called Fowler who has stolen a number of death certificates of children previously in the care of the Walter Wilkins Children’s Home. JT is asked to find Fowler, retrieve the stolen documents and ask a simple question. “Where can the Truth be found?” It’s this strange question that leads Ellington on a journey across Bristol, the backwaters of Somerset and into the heart of darkness. Its essentially a chase story which expands on both the Heartman story and Joseph Ellington’s character.

Your characterisation is incredibly well-realised and the life you breathe into them- a real mix of the entertaining, the tormented, the bad to the core, or the heroic. Your main character Joseph in particular is a wonderfully multi-faceted character. From which corner of your imagination or life experience did you conjure him from and others within the piece?

Ellington as a character came to me very easily. I’d mapped out a huge back story and had a moleskine notebook containing his family history, much of it created from my own imagination, some of it garnered from research into family histories on the island of Barbados. I’ve had the luck to travel to the Caribbean and many of the Southern states of the USA, especially Louisiana. I wanted to hang around JT’s persona a strong layer of credibility and a sense of the real whilst giving the readers a feel for an ‘Old Age’ detective, that harks back to the times of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I say to my daughters that JT is the hero I could never be, but his Cousin Vic, is in some ways (I’m shamefaced to admit) very much me. His humour and no nonsense attitude certainly hark back to my own rather irascible personality.

bristol It’s always a brave authorial decision to set a book outside of the present era. What focused your attention on this era in particular and how did the idea to use Bristol (instead of the much favoured setting of 1960‘s London) present itself?

Of all the questions I’ve been asked about Heartman, ‘Why Bristol?’ is the one that is sprung on me most. Originally I’d tried to set the book here in my home town of Leicester, but logistically and on scale, it simply didn’t work. Bristol is a big and beautiful city. Its also strong connected to the West Indies in a commercial and commerce sense, most certainly historically for all the wrong reasons; slavery being the foremost. Heartman is set in St Pauls which sits just outside of Bristol city centre. It was ghettoised early on by greedy, white landlords who packed in new immigrants from the West Indies who had travelled thousands of miles to the mother country seeking work and the promise of ‘Streets That Were Paved with Gold’. What they got was far from the truth. Cramped tenement homes, badly paid jobs nobody else wanted and not always the warm welcome that the British political state had promised them either. Bristol was the right place for JT to make his new home. I wanted to put him in a world that was both familiar and alien. Ellington understands how British society works to some degree, he’s witnessed firsthand the White ‘Officer Class’ of the Barbadian Police Force in which he used to serve but at the same time is knocked for six by a country that is far removed from the Caribbean life he has led.

Obviously the subject matter and setting of the book required a degree of research on your behalf. How did you go about this and did you have anyone in your immediate circle whose experience of this period you could draw on directly?

Firstly, lots of first hand interviews, speaking to the residents of St Pauls today, especially those who lived there in the 1960’s. Their insight was invaluable. I spent time in the pubs that both JT & Vic frequent in Heartman, talking to locals, getting a feel for a specific time and place, the patois, the food and drink. St Pauls is a very special place, I love it. My partner and her family are from Bristol, their lilting Somerset accents helped when I was writing about West Country characters. I’ve been lucky to travel across Somerset which is a beautiful county. There such a lot of scope for the future novels in respect of plot and setting that can be drawn from the region.

With the very visual and textured quality of your writing I was delighted to hear that Heartman has been optioned for TV. What has been your personal experience of the journey from page to screen and your involvement in bringing Ellington to a whole new medium?

Heartman has been option by World Productions, makers of BBC’s Line of Duty & The Great Train Robbery and ITV’s The Bletchley Circle. It’s been adapted by the BAFTA award winning playwright and dramatist, Tony Marchant for the BBC. Everything is looking fantastic. TV takes its time to get things on the money with a production like Heartman, and rightly so. The script, now in its third draft, is spot on and everyone involved has worked so very hard on bringing the book to life. It’s just a matter of time before we hopefully have good news for the TV guys, but it’s a patience game you have to play and you simply have to sit back and put your trust in the professionals. I have every faith that World will bring a fabulous drama. The script is, if I say so myself. Stunning!

It’s great to see the huge influence on and the respect you have of, James Lee Burke, and also your mention of Walter Mosley. What is it about these two writers that really strikes a chord with you, and is it relevant in any way that they are both American?

Both James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley have influenced my own writing immensely. I could waffle on endlessly about the reasons, but to be concise, both writers offer up to the reader an important quality in their main characters of Robicheaux and Rawlins – and that’s integrity. Yes, both men are flawed but they are very real on the page and I wanted to emulate that in my own characters, flaws and all. Burke and Mosley’s characters are not heroic and JT Ellington is far from being a hero, but there is a heroic nature that develops in the man which is unfurled by his strong moral compass. He’s a man who is forced into a job he really doesn’t want. Desperation and necessity are what dictates his decisions as Heartman’s story develops. The relevancy of the American author angle is that I wanted to bring some of the ‘Man Alone’ feel to the current British Crime Fiction arena. Not in the ‘Maverick’ detective sense of the police procedural but as in the Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald world weary and cynical feel. I hope I’ve created that kind of vibe in my books.

 If you can put it into words how would you describe the journey through embarking on the first sentence of the book to the brink of publication?

A long, hard slog… And I’ve been very lucky. Publishing is a glacially slow process at times. Any writer out there expecting to find success overnight is going to be in for a real shock. There are a lot of knockbacks at first and nothing good happens overnight. As a writer you have to believe in your material, hone down the prose and have great characters that readers will want to fall in love with. I was also blessed to meet my literary agent; Philip Patterson of the Marjacq Agency in London. Phil has guided me through the good and bad. I’ve also been aided by some great writers who have been so supportive to my work; Peter James, Emyln Rees, Mari Hannah, Anne Zouroudi, Stav Sherez, Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen and Luca Veste. They all deserve a mention and a big drink!

RestlessCoffins-A-page-001 And so The Restless Coffins– the third of the trilogy beckons. Any teasers for us, and will this really be the final outing for this wonderful character?

I’d created the story arc of the Ellington series as a Trilogy. (As known as the Child Trilogy) The third book is called The Restless Coffins and sees JT return to his Barbados home to settle ‘family affairs’ and face both the organised crime lords and the array of corrupt police colleagues he’d once worked with. Since drafting that original trilogy, I am pleased to say that there will be a fourth book, The Rivers of Blood set in 1971 which I’ll start writing this autumn. I would not have return to JT’s world unless I thought the story was tight and I had something different to say with the characters. That’s certainly the case with The Rivers of Blood. I hope fans of the series will be pleased that my wily Bajan is getting a fourth outing. He’ll be a little older but still walking into the kind of unwelcome trouble he wished would leave him well along.

Life as an author in three words?

Bloody Hard Work!

Big thanks to Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions!

Mark Wright was born in Leicestershire in 1965. He was employed in various roles within the music industry before working as a private investigator. He retrained in 1989 and spent the next twenty years in the mental health and probation services in the UK, specialising in risk assessment. A self-confessed aficionado of film, music and real ale, and father of two beautiful daughters, Mark lives with his partner and their two Rottweiler dogs, Tiff and Dylan. Follow the author on Twitter @EllingtonWright

 

 

 

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night- Review

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=“It’s quite simple Mr Ellington. When you find Fowler, just ask where we can find the truth.”
With these words, private detective JT Ellington embarks on a seemingly simple case of tracking down a local GP with a dubious reputation and retrieving a set of stolen documents from him. For Ellington, however, things are rarely straightforward. Dr Fowler is hiding a terrible secret and when he is gunned down outside a Bristol pub, his dying words send JT in pursuit of a truth more disturbing and deadly than he could possibly have imagined…

Having been so singularly impressed with Wright’s debut outing Heartman there was a certain frisson of excitement in the Raven’s nest with the appearance of the second instalment All Through The Night, and the return of our harried private investigator J T Ellington. It’s 1966 and World Cup fever is spreading throughout the land, but Ellington once again has weightier troubles on his mind, not least the less than honourable goings on at a local childrens’ home, and the dark deeds of those connected with it. Consequently, Ellington finds himself on the run, protecting the life of a young child, and drawing on a network of acquaintances to ensure their safety, endeavouring to bring to justice the perpetrators of some very nasty crimes indeed…

Again, Wright is faultless in not only the characterisation of his central character, former Barbadian police officer, and now Bristol based private investigator, J T Ellington, and the feel of the 1960’s period in which the books are set. Ellington is a man defined by his integrity and stout heart, and his involvement in this particularly pernicious case does nothing to dispel these two essential parts of his character. Our empathy for him and his young charge is central to the enjoyment of this book, and Ellington unfailingly, despite his own personal demons, acts in a way that tugs at our heartstrings, and fosters our respect for him. Despite the best intentions of the bad guys, corrupt police officers and others who would thwart his investigation, Ellington proves himself to be not only a man encompassing a kind of everyman morality, but proves himself a brave knight in an investigation that begins to appear very similar to a ‘quest’ tale from days of yore. He is not infallible of course, and the rare moments of emotional or physical weakness that Wright so sensitively adds provide some real heart-in -the- mouth moments for the reader.

Another strength of the book is the surrounding cast, including the reappearance of Ellington’s profligate and ducking and diving cousin Vic, and  the outwardly tough as nails Loretta, along with a band of others on Ellington’s ‘underground railroad’ journey throughout England. Each character is rounded, vibrant and utterly believable, and boosted by Wright’s innate skill at reproducing the West Indian cadence and rhythm of speech ring with authenticity throughout. The book resonates with sharp dialogue and taut writing, which is underscored by an easy humour and counterbalanced with emotional depth as we look in on the world of Ellington- his personal relationships and professional difficulties. Hence, the characterisation proves itself lively and colourful throughout, and swimming against the tide of much mainstream crime fiction, each character works perfectly within the general narrative, without resorting to stereotypes.

For a contemporary audience, the crux of the plot is still reverberating in the present day with the recent exposures of decades of historic cases of abuse coming to light. In common with Heartman and its tough subject matter, I was impressed by Wright’s unflinching gaze on the criminal deeds of those supposedly in positions of trust or power within the Bristol community, and the depiction of the very non-PC and at times downright racist actions of the local constabulary, which inspires a certain degree of wrath in the reader, and a whole heap of trouble for our hero Ellington. The end result of this is a realistic, at times brutal, and utterly compelling plot throughout.

Obviously, I was very taken with this one, but in the interests of fair reviewing, and avoiding plot spoilers, I did have a little doubt at one aspect of the final denouement in terms of what happens to one of the main characters. It was a tad unconvincing, but in terms of the continuation of the trilogy, I can see why Wright choose this particular path to ensure the continuity of the series. In the grand scheme of things it was of little consequence, and my enthusiasm for this series to date cannot be dinted so easily. Highly recommended. With an extra ‘highly’. Roll on book three!

(With thanks to BW publishing for the ARC)

#FeverCity Blog Tour-Tim Baker- Review

FEVER CITY _ BLOG TOUR GRAPHICIt’s the next stop on the blog tour to mark the release of Fever City from debut crime novelist Tim Baker. I will be brutally honest and say that I did embark on the book with a certain amount of suspicion, as having read widely on everything JFK conspiracy related, I did wonder if anything new could be brought to the wealth of  theories that Kennedy’s assassination spawned, and the bravery of an author who would tread this well-worn path. I am incredibly pleased to report that Baker has achieved something quite special with this one, firmly dispelling any pre-conceptions that I held about the book. You’re intrigued now aren’t you?

Opening in the 1960’s, Nick Alston, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find the kidnapped son of America’s richest and most hated man, Rex Bannister. With allusions to the infamous case of the Lindbergh kidnapping Alston soon finds himself intimately and dangerously entangled in the grasp of Bannister and his nefarious activities in the higher echelons of American society. Hastings, a mob hitman in search of redemption, is also on the trail but finds himself equally ensnared by a sinister cabal that spreads from the White House all the way to Dealey Plaza, and his own personal involvement in Kennedy’s fate. The story then pivots back and forth to 2014 where Alston’s son stumbles across evidence from JFK conspiracy buffs that just might link his father to the shot heard round the world…

aaApart from inserting a breath of fresh air into the whole mythology surrounding not only JFK’s demise and the agencies behind it, Baker brings into sharp focus a fine array of cultural references from the 60’s period, and the personalities that shone so bright in this golden age of American popular history. I liked the way that Baker explored the power hungry Joe Kennedy, the fragility of Monroe, the poignancy of Sal Mineo’s secret life, and the clear sighted and cold hearted scheming of Mafia figure Sam Giancana with his connections to the Rat Pack and JFK. I particularly enjoyed the way that Baker perfectly controlled the inclusion of these figures in the plot too, heightening the realism and feel of the plot, with some interesting revelations along the way that did not feel contrived nor far fetched. With three narratives, four time-lines, and a mixture of first and third person narration to juggle, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut, such was the control of all these elements within the book. As a book of significant length (in relation to most crime novels) I was also delighted by how long Baker managed to hold off the unfurling of revelations between the 60’s, and the contemporary storyline, in terms of the implications of Alston’s and Hastings’ personal involvement in the investigation of the kidnapping and the JFK assassination and its ramifications. I found my reading sped up considerably as I devoured the last few chapters at a pace, with a nice sense of ‘well, I wasn’t expecting that’ included.

I thought this was 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. The writing is sharp, dispassionate but endlessly engaging, and equally unsettling. In fact, the greatest compliment I can pay to this book is that I did feel an echo of James Ellroy along the way, not only with the assured inclusion of instantly recognisable figures, but also in some passages a slight mirroring of Ellroy’s punctilious and spare style, when the main protagonists slipped into stream of consciousness, or when a relevant social/cultural observation was needed to be made. A kind of revisiting of LA Confidential with a Texan twist…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

William Shaw- A Book of Scars- Guest Post and Review

 

3116815To celebrate the release of A Book of Scars– the third outing for William Shaw’s sixties based detective series featuring Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer, (see my reviews of  A Song From Dead Lips and A House of Knives ) I am delighted to be hosting a guest post, in which William discusses the role of the woman in a man’s world and how this applies to his writing. My review of A Book of Scars follows… 

#1 Women in a Man’s World?

“I was recently on one of those panels where crime writers discuss issues around the genre; It was called Women in a A Man’s World. Obviously I’m interested in the role of women in crime fiction. In Helen Tozer I hope I’ve written a character who is idiosyncratic and whose 60s proto-feminist insight is a crucial part of the books. She is the young, clumsy, brusque woman in her early 20s; someone who grew up with The Beatles and who rubs the older generation up the wrong way.

But thinking about the idea of women in a man’s world, I realised I was less interested in the “women” bit than I was in the “man’s world.”

Strong women are nothing new in crime fiction. From V I Warshawski to Jane Tennison onwards, we’ve had many brilliant, female characters overcoming the realities of the men’s world. Women don’t have to behave like stereotypes.

In fact the real challenge is that the “feisty female” has herself become a cliché in the hands of many male writers. That’s the point my fellow panellist Ray Celestin made when discussing how he created  the character Ida for his wonderful debut The Axeman’s Jazz; overcompensating for years of sultry but ineffectual noire femme fatales, you can end up with characters that make Lisbeth Salander look like a wallflower.

But what of men? Are there as many interesting men in crime? Do we rely too much of the tropes of men being emotionally repressed, monosyllabic and lonely (often with the wreckage of a family life strewn behind them). Is that all men are now? Or is that meme starting to look increasingly ridiculous too?

In my male lead, Cathal Breen I realised I was trying to write a man who’s brilliance comes not from his manliness, but from his lack of it. Years looking after a dying father have meant that he couldn’t go out with the lads, didn’t sink pints with them, didn’t share life in a Police Section House, and had lost the knack of being part of police canteen culture. Emotionally raw after his father’s death, he has become over-sensitive and fearsome. He is no longer One of Them.

This isn’t to everyone’s taste. One American Amazon reviewer called Breen “a simpering little wimp”. Bad reviews on Amazon, I tell myself, let you know much more about what you’re doing right than the good ones – but I’m lucky to get very few. The point is, having an unstereotypical point of view, male or female, allows your protagonist to see the world differently.

Men are almost always much more than the 20th stereotype of them. I think that’s worth exploring. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the very violent end of the third book, A Book of Scars, a kind of healing has taken place. A domestic future beckons – something Breen has never had, and something that he’s really wishing for. I’m hoping that things work out for him.

But, of course, I’m almost certain they won’t. This is crime fiction, after all.”

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including s the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @william1shaw

Raven reviews A Book of Scars

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Following the violent denouement of the previous book, A Book of Scars sees our erstwhile hero detective Cathal Breen taking an enforced spell of R&R at the family farm in Devon of his feisty former police colleague Helen Tozer, who has recently left the Met. Inevitably though, the long shadow cast by the unsolved murder of Tozer’s sister, Alexandra, five years previously, comes back to haunt them in this much darker instalment of William Shaw’s superb 1960’s set series. As the book opens in the closing year of this influential and tumultuous decade, Breen and Tozer have many obstacles, both personal and professional, to overcome to solve this perplexing murder, which leads to others, and to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

Even if this is your first foray into Shaw’s series, you will soon catch up with the highs and lows of Breen and Tozer’s relationship, accrued through their previous cases, and their frustrating personal relationship. Endeavouring to avoid spoilers, I will simply say that events move on apace, and there is more than one surprise in store for the hapless Breen on the emotional front, as he becomes inveigled in Tozer’s personal strife with the murder of her sister, and the maelstrom of emotions that arise in the wake of this. The ups and downs of their relationship, with Breen being slightly more introverted, and Tozer a real speak-as-you-find kinda gal, makes for an entertaining, yet emotionally tense partnership, and the interplay between their very different investigative styles is as accomplished as in previous books. Breen is methodical, courteous and focussed, but Tozer rather less so, with her tough-as-nails demeanour accrued by living in the shadow of her lost sister, and her forthright decision to join the police, in an era where women were only just making their mark in the force, and barely tolerated in this bastion of masculinity. Hence, throughout the course of the book, there are some lovely incidents of Tozer going all heart of darkness, and Breen attempting to pick up the pieces. However, this is unerringly balanced by how Shaw writes both characters with a real sense of tenderness and poignancy when the need arises, and he doesn’t shy away from putting their individual frailties up for scrutiny. So, for my money, easily one of the most entertaining investigative duos in the world of crime fiction.

As with the previous books, Shaw’s attention to the sights, sounds and socio-political detail of the period never falters. With perfectly placed references to products, fashion, drugs and music interspersed seemingly casually throughout, Shaw firmly roots us in the decade, and as Breen and Tozer dig deeper into Alexandra’s murder, Shaw also goes global, weaving in the uncompromising violence that was brought to the world’s attention through the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 60’s. Using the less than honourable exploits of some of Breen and Tozer’s suspects, during their residence in Kenya, Shaw reveals a well-researched, and eye-opening account of these events in Africa, whilst seamlessly incorporating them into the central plot of the novel. This dark diversion added another real layer of interest to the book, and an unflinching portrayal of this age of revolt, revolution and political corruption. Equally, Shaw leads us off the beaten path several times during the course of our intrepid duo’s investigation, to neatly conceal the perpetrator of Alexandra’s murder and the related deaths that occur as the plot progresses.

As much as I enjoyed the first two books, I think this one resonated more strongly with me, purely because of the emotional intensity that Shaw has injected into A Book of Scars. Not only in the sphere of personal relationships and the reverberation of murder on a family, but also by the inclusion of the dramatic and violent events spawned by the Kenyan uprising. Reading this in a contemporary age, the book gains an added gravitas as we see the events of the past not just in a vacuum, and you read this with a horrible feeling of us not having learnt anything at all in terms of global conflict. However, this more serious side to the book is tempered by Shaw’s lively depiction of his central protagonists (who sometimes you just want to give a good shake) and beautifully placed moments of teasing humour, that lighten the darker corners of the book. A fitting end to a trilogy, or is it, as there’s more than a whiff of a cliffhanger on the closing page….. Good. More please.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

The Touched Blog Tour- Guest Post- Joanna Briscoe

 

Joanna BriscoeRaven Crime Reads is pleased to welcome Joanna Briscoe , whose latest novella Touched is out now.  Joanna is the author of Mothers and Other Lovers, Skin and the highly acclaimed Sleep with Me which was published in ten countries and adapted for television.

With her new book,  Touched, Joanna has produced an unsettling and gripping tale set in a small rural community in the 1960’s. Rowena Crale and her family have recently moved into an old house in a small English village. But the house appears to be resisting all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp. Stains come through layers of wallpaper. Ceilings sag. And strange noises – voices – emanate from empty rooms. As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife to her husband and a good mother to her five small children, her life starts to disintegrate. And then her eldest and prettiest daughter goes missing. Out in the village, a frantic search is mounted – while inside the house reveals its darkest secret: a hidden room with no windows and no obvious entrance. Boarded up, it smells of old food, disinfectant – and death…

Here’s Joanna to tell us more…

JoannaBriscoe_jalden“While I was writing my fifth novel, Touched – a story with a paranormal aspect commissioned by Hammer Books – one of the elements that most fascinated me was that the humans became nastier and the unexplained presences more benign as the novel progressed.

I hadn’t planned for it to work out that way, but though the reader’s tense focus remains on unexplained smells, stains, faces half seen at windows, and an ‘imaginary friend’, what’s really going on beneath that surreal, supernatural surface is that the living, breathing humans are wreaking havoc. The criminals of the piece are the Pollards, a benign seeming couple who undoubtedly do a lot of good and are much loved, but who think they can behave outside the law.

I also set the novel in 1963, when Britain was in time warp of 1950s culture, and when children were still allowed to roam the countryside. My younger characters are allowed a freedom and independence that only a ‘neglected’ child would be granted today, and so there is space and opportunity for dark acts.

The supposedly perfect Hertfordshire village of Crowsley Beck, with its bright grass green, its pretty children and lovely cottages is the setting, and again, I wanted to explore what happens beneath the surface of such an ideal place. The novel deals with physical beauty in terms of both place and person. One of the children, Jennifer, is spectacularly beautiful, but it is that very beauty that provides her downfall.

The crossover of crime and the supernatural was an interesting one for me as a writer. While the spectral suggestions play on minds – or are created by those minds themselves – the real criminals play with actual human lives, with disastrous consequences. Beauty is power, but it can also mean that people lace their frustrated fascination with punishment, with possession, and warp its innocence. Writing Touched made me plunge into some of the darker recesses of my mind and come up with events that surprised me….”

Touched by Joanna Briscoe, published by Hammer, is now out in paperback. To find out more visit Joanna Briscoe’s website at www.joannabriscoe.com . Follow her on Twitter @JoannaBriscoe

 

 

 

 

 

Peter May- Runaway

RUNAs much as it pains me to draw on the words of Forrest Gump, Peter May’s writing is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get. From the brilliant Enzo Files series, to the China thrillers, to, the wonderful Hebridean trilogy, and the haunting standalone Entry Island, May consistently demonstrates his flexibility as a writer, instilling total belief in his characters and locations for us gentle readers. Runaway proves itself an excellent addition to his multifarious back catalogue, and drawing so closely on his own life experiences gives us a delightful insight into the background of one of Britain’s finest crime writers*.

Working with a dual timeline of 1965 and 2015 the story pivots seamlessly between the two as we follow the travails of Jack Mackay, a headstrong seventeen year old in the Sixties, who succumbs to the allure of the bright lights of London, as he and his band (comprising of Maurie, Joe, Luke and my favourite character, Dave) run away from Scotland to seek their fame and fortune. May captures perfectly the impetuousness of youth, and their black and white view of the world, after a series of hapless accidents mar their dreams of fame. Into the mix, May inserts the womanly charms of Rachel, Maurie’s cousin who they liberate from a drug-fuelled abusive relationship along the way, a few interesting brushes with stardom, an encounter with a bizarre hippy therapy group, and a murder where all is not how it appears. With a backdrop of the swinging music scene of the era, and a perfect recreation of London itself, there is much to garner the reader’s interest. Now, zap forward to 2015, and Jack is a disillusioned pensioner lamenting a life where so much more could have happened, However, with the news of a suspicious death linked to his 60’s experience, and spurred on by the terminally ill Maurie, he and the remaining members of his band, up sticks to London with his grandson Ricky, to revisit the past and lay some old ghosts to rest but at what cost? And are some skeletons best to be left nestled in this particular cupboard?

My overarching reaction to this book is one of warmth. I loved the poignancy attached to Jack and his cohorts in their twilight years, haunted by their failed dreams and ambitions, but undercut by a humour and determination of spirit that we so often ignore when we perceive people as old. Likewise, May totally taps into the irascibility and naivety of youth, in the 60’s timeline, and the exploits of this band of hotheads, and their emotional entanglements are powerfully wrought. To my mind, the actual crime element of this book was completely over-ridden by this strong characterisation and the examination of the impetuousness of youth, and the stoicism of age that so dominates the plot. Hence, this was a different reading experience, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, manipulating my emotions from laughter to sadness, and all points in-between. I liked the utterly authentic recreation of the 1960’s, with its allusions to people, places and fashions, tempered by the relatively anodyne existence of our band of misfits in their later years. A welcome break from the usual crime fiction fare, and highly recommended.

*If like me, you are left wondering how much of May’s experiences are contained in Runaway, have a look at this interview courtesy of Shots, the crime and thriller Ezine, and here at Crime Fiction Lover

Also many thanks to fellow blogger Fiction Fan  for drawing my attention to this musical triumph:

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)