M. P. Wright- A Sinner’s Prayer

1970, Bristol. What’s buried doesn’t always stay buried. It’s a new decade and JT Ellington has taken himself out of the investigation game. But when an old friend asks him to help a doctor whose son disappeared hours after his wedding, JT’s commitment to a life lived under the radar is tested. His quest hurls him back into the underworld he’s worked so hard to leave behind. Charred remains in a churchyard, and a series of cold-blooded threats are stark warnings to JT, and to everyone he holds dear. Amid his terrorised community, JT locks horns with the vile underbelly of British far-right politics and a notorious gangland king. It’s not until JT uncovers a name from his own tragic past that the pieces of the investigation slot into place. But, with dark forces intent on destroying him, JT is pitted against an extraordinary enemy. He must play as dirty and dangerous as those who want him dead…

This is such a consistently excellent series that I would say from the outset it is an incredibly valuable use of your time to backtrack and begin from the beginning if you get the opportunity : Heartman, All Through The Night and Restless Coffins.  However, if you’re diving in to this one, The Sinner’s Prayer first, have no fear as you will soon become very well acquainted with Mr J. T. Ellington, his turbulent past and the very real dangers that threaten his present. Transporting us to Bristol in the 1970s, with an impeccable realisation of the city and the seamless inclusion of cultural and social references to root us firmly in this period, Wright leads us into a false of security with Ellington ( an ex colonial police officer hailing from Barbados) leading a quiet life as a school caretaker and caring for his adopted daughter, but trouble swiftly arrives on Ellington’s doorstep, and his natural impulse as an ex police officer and a ‘resting’ private investigator takes a hold when his newly acquired peace is threatened.

What defines Ellington as a character is his unerring sense of morality, the sense of atonement he carries from the dark events of his past, and his general compulsion to ‘do the right thing’ and give comfort to those that innocent victims leave in mourning. Sometimes his heightened sense of morality leads to him acting in ways slightly contrary to the law, but throughout the books there is just this resonance of goodness about him, whatever ends may justify the means. Of all the crime series I’ve read this is one of the few where I have a real picture of Ellington in my head, as due to the vividness of Wright’s characterisation I instinctively picture how Ellington dresses, moves and hear the cadence and rhythm of his speech. I hesitate to use the word flawless, but if any budding writer wants to know how to convey a character with absolute clarity to their reader, using relatively slight descriptions and implied characteristics that imprint on the reader’s imagination, this is a good place to start. Just to linger on characterisation for a little longer, this aptitude for an incredibly visual realisation of his central character is also extended to Ellington’s family, friends and criminal acquaintances, and tempted as I am to rattle on about Ellington’s colourful, criminal, unscrupulous and violent gangster cousin Vic, I will contain myself. I adore Vic, despite his borderline psychopathy, and the fact that the minute he enters the fray, you know that the danger and violence will be ramped up to the nth degree…

Once again, the storyline is tightly plotted, weaving in echoes of past events and people previously encountered as Ellington finds himself in the crosshairs of a powerful and influential local figure. Tasked with tracking down those responsible for two particularly insidious murders, Ellington faces a tricky task to discover who is be trusted or not, and how this case could be the dangerous he has faced to date. By engaging us so comprehensively with his characters, the twists, turns and inherent dangers of Ellington’s quest, become totally consuming as you feel very invested in him, and his less than honest associates. There are a more than a few unexpected twists in the narratives, and one demise of a character was followed by an audible gasp from me. On a bus. Full of people. In the course of Ellington’s investigation, outside of keeping up the necessary pace of the story, you are given space as a reader to think about and absorb some of the wider issues that Wright brings to the narrative, so it’s an incredibly satisfying blend of thriller and social and cultural observation.

I’m actually writing this review with a slight sense of loss hanging over me, as it would appear that this series is being put to bed for a while, with M. P. Wright stating that he wanted to deliver a sense of peace to Ellington and his kinfolk at the close of the series. All well and good, but by heck, does he put some of  them through an emotional and violent wringer first, once again proving the author’s prowess at plot, pace, characterisation, and his absolute ability to capture the zeitgeist of the period that he sets this series within. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a dip in the pure readability of all the previous books, and The Sinner’s Prayer is no exception to the rule, completely mirroring the obviously very high standard of writing that this author consistently produces. Absolutely recommended, and do bear in mind my advice to read all of the series. You won’t regret it…

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Raven reviews: Heartman / All Through The Night / Restless Coffins

An interview with M. P. Wright

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

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- David F. Ross- Welcome To The Heady Heights

It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever. Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks’, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail…

I think it’s fair to say that Welcome To The Heady Heights, got a firm grip on me from the outset, leading to my comment on social media that “It’s all a bit mental. And I like that,” which became a familiar refrain when my curious bookselling colleagues asked me what the hell I was reading, with my poorly suppressed sniggering in the staffroom. What can I say? The book is wickedly funny, earthy, and goes to some very dark places indeed…

Straightaway, I was sucked into this book, in common with Alan Parks brilliant Bloody January which also plunges us into the moral and social cesspool of 1970s Glasgow. As an era defined by its suppression and mistreatment of the working class and the down at heel, whilst trying to gentrify and exploit society in equal measure. Although there is an unrelenting and brutal truthfulness to the city that Ross’ characters traverse, there is also an underlying feel of extreme pride and sympathy gravitating from Ross through his depiction of the city, the era, and his cast of misfortunates. In common with the great Irvine Welsh, life is grim, but there are moments of humour, epiphany and success that underscore the general downtrodden existence of Ross’ characters, and Archie Blunt in particular, most certainly getting closer to the gutter, being on the brink of losing his job, but coerced into the fakery of the world of light entertainment. The book is a real love letter to the 70s, peppered with cultural references, yes, I’m not a fan of Bohemian Rhapsody either, scaramouche my arse, and similarly to Benjamin Myers Turning Blue, homing in the world that came to light with the recent Yew Tree investigations. Equally, Ross shines an unflattering light on the rise of the corrupt businessman in the political world, and how dodgy contracts and oiled palms led to a generation of high rise building, heralded to those misfortunate to live in them as the best thing since sliced bread. This whole dirty whiff of corruption, be it police, financial, sexual,  or otherwise permeates the story, and the threat of violence and retribution is never far from the surface.

Ross has a real talent for characterisation, and I particularly enjoyed the stress and strain that he puts Archie through as the book progresses, revealing a tenacity and strength behind his somewhat timid exterior. As we see Archie getting sucked deeper and deeper into the murky waters of the Glasgow underworld, we are also become privy to a wide and interesting array of characters from both sides of the law. A tenacious female journalist on the trail of a corrupt businessman, Archie’s less than snowy white criminal associates, a group of dodgy lads aiming for the stars, and a resolute, although belittled female police officer palmed off with missing persons cases begins to see a cabal of depravity at work. As I said, the book takes us to some very dark places, but within his cast of characters, Ross balances humour, pathos and retribution beautifully, with the Glasgow vernacular front and centre, and a resigned balance of optimism and pessimism amongst his protagonists, which adds to their realism and our reactions to them as readers. I loved the mordant wit, and the very defined sense of the goodies, the baddies, and the generally confused. Will definitely be tracking back to read Ross’ Disco Days Trilogy, as this book proved to be a wee twisted gem, giving this reader a very warm welcome to the Heady Heights. A thoroughly gritty, uncompromising and entertaining throwback to the 70s and totally recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Revisit the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

The Boys Are Back In Town- David Young- Stasi Wolf/ Steve Cavanagh- The Liar/ David Jackson- Hope To Die

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . . .

Having absolutely loved David Young’s debut, Stasi Child with it’s refreshingly different setting, and being steeped in the history of Germany’s former divisions, both geographically and socially, here’s the next in the series. Once again the indomitable Karin Müller finds herself enmeshed in a thorny and deeply personal investigation, under the watchful eye of the Stasi…

What I have loved about both books is Young’s attention to detail, that so firmly roots the reader in this timeframe, allowing us to bear witness to the unique and sinister workings of this totalitarian state. Unlike other authors who fail to balance their reams of research with good solid storytelling, Young consistently displays a knack for both, whether describing the functional architecture of Halle-Neustadt, where Müller is stationed, to further adroit observations on the social stratum that exists behind its concrete façade. He effortlessly melds the constraints of life in the east, with references to the forbidden fruits that lie within the west, and the frustrations that Müller and her cohorts face in the course of their investigation . I really liked the use of the dual narrative, that slowly binds the story together, the revelatory impact on Müller’s case. and the grim revelations about certain medical practices in this closed state.

In terms of characterisation, not only does Müller have to navigate the suffocating constraints of state control, which the book excels at,  but there is a slight shift in tone, as Young begins to fill out Müller’s own character more, affording some interesting insights into her family history. At times I felt, this development of Muller’s character was weighted too heavily against the main plot, giving the book a slight imbalance, and there was one twist in the plot that felt a little too contrived for this reader, leading to the feeling that this was a bridging book to greater revelations ahead, instead of a naturally fluid development of the series. However, I enjoyed the way that once again, Young carefully uses Müller’s colleagues to lighten the tone, and adds a much needed softening to the personalities that lie beneath their constricted professional lives.

To be honest though, this one small criticism of Müller’s character development within Stasi Wolf  did little to dent my enjoyment overall. Young’s astute and compelling use of his chosen location and period of history was as enlightening and educational as ever, within the arc of this dark and disturbing investigation. Recommended.

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

WHO IS DEADLIER …

Leonard Howell’s worst nightmare has come true: his daughter Caroline has been kidnapped. Not content with relying on the cops, Howell calls the only man he trusts to get her back.

… THE MAN WHO KNOWS THE TRUTH …

Eddie Flynn knows what it’s like to lose a daughter and vows to bring Caroline home safe. Once a con artist, now a hotshot criminal attorney, Flynn is no stranger to the shady New York underworld.

… OR THE ONE WHO BELIEVES A LIE?

However, as he steps back into his old life, Flynn realizes that the rules of game have changed – and that he is being played. But who is pulling the strings? And is anyone in this twisted case telling the truth…?

Having reviewed Steve Cavanagh’s two excellent previous Eddie Flynn thrillers, The Defence and The Plea  it is with some pleasure that I can say that the big guy has come up trumps again. Having converted me to the enjoyable world of the legal thriller, Cavanagh plunges his stalwart Flynn back into a compelling tale of kidnap and twisted family secrets…

The sharp-talking, quick thinking and utterly engaging character of Eddie Flynn lies at the heart of the success of this America based series to date. He is an entirely likeable protagonist who easily gets the reader on board with his delightful mix of street smarts and, at times, emotional sensitivity. I love the little echoes of his grifter past that undercut his talents as a lawyer, and the interludes of wit that Cavanagh employs in this incredibly fast paced and engaging thriller. Cavanagh’s writing is extremely fluid and well-paced throughout, with an uncanny knack in his control of tension and action, from the high-stakes shenanigans of Flynn’s courtroom appearances, to his clear-sighted and unquestioning mission for justice for his client.

So as not to spoil your enjoyment of this thriller, I will dwell fleetingly on the plot, as there are more than a few twists and turns and surprising revelations in the course of Flynn’s thorny case. What I would say is that there is a proper ass-kicking female FBI agent in this one, who more than deserves a repeat appearance in future books (hint, hint) and a grim tale of dark jealousies that exist between siblings that could only end badly. It is never less than gripping throughout, and Flynn needs his wits about him to navigate this minefield of tricky legal negotiations, and intermittent flashpoints of danger…

All in all, The Liar proves itself an extremely enjoyable, well-plotted thriller with solid characterisation, and a nice sting in the tale. A great addition to an already mustn’t miss series. Loved it.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

On a bitterly cold winter’s night, Liverpool is left stunned by a brutal murder in the grounds of the city’s Anglican Cathedral. A killer is on the loose, driven by a chilling rage. Put on the case, DS Nathan Cody is quickly stumped. Wherever he digs, the victim seems to be almost angelic – no-one has a bad word to say, let alone a motive for such a violent murder. And Cody has other things on his mind too. The ghosts of his past are coming ever closer, and – still bearing the physical and mental scars – it’s all he can do to hold onto his sanity.
And then the killer strikes again . . .

Hope To Die is the second outing for DS Nathan Cody, and the follow up to A Tapping At My Door the first of David Jackson’s new Liverpool based series. Still reeling from the events of the first book, our beleaguered detective has more demons to face in this dark and testing investigation…

Aside from the triple murder case, the book is punctuated by the experiences of a young boy suffering abuse, in this case at the hands of a religiously zealous and cruel mother, and the mental angst of DS Cody himself in the grip of the reverberations of a previous violent interlude in his police career. Jackson largely succeeds at juggling these three strands of narrative, but maybe too consciously is setting the scene for a further book in the series in the case of Cody’s torment. I felt early on that the demons haunting him would not be effectively dealt with this in this book, so resigned myself to a possible cliffhanger for this particular story arc, but no matter as the murder investigations he is involved in provided more than enough tension in the main storyline. I thought the plotting and eventual resolution of the murder cases was extremely well done, with a cunningly concealed, but utterly believable perpetrator, and I enjoyed both the build up to,  and the final unmasking of, the killer. Jackson makes liberal use of red herrings and blind alleys, and I always think this adds something to the reading of a thriller, testing out our little grey cells, and playing with our intuition. I also greatly enjoyed the sideswipes at religious fervour and hypocrisy that are central to the murderer’s motivations.

Something that is always consistent in Jackson’s writing, be it his former New York set crime series, or this one, is his solid characterisation, and the interaction between his characters. There is ready Scouse wit, emotional angst, spikiness, and total professionalism in equal measure, and he never shies away from homing in on this little mis-steps in communication that exist when people have to react with others outside of their professional zone. This is particularly evident in the torturous and frustrating relationship between Cody and DC Megan Webley, whose emotional back and forth, provides a nice little distraction from the grim murder investigation, but not to the detriment of the central plot. More a case of will they again, won’t they again, knock their heads together, throw hands up in despair etc…

Hope To Die proves itself another well-executed police procedural from David Jackson, and as another step in the confronting of Cody’s ghosts from the past, acts as a good bridge in readiness for the next in the series. I’m looking forward to it already…

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

 

 

Blog Tour: David Young- Stasi Child/ Guest Post: Top 5 East Berlin Sites + Review

Stasi Blog Tourdavid

Well, today it’s the final stop on the Stasi Child Blog Tour, and author David Young has dropped by Raven Crime Reads to share some info and photos of some must- visit sites in East Berlin, so integral to his debut crime thriller. Then with your interest piqued, read on for Raven’s review of Stasi Child- think you’re going to like this one…

Top Five: East German sights in Berlin

Twenty five years ago this month, the two Germanies – East and West – became one. It seems hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed. Some fifteen years before that, in 1975, my novel Stasi Child begins – a time when few believed Germany would be reunited in their lifetime. A time defined by the Berlin Wall – known in the east as the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier or Rampart. It’s already a lost world, yet the ghost of the ironically titled German Democratic Republic (GDR) can still be seen in the eastern part of Germany, and in particular its captivating capital, which – especially in the last century – has been such a crucible of history. These are my top five tips for reliving the GDR on a visit to Berlin …

1. The Berlin Wall Memorial

Reconstructed watchtower at the Berlin Wall MemorialThe Wall is the symbol of all that was bad about East Germany – even though its construction in 1961 had a horrible logic: the GDR’s leaders needed somehow to stem the brain drain from their tiny eastern bloc country into the west. This memorial is sited in Bernauer Strasse – split between east and west in August 1961 – where people jumped out of apartment block windows to try to escape. You can read the harrowing stories of those shot dead in their attempts to flee in a portion of no man’s land that’s been retained, along with an original section of wall and reconstructed watchtower. The opening scene of Stasi Child takes place in St Elisabeth’s Cemetery, adjacent to the memorial.

2. Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Internal security in the GDR was the preserve of the Ministry for State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi, and this memorial is site of the main Stasi prison. It’s largely unchanged, surrounded by a barbed wire-topped wall and watchtowers. A visit here is an incredibly moving experience: the guides are usually either former inmates, or relatives of former inmates, with their own personal horror stories of what falling foul of the GDR regime meant. The prison features in the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others (and also in Stasi Child). If you’re short on time in Berlin, then Hohenschönhausen is a better bet than the former Stasi HQ at Normannenstrasse, though the latter has its highlights (such as a chance to spy on Stasi head Erich Mielke’s private bathroom).

3. ‘Alltag in der DDR’, Kulturbrauerei Museum

Trabi tent at Kulturbrauerei museumThis  is a relatively new museum housed in a former brewery off Schönhauser Allee in the Prenzlauer Berg district – is for me the pick of several in eastern Berlin that seek to depict everyday life in the former GDR (although those in the Palace of Tears – the former border crossing at Friedrichstrasse station – and the privately-run DDR Museum, where you can take a virtual drive in a Trabi, are also well worth visiting). You get a real flavour of day-to-day existence, and it wasn’t all bad. In fact, those who didn’t fall foul of the Stasi had one of the highest standards of living in the eastern bloc. Childcare facilities, welfare, job security, food prices – all put the west to shame, especially in the 1970s when Stasi Child is set, when Britain was riddled with three-day weeks, strikes and an oil crisis. Don’t miss the wonderful letters from schoolchildren imagining what a future GDR might be like.

 4. Museumswohnung, Berlin-Hellersdorf

Kitchen cupboard in the MuseumswohnungSome who brave the seventeen-kilometre drive or U-bahn ride out to this Berlin suburb might be disappointed by the Museumswohnung, but for me it was an unforgettable experience. Only open on Sundays, or by appointment, it’s a former East Berlin flat preserved as a time capsule: nothing more, nothing less. You’ve got all the original furniture, kitchen equipment, books and electrical gadgets. There are smaller displays in the DDR museum or Kulturbrauerei – but this is the real thing, housed in a typical – albeit modernised – GDR concrete slab apartment estate.

5. Waldsiedlung, near Wandlitz

Honecker's HouseNot strictly speaking Berlin, but some thirty kilometres to the north, this ‘forest settlement’ is well worth a trip in a hire car. This was where East Germany’s leaders lived, in comparative – but not ostentatious – luxury. In Stasi Child, it’s the setting where my People’s Police detective, Karin Müller, finally learns from her Stasi ‘handler’ what her case has all been about. It’s now a sanatorium, but in GDR-times was a well-guarded, gated estate. You can either take a guided tour on a road train, or wander round yourself, discovering the former houses of the two Erichs – Honecker and Mielke. Ironically, Mielke’s former home is considerably bigger – but both would be considered fairly modest by western standards.

RAVEN’S REVIEW:

StasiChild_firstlook_540If you still need an incentive to read this book after some brilliant guest posts, reviews and Q&As, I will do my best to further convince you! I’m more than happy to report that the Raven was rather taken with this one…

Constructed around three contrasting narrative viewpoints, the book takes place in 1970’s East Berlin, with the famed wall firmly in place, and the contrast between life either side of it strongly in evidence throughout. A young girl’s body is discovered close to the wall, with the general consensus being that she has taken the unusual step of fleeing from the West to the East, unlike most of her contemporaries. However, as Oberleutnant Karin Müller ( the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic) and her infuriatingly charming sidekick, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner investigate further, they come to realise that much darker dealings are afoot. With their every move being monitored by a representative of the Stasi, fundamentally manipulating their remit in the investigation, and Müller’s husband Gottfried also attracting the unwanted attention of the secret police, there is much subterfuge to be undertaken, and angst to be had, by Müller along the way. Additionally, Young incorporates a seemingly unrelated plot involving the restrictive and harsh conditions experienced by a group of youngsters in a notorious ‘Jugendwerkhof‘, ostensibly a home for less well disciplined, or rootless, youngsters to be indoctrinated in the ways of the State. As all three narratives wend their way towards each other, the depth of corruption, control, and conspiracy within this closed society become all too clear.

If, like me, you have enjoyed the Soviet-based crime fiction of authors such as Martin Cruz Smith, William Ryan, Tom Rob Smith or Sam Eastland, this will prove itself an absolute must read. Like the aforementioned authors, Young perfectly captures the socio-political atmosphere of a society in the grasp of a suffocating control of the state apparatus. The fear, suspicion and deprivation encountered by not only Müller and her team and the youngsters at the Jugendwerkhof, but also that of ordinary citizens, is incredibly well depicted, and Young provides an unflinching gaze on the workings of this closed society. He carefully balances the seeming utopia of life beyond the wall in the West, with the harsh and stringent regime of the East, which makes the plight of these citizens all the more affecting as the story progresses. Having only accrued knowledge of this location and period in German history from non-fiction and celluloid representations, it was entirely satisfying to see how well Young crafted the pertinent details into his fictional representation. Ably supported by an engrossing plot, with its varying strands and well-structured premise, this wasn’t just a linear crime thriller, which again added to the satisfaction of this reader.

Likewise, Young’s grasp of effective characterisation was a real bonus. Müller herself was an entirely empathetic and believable protagonist, balancing the problems of her gender, with the importance of her position in the police, and the nefarious individuals seeking to derail and influence her investigation. The interplay between her and Tilsner, both on a personal and professional level, always overshadowed by the demands of her loyalty to her husband, was a real hook throughout, and added a nice frisson to the general gloom and sadness that infuses the story. The character of Oberstleutnant Karl Jager, as a representative of the Stasi was also nicely weighted within the plot, with his shadowy influence and mercurial nature, providing an intriguing and slightly sinister air to the whole affair, in his dealings with Müller and Tilsner.

Similarly to Tom Callaghan’s debut earlier this year, The Killing Winter, set in Kyrgyzstan, it was extremely satisfying to read a book located in a largely unexplored society, within the crime fiction genre. Young has more than proved that his name will be one to watch in the future with this powerful, well-researched and intriguing thriller. A highly recommended debut.

Stasi Child by David Young is out now in ebook. The Paperback will follow in February 2016.

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)