A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

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A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

#Booktrailadvent Day 12- Francis Duncan- Murder For Christmas

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Well, we have now arrived at #Booktrailadvent Day 12  curated by the lovely Susan at the globally appealing The Book Trail , and the Raven is in festive mood, bringing you a rediscovered classic in the shape of Francis Duncan’s 1949 classic Murder For Christmas. So pop on those driving gloves, insert a plum in your mouth, and  jump in the Bentley for a jolly Christmas jaunt to the West Country…

51hkOIVokkL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Billed as a classic Christmas mystery with mulled wine, mince pies and murder, I have taken a small step out of my comfort zone, as traditional country house murders are not usually my thing. However, it is with some delight that I can report that I really rather enjoyed this Christie-esque mystery with its oddball cast of characters, and a rather intriguing amateur detective, Mordecai Tremaine…

Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels,  has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame. Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds the revelries in full flow, but tensions run high between an assortment of guests. Midnight strikes and the guests discover it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A body that bears a strong resemblance to Santa Claus. As the snow intensifies and everyone a possible suspect, it’s up to amateur sleuth Tremaine to sniff out the culprit, and an intriguing investigation ensues.

With typical Golden Age panache, Duncan immerses us in a mystery of everyday grasping rich folk, with a finite group of suspects in an atmosphere of entitlement. Throw into the mix the seemingly unassuming character of Tremiane and a taciturn police detective, Superintendent Cannock, and the resemblance to some of Agatha Christie’s finest works is undeniable. Tremaine is a wonderfully affable and good-humoured man, which belies his sharp wits and natural observation of his fellow guests. Having sharpened his powers of detection in a previous case, but now striving to duck under the radar of the attendant publicity,  he cannot resist the temptation of this invite to the home of a man that he has only met briefly, but soon his sleuthing nose is set a-twitching. With all of his fellow guests in the frame for the murder of the be-suited Santa Claus, he finds himself encountering blackmail, embezzlement, greed and thwarted love. Although some of the guests are aware of his sleuthing credentials, there are some token moments of loose lips sinking ships, as Tremaine undertakes his own investigation. Duncan’s characterisation of the guests is also well-drawn throughout from the touching relationship of young lovers Denys and Roger, the grumpy scientist Lorring, the natural ebullience of the lord of the manor Benedict Grame, and the contrasting characters of the mousey Charlotte (Benedict’s sister), the temptress Lucia Tristam, along with others. In the rarefied air of this country house, you get a real sense of a country Christmas, with the popping of the fire, the luxurious surroundings, and the gentle falling of snow outside. It’s all very festive indeed. Apart from the surprise gift of a cold-blooded murder.

To his credit, Duncan keeps the reader in suspense until the final few pages as to the guilty party, and it was refreshing to read a book of this ilk where the culprit remains so well hidden, but with a believable conclusion. As I alluded to, apart from a dipping into Poirot on the small screen, Golden Age mysteries hold little appeal for me as a rule, but this was a welcome surprise. And I didn’t guess the killer. Will you?

Check out the map below from The Book Trail to reveal some more advent surprises. Who knows what you will uncover this Christmas…

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(With thanks to Vintage Books for the ARC of Murder For Christmas)

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

CEzOtOfXIAAi4RvExtremely keen to add my voice to the exceptionally positive response to this Scandinavian crime debut from Ragnar Jonasson. Snowblind is the first of his Dark Iceland quintet, with a pitch perfect translation by Jonasson’s fellow Scandibrit crime author, Quentin Bates, for the UK market. Snowblind has given rise to one of the biggest buzzes in the crime fiction world, and refreshingly usurps the cast iron grip of the present obsession with domestic noir. Introducing Ari Thor, a young police officer from Reykjavik, who takes up a posting in the small northern community of Siglufjordur, leaving behind not only the city, but his girlfriend too, and immersing him in a complex and perplexing case, in a claustrophobic and chilling setting…

9781910633038-275x423Having recently had the delight of seeing Jonasson at CrimeFest, an international crime convention in Bristol UK, it was very interesting to hear that outside of his career as a lawyer, he has previously translated a clutch of Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. The shadow of Christie looms large, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her reputation for sublime plotting is flawlessly mirrored by Jonasson in his exceptionally well-executed novel. By using the claustrophobic confines of this small community in Siglufjordur, and its relative inaccessibility due to location and inclement weather, Jonasson cleverly manipulates the compressed cast of characters. The book takes on the real feel of a locked room mystery, with a finite group of possible perpetrators of the violent crimes, in this case a severe physical assault and a suspicious death, and giving the reader a puzzling conundrum as we attempt to identify the guilty party or parties ourselves. Speaking as a crime reader, this is always one of the essential thrills of this nature of crime book, playing detective and navigating the red herrings along the way. Jonasson provides this in spades, and due to a series of tricks in the narrative, all is not as it appears, confusing not only Ari Thor, but also the humble reader along the way. A whodunnit that really hits the spot, whilst also cleverly concealing the how and the why…

With the author being so familiar with the isolated setting of this book (Jonasson’s relatives hailed from the town) the overarching cold and sinister darkened atmosphere in the grip of a harsh winter is powerfully wrought throughout. Indeed, I felt that I should have been reading this neatly tucked up in a blanket in front of a roaring fire, such is the pervading nature of cold and bleakness within its pages. Equally, the situation and closed feel to the community seen through Thor’s eyes is tangible throughout, as he encounters for the first time some of the more eccentric inhabitants, the trust of being able to leave your door unlocked, and the more laidback style of policing by his fellow officers. I particularly enjoyed the way they were propelled into a situation they had rarely encountered as if they were saying- “A murder in Siglufjordur? Impossible!” and being reluctantly spurred on by our rookie police officer’s enthusiastic theories, that did at times fall on fallow ground.

The characterisation is well-realised, with an intriguing blend of the eccentric, the straight-laced and the emotionally damaged, working beautifully in tandem as the plot progresses. With the wide-eyed, and sometimes baffled incomer, Ari Thor, steadily encountering and interacting with them, again the Christie connection comes into play, as their dark secrets and murderous intentions come to light. This is truly a community where not everyone is as they at first appear, including Thor himself, heightening the sense of intrigue, and in some ways displaying all the well loved familiarity of a good old murder mystery, underscored with all the dark psychology of contemporary crime fiction.

So, all in all, as you will probably gather, I rather enjoyed this debut with its intriguing cast, terrific use of location, confident plotting and lively translation, but don’t just take my word for it. A certain Mr Child was equally keen to get his hands on this one…

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EXTRACT:

I know, it’s unbelievable. I hadn’t expected anything so soon.

Loads of us are graduating in December and there aren’t many jobs

to be had.’

So where is this job? Here in town? A relief post?’

No, it’s a two-year contract … at least.’

In town?’ Kristín repeated, and he could see for her expression

that she suspected it might not be.

Well, actually, no.’ He hesitated before continuing. ‘It’s up north.

In Siglufjördur.’

She was silent and each passing second felt like an hour.

Siglufjördur?’ Her voice had lifted and the tone gave a clear

message.

Yes, it’s a great opportunity,’ he said mildly, almost pleadingly,

hoping that she would see his side, that it was important to him.

And you said yes? Without even thinking to ask me?’ Her eyes

narrowed. Her voice was bitter, verging on anger.

Well …’ He hesitated. ‘Sometimes you just have to grab an

opportunity. If I hadn’t made a decision on the spot, then they

would have taken someone else.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘They

picked me,’ he added, almost apologetically.

Ari Thór had given up on philosophy and then he had given up

on theology. He had lost his parents far too young and had been

alone in a hard world since childhood. Then Kristín had picked him.

That had given him just the same feeling he was experiencing now.

They picked me.

This would be his first real job, and one that would carry responsibility.

He had made an effort to do well at the police college. So

why couldn’t Kristín just be happy for him?

You don’t decide to move to Siglufjördur just like that, without

talking it over with me, dammit. Tell them you need to think it over,’

she said, her voice cold.

Please, I don’t want to risk this. They want me there in the middle

of November, I’ll take the last couple of exams there, and be back for

a break at Christmas. Why don’t you see if you can come as well?’

I have to work here as well as studying; you know that perfectly

well, Ari Thór. Sometimes I just don’t understand you.’ She stood

up. ‘This is bloody ridiculous. I thought we were partners, doing

all this together.’ She turned aside to hide her tears. ‘I’m going for

a walk.’

She left with rapid steps, out of the bedroom and into the passage.

Ari Thór remained rooted to the spot, dumbstruck that he had

completely lost control of the situation.

He was about to call out to her when he heard the front door

slam shut…

Author of the bestselling Dark Iceland crime series, Ragnar Jonasson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1976 and works as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before becoming a writer, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had short stories published in international literary magazines. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir (www.icelandnoir.com), which was selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar has appeared on panels at festivals worldwide, and he lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @ragnarjo

 (With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC and Liz Loves Books)