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A Global Round-Up- Jane Harper, Arnaldur Indridason, Snorri Kristjansson, Walter Mosley

Just been grappling with a bout of flu, and realising I am a gazillion reviews behind, am bringing you a compact little round up. Luckily, some of you prefer this format anyway so it’s a win-win! 

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path. But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

A follow up to the bestselling The Dry featuring Police Agent Aaron Falk, and smattered with references to the aforementioned if you are one of, what seems to be, the only people on the planet not to have read Harper’s debut. I immediately liked the premise of this one, being no big fan of these tedious teambuilding exercises where you have to achieve miracles worthy of JC himself to navigate your team across a pond with a pair of tights and a tea-tray. The fact that Harper also has her group of work colleagues simmering with resentment, unavenged slights, and general testiness endeared me even more, as the group becomes increasingly fractured, leading to the disappearance of one member, Alice. Using a split narrative, so we are pivoted back and forth from the events of the weekend, to the real-time investigation, Harper handles the pacing of the plot perfectly, and by slowly decreasing the spacing between the events of then and now, urges the reader on to read quicker, and step up the pace generally. There is also a neat little side story, referencing a notorious killer, and the continuing search for one of his victims, which adds another frisson of murderous intent to the proceedings. I thought the depiction of the characters, both within the group of women, and of Harper’s detectives, Falk and Carmen Cooper, was engaging, and there was a good mix of rivalry, tension, and stretched loyalties among them. Although I was a little disappointed by the ending, in terms of how realistically it played out in relation to how the story had been constructed, I found this a satisfying enough read, although it does pale in comparison slightly  to The Dry.


Now to two books by the undisputed king of Icelandic crime, Arnaldur Indridason, The Shadow District, and The Shadow Killer, which I read back to back, and both set in wartime Reykjavik. My only slight annoyance with doing this, was that the first book is set in 1944, and the second in 1941, and as the first book ties up what happens to the two main protagonists in subsequent years, I was frustrated by going back in time in the second with this knowledge of the future in my head. On a more positive note, however, I thought both books were pretty flawless in their period detail, dramatic tension, and with a thoroughly likeable pair of investigators, Flovent, a police detective, and Thorsen, a military policeman with Icelandic and Canadian roots. There was a good sense of equanimity in the structure of their working relationship, and both characters had pleasing emotional depth and quirks to their personalities. As both are young men, Indridason not only builds into their characters a slight sense of impetuousness, but balances this with moments of mature emotional clarity, as they seek to track down murderers, with the opposing weight of the police force and the military sometimes seeking to thwart their progress.

Although both books focus on fairly linear murder plots, both are superbly enhanced by the wealth of detail that Indridason weaves into the stories, focussing on the country’s gaining of independence and, the role of Iceland in supporting the allied war mission, and the social implications, particularly on families, women and personal wealth, by this massive influx of British and American military personnel. Prior to reading these books I had no awareness whatsoever of the singularly important part that Iceland played in WWII, and certainly for me I found the military detail fascinating, and I was utterly intrigued by the whole concept of ‘the Situation‘- the sense of judgement meted out by families and society alike on young women fraternising with the allied personnel. This is pertinent to both books, and by the incorporation of a creepy subplot based on equally creepy totems of Icelandic folklore, the role of women and their subjugation plays heavily throughout. I found these different themes of home, family, folklore, war and society work in perfect tandem with each other, leading to a real multi faceted reading experience, with the characters of Flovent and Thorsen holding the whole narrative together. I would highly recommend both books but maybe read them in date order!

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He can deny it all he likes, but everyone knows Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson brought home a great chest of gold when he retired from the longboats and settled down with Hildigunnur in a remote valley. Now, in the summer of 970, adopted daughter Helga is awaiting the arrival of her unknown siblings: dark, dangerous Karl, lithe, clever Jorunn, gentle Aslak, henpecked by his shrewish wife, and the giant Bjorn, made bitter by Volund, his idiot son.
And they’re coming with darkness in their hearts.The siblings gather, bad blood simmers and old feuds resurface as Unnthor’s heirs make their moves on the old man’s treasure – until one morning Helga is awakened by screams. Blood has been shed: kin has been slain. No one confesses, but all the clues point to one person – who cannot possibly be the murderer, at least in Helga’s eyes. But if she’s going to save the innocent from the axe and prevent more bloodshed, she’s got to solve the mystery – fast . . .

I will tarry a wee bit longer in Iceland with Kin by Snorri Kristjansson, the first of the Helga Finnsdottir mystery series, and what holds the unique position of being the first Viking murder mystery, apart from the great sagas themselves, that I have read. I thoroughly enjoy Kristjansson’s normal historical fare having read all three of his Valhalla series, but I had a curious reading experience with this one. At first, I didn’t feel that the opening of the book really reflected the time period it is set in, and this just felt like a small rural community on the cusp of some forthcoming upset. It was only as the family members began to arrive that I felt Kristjansson really settled us in to the timeline, exemplified by the sons’ tales of plundering and fighting. I also felt like it took an absolute age for the actual ‘crime’ to happen, as the story packed to the gills with all the necessary conflict, jealousies and infidelities essential to an Icelandic soap opera, which eventually results in murder. I was rather enjoying this mash up of the Icelandic sagas, Shakespearean treachery, and Viking ‘It’s A Knockout’ , when it was punctuated by a rather unexciting, but completely predictable murder, and then another, which led to young Helga ‘Nancy Drew’ Finnsdottir becoming a rather unconvincing super sleuth. So a thumbs up from me for the familial conflict, and the generally entertaining conniving women and wonderfully Neanderthal male characters, but as a murder mystery in a conventional sense I felt it was a little loose fitting and awkward, and less than convincing overall. Shame.

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Joe King Oliver was one of the NYPD’s finest investigators until, dispatched to arrest a well-heeled car thief, he is framed for assault, a charge that lands him in the notorious Rikers Island prison. A decade later, King is a private detective, running his agency with the help of his teenage daughter, Aja-Denise. When he receives a card in the mail from the woman who admits she was paid by someone in the NYPD to frame him all those years ago, King realises that he has no choice but to take his own case: figuring out who on the force wanted him disposed of – and why. At the same time, King must investigate the case of black radical journalist Leonard Compton, aka A Free Man, accused of killing two on-duty police offices who had been abusing their badges to traffic drugs and women into the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.In pursuit of justice, our hero must beat dirty cops and even dirtier bankers. All the while, two lives hang in the balance: Compton’s, and King’s own…

Although he ranks alongside James Lee Burke and James Ellroy in Raven’s trinity of favourite contemporary American crime authors, it is highly unusual for me to post a review of his work, as he is always read in a vacuum of serenity outside of critical reading, and imminent reviewing- my hygge zone if you will. So I’ll keep this review of Down The River Unto The Sea as brief, and as objective as I can, but frankly Mr Mosley probably writes more interesting post-its than a substantial swathe of self published tosh, we as readers, are assailed with. Every word, image, theme and plot contrivance are perfectly done, and as the first book in a new series, I can only salivate with anticipation as to what is to come for Oliver in future books.

I don’t know if there is any technical term for this, beyond him being a supreme practitioner of observation, but every description of a character imprints a visual image of that person on the reader’s mind. I love the way he shapes and draws his characters, from their way of dressing, to their gait, to the timbre of their speech, underpinned by wit, pure sassiness and razor sharp dialogue. I love the way his characters always seem to walk that line between doubt and certainty, morality and immorality, strength and vulnerability, and the blurring of these credos that always underscore his protagonists, most notably in Oliver himself. In true Mosley fashion the book hums and sings with a rough-edged lyrical intensity, and encompasses all those big powerful themes of racism, political and police corruption, and subjugation that are so redolent of Mosley’s oeuvre to date.

Objectivity is overrated. I totally loved this and cannot fault it.

Mosley is a master. End of.

Highly recommended.

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( With thanks for the ARCs to Little Brown for Force of Nature, Harvill Secker for the Indridason Reykjavik mysteries, Quercus for Kin, W&N for Down To The River Unto To The Sea, which I also bought in hardback)


 

 

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Blog Tour- Michael Farris Smith- The Fighter

The acres and acres of fertile soil, the two-hundred year old antebellum house, all gone. And so is the woman who gave it to him. The foster mother who saved Jack Boucher from a childhood of abandonment now rests in a hospice. Her mind eroded by dementia, the family legacy she entrusted to Jack is now owned by banks and strangers. And Jack’s mind has begun to fail, too, as concussion after concussion forces him to carry around a notebook of names that separate friend from foe. But in a single twisted night Jack is derailed. Losing the money that will clear his debt with the queen of Delta vice, and forcing Jack into the fighting pit one last time the stakes nothing less than life or death…

I would like to begin this review by heartily congratulating Michael Farris Smith on writing a book that is so beautifully plotted and exquisitely characterised that I’m already doubting my ability to do justice to the book in this review. I’ll try…

The Fighter is at times so painfully brutal in terms of the physicality of violence that the author presents, but this is tempered by some of the most sensitive and soulful prose that I have encountered for some time.  In a throwaway comment on social media I described Smith as the bastard lovechild of Cormac McCarthy and Willy Vlautin, as his writing exudes all the pain, brutality, and baring of the soul of his characters that these two writers excel in. Jack Bouchard- the fighter of the title- is a man metaphorically and physically bruised and battered by the life he has led, and suffering in the wake of bad decisions and wrong turnings that he has made. As he teeters on the edge of financial ruin, and in the face the impending loss of the one person who, to use a boxing analogy, has fought his corner, since his less than stable childhood, we see a man at his lowest ebb. More importantly as dependent as he is on gambling, illegal medication, and fighting the physical effects of a life spent punched and pummelled as a prize-fighter, Smith loads this character with an incredibly strong moral centre, and a man capable of a depth of emotion that his actions and outward appearance belie. Smith plays with our expectations of this character from the beginning, as he moves Bouchard from an almost clichéd portrayal of a punch drunk wastrel, to this incredibly empathetic character. The characterisation of Bouchard is phenomenal, as we experience his extreme lows, and see his increasingly desperate reaching towards a safe haven and stability in his life. The scenes with Maryann, his adoptive mother, and his recollections of the life lived with her, are beautifully poised and incredibly moving, and there is such a melancholic grace about Bouchard as he teeters on the edge of loss. Bathed in pathos, but not cloyingly so, Smith achieves a rare balance between the essential tough masculinity of Bouchard, and the more sensitive core of his emotional regret and sadness – it’s masterfully done.

Parallel to Bouchard, we enter into the less than stable existence of a young woman, Annette, who bears her pain in a strange parallel to Bouchard. As much as he wears the scars of fights lost and won, Annette has chosen to represent her life, and channel her emotions and thoughts with her body art. As we see her initially in the roustabout world of the travelling show, with no sense of permanence of rootedness, her and Bouchard’s paths crossing seems inevitable, opening up a whole other world of emotional bargaining and personal revelation. I liked very much her curious mix of strength and vulnerability, and how, as a reader, we recognise this symbiosis of emotion that Smith imbues in these two characters. Also, with shades of Elmore Leonard, Smith constructs a small band of despicable criminal characters, to whom Bouchard is indebted, replete with their southern redneck mentality, and violent compulsions, to raise the stakes for Bouchard’s survival. They play beautifully in the overarching feel of violence and hopelessness that permeates the book, leaving the reader in hope of more uplifting revelations…

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

(With thanks to No Exit Press for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Author Interview: Chris Carter- The Caller

 

July heralds the paperback release of The Caller– the latest thriller featuring detectives Hunter and Garcia, and no doubt depravity and murder await them. Chris Carter has stopped by to tell us more, starting with what the new book is all about…

The Caller is a novel about a new type of serial killer who likes to use Social Media for his victims. The theme of the novel that will hit very close to home with a lot of people because of its theme. It’s also quite scary at times, so by all means, go check it out.

There is an established history of detective duos in the crime genre and Hunter and Garcia form an extremely effective partnership, despite their obvious differences. The steadfast Garcia is the perfect foil for the troubled yet brilliant Hunter, so how did you formulate such a winning partnership? And when they were separated in a previous book, was there a stronger impetus to team them up again?

To be very truthful, Hunter and Garcia’s partnership was formulated by chance. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write about a sole detective. I wanted my main character to have a partner. I guess that the main reason why they are so well accepted is because I have tried my best to keep Hunter and Garcia as real as possible. Yes, Hunter has a high IQ and a very analytical mind, which of course helps him in all the investigations, but he’s not self-absorbed or egocentric. In fact, I write him as one of the most common people one could meet, with the sort of common problems we all face. His relationship with Garcia tends to be a little funny, simply because Hunter is not a “joke” person and Garcia is.

It was fun to write a book where Hunter and Garcia weren’t working together, but yes, there was a very strong impetus to team them up again.

Your background in criminal psychology is well referenced, but what intrigues me is whether you cast mind back to a particular individual and construct a plot around them, or is it plot first and then you select an antagonist?

To be honest I have done both. Sometimes the first thing I think about concerning a possible new novel is the main idea for the plot, sometimes I envisage the antagonist first and then come up with a plot.

I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to say that your regular readers enjoy the more macabre aspects of your writing, but on a more serious note, how cathartic do you find this aspect of writing out the darkness, in terms of those you have encountered in your past?

That’s a very good question. Most of the time, writing out the darkness I have encountered in my past, or even the darkness that undoubtedly resides inside me can be very liberating. Writing down what’s going on inside ones mind is a very well known therapeutic method, but sometimes writing down this dark passages brings back some very strong memories – memories that I’d rather not have disturbed, but I guess that that’s part of the job, really.

Why do we love to read about serial killers, and even form a strangely amicable relationship with them? I would of course mention Hannibal Lector, as it would be rude not to, but I rather liked Lucian Folter from An Evil Mind, despite the fact he was quite a sick puppy indeed…

That’s a very hard question to answer, so here’s the long version.

As a criminal behavior psychologist and as a crime thriller writer, I have been asked numerous times why is it that people are so fascinated by crime and murder? Why are people so fascinated by death and by those who cause it? Why do killers and what goes on inside their heads intrigue us so much?

The truth, I believe, is that there is no single correct answer to any of those questions. Every psychologist, criminologist, author, scholar, or whoever else has ever spent any time exploring the “if’s” and “why’s” that inevitably accompany every possible answer we can come up with, has undoubtedly come to their own interpretation of the possible reasons behind such fascination. The following is merely my own conclusion, based on my understanding of criminal psychology, what I know of the human mind and the many years I spent working with law enforcement agencies and interviewing serious criminal offenders, many of them murderers. My conclusion came from analysing two quite simple human aspects.

One – Human beings are inquisitive by nature. It’s just the way our brains are wired up, for example, do you remember annoying your parents no end when you were a kid, always asking – ‘Why this? Why that? Why something else?’ Do you remember what would happen as soon as you got an answer? That’s right, you would move the goal post back a little bit and the “why’s” would start all over again. Maybe your kids are doing the same to you today. Well, the good news is – they are not deliberately trying to annoy you. Those questions are due to the naturally inquisitive nature of the human brain. As we grow older, the questions change, but the desire to find answers to things we fail to understand never goes away. The human brain is always trying to learn new things, always trying to find answers to questions that are ever changing. The hunger for knowledge and understanding simply never really vanishes.

Two – I guess one could argue that the primordial mystery men have been struggling to understand since the beginning of times is life itself. Some of us have become obsessed with trying to find answers to questions such as – How did we get here and where did we come from? I believe that from that intense desire to understand life comes an equally intense desire to understand the lack of it – death. Where do we go, if we go anywhere, once we leave this life form? Is there life after death? Etc.

Once you add these two factors together – the naturally inquisitive nature of the human mind and an inherent human desire to understand life and death – the answer to the question “Why are people so fascinated by crime and murder?” becomes almost obvious. Murder sits right on that thin line that separates life from death. So, with that in mind, I believe that many of us, trying to satisfy our natural human curiosity, would love to understand the reasons that could lead someone to commit murder, to take away the life of a fellow human being, to play God so to speak, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Our intrigue and curiosity heightens considerably when the person in question is a repeat offender – a serial killer, and even more so when the murder is preceded by torture. In a way, our brains long to understand how can a human being, just like you and I, do something most of us could never even contemplate, and worse yet, take such pleasure from something so gruesome and sadistic that he/she would do it again, and again, and again. We simply want to understand.

A great number of us, searching for that understanding, will turn to books, films, documentaries, research papers whatever we can find. The problem is; we are all different. Every murderer or serial killer out there has their own motives for doing what they do, crazy or not. As a criminal behaviour psychologist I have never encountered two murderers with the same exact reasons behind their actions. So as soon as we finally understand the motivations behind the actions of, let’s say Killer X, along comes Killer Y, with a whole different Modus Operandi, a whole new signature, and a whole new set of reasons for us to try to figure out. We’re then back to asking the same questions, but inevitably we’ll keep getting different answers with every case. So in truth, our curiosity and fascination with crime and murder will never be totally satisfied, and we’ll keep coming back for more. Always trying to understand the reasons behind something unreasonable. That in itself could trigger an addiction, a vicious cycle, and that’s why crime readers and crime fans can become such aficionados – The hunger for understanding simply never really vanishes.

You have made use of the contemporary phenomenon that is social media, and referenced the dark web. Despite the recognised pernicious evils of both, you’ve got to admit it’s a bit of a godsend to crime writers. How deeply have you explored the dark web in the course of your writing?

Yes, I do agree that the Internet is a Godsend to writers. I know it certainly is to me, but to quote a song from Poison – every rose has its thorn. The Internet has its good side as well as its bad side. I did explore the dark web quite a bit, actually and yes, it can be very dark.

I’ve often heard authors say that they cannot read fiction while they are planning/writing their books- is this true of you? Any particular authors you admire?

For me it definitely is. I don’t read at all while I’m writing a novel.

To be honest, after becoming an author myself, I now admire every author out there because this is a tough business to be in.

Who would play you in a biopic of your life, as psychologist, international author, and total rock-god?

Not sure about the Rock God part, but thank you very much. Not sure, maybe Dwayne Johnson as we both have the same physique and the same hair color.

Perfect soundtrack for writing? Musicians you’d like to jam with?

Any sort of metal for me. It gets the thinking gears rolling.

Musicians I’d like to jam with. There are too many, but certainly Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and A Perfect Circle. That would be awesome.

What’s next?

As soon as I am done with book 9 – The Gallery of the Dead – I will take a break of about a month (maybe more), recharge everything then start on book 10.

 

After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring.  The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward.  Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins. Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room.  If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her. As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear…

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed…Recommended.

A big thank you to Chris for answering my questions and to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Nick Kolakowski- A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Bill is a hustler’s hustler with a taste for the high life. He pulls off big scores for one of New York City’s more vicious gangs…until he suddenly grows a conscience. However, living the clean life takes a whole lot of money, and so Bill decides to steal a fortune from his employer before skipping town.  With a bag of cash in the trunk of his car, Bill heads west, ready for a new life. But all that money makes him a tempting target for some bad people he meets on the road—and if that wasn’t dangerous enough, some old friends are close behind him, and they intend to make a trophy of his head.  Pursued by crooked cops, dim-witted bouncers, and a wisecracking assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis, Bill will need to be a quick study in the way of the gun if he wants to survive his own getaway. Who knew that an honest attempt at redemption could rack up a body count like this?

Being a confirmed fan of deep down and dirty hardboiled American crime, and in the style of Castle Freeman’s Go With Me, or Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move, Kolakowski ticks all the boxes in this pert and stripped down tale of cross and double cross. Inhabited by a marvellous cast of emotionally battered, violent, scheming, characters all on the make, and up to their necks in trouble, the story veers between biting, razor sharp humour, punchy visceral violence, and a strangely unsettling probing of the character’s inner lives exposing a strange degree of emotional frailty, and the need to be loved. Despite being a relatively slim read, Kolakowski packs it to the gills with movement and action, and also has the good sense to include a feisty kick-assing female character in the testosterone -fuelled mix, who proves a perfect foil to the hapless Bill.

It’s a maelstrom of fast, furious action with Coen-esque tendencies that I whipped through at a cracking pace, fully appreciative of the more surreal concept of a hitman in strange attire that comes out of nowhere, before a brilliantly violent, and strangely pathos filled conclusion.

I have my concerns over how Kolakowski’s mind works, but I found this deliciously deranged and very pleasing indeed. Worryingly, perhaps this also says something about me. Recommended.

 

With a good dose of this…

A bit of this…

And plenty of this…

 

How could you possibly refuse? 

 

(With thanks to Nick for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- Kristen Lepionka- The Last Place You Look

Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.
Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she thinks she’s linked Sarah’s disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad’s life and her own…

And so to a debut thriller from Kristen Lepionka, The Last Place You Look, revolving around her troubled female private investigator Roxanne Weary, and a perplexing case in which she seeks to clear the name of an allegedly falsely accused man on Death Row. The plot plays out pleasingly enough, as Weary finds her own family connections inextricable linked with her investigation into this case, and encounters some harsh resistance along the way as she probes deeper into the missing links between these violent events. A few twists and turns along the way keep the action moving along at a pace, and despite a slight hackneyed scenario towards the close of the book, enough is initially kept hidden from Weary, and by extension the reader, to satisfy us with its twists and turns. However, the real strength of Lepionka’s writing lies within her characterisation of  Weary herself…

Being a little world weary (excuse the pun)  of crime thrillers featuring private investigators, I did approach this one a little tentatively at first, but my fears were assuaged somewhat by some nifty characterisation on the part of Lepionka. Although other reviewers have drawn comparison with the hardboiled tradition of Raymond Chandler, I felt that Weary was definitely more closely aligned with the forthright private investigator characters redolent of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and a smattering of a more worldly wise Nancy Drew. I think these influences shine through in her portrayal of Weary, reeling from her father’s death, combating her personal demons with alcohol and sex, and being very much of the mould of act now and think later. I did find the dynamics of her  personal relationships with her father’s police partner Tom and the frosty artistic Catherine interesting, and how her behaviour morphed and changed when in their company, or fretting about the emotional depth of her involvement with them.  This added a nice tangential aspect to the storyline, and gave us a greater insight into Weary’s character and her emotional complexity. I had a growing admiration for her as her travails increased, and rather liked her gung-ho attitude in the face of this complex and dangerous case, so much so that the strength of her character rather over-shadowed other characters in the book, who are a trifle hazy in my recollection a few weeks after reading the book.

Overall with The Last Place You Look,  my attention was held mostly by Weary, and the ups and downs of her emotional state, along with the clear-sightedness with which she approaches this troubling case. Although a little less convinced by the final denouement, this was an engaging enough read, and think that Lepionka has a few more roads to travel yet with this character. Recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Bill Mesce Jr- Legacy: A DiMarchese Case File

Dante DiMarchese is a forensic psychologist, an expert in the workings of the criminal mind and the man responsible for putting the Bailey Beach serial killer behind bars. When a soldier home from a tour in Afghanistan is charged with manslaughter, Dante is immediately called on to help. Meanwhile, the Bailey Beach killer is threatening to smear Dante’s name, while Dante’s persistent ex-brother-in-law ropes him into an inheritance dispute between a still-living father and his family. In the heart of New York, will Dante’s unravel the legacies and lies that others have left behind? Can he contain his own deceptions?

There is the age-old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover, and Legacy is very much proves the rule. I must admit that I was a little put off by the very ordinariness of the book jacket on this, but what a little gem of a thriller lies between its pages…

With its sharp shooting, rat-a-tat dialogue cut through with humour and pathos throughout, Bill Mesce has produced an incredibly readable and highly enjoyable tale centring on the vain and self absorbed character of forensic psychologist, Dante DiMarchese. Enchanting and infuriating in equal measure, DiMarchese is a brilliant creation suffused with professional arrogance and obsession with his appearance, but gloriously underpinned by a genuine sense of morality,  as we observe his involvement with three disparate criminal cases. With somewhat of a car crash personal life, and an inherent knack of getting up most people’s noses, he walks a fine line between irritation for his overdeveloped solipsism, but possessing a charm and honesty that is really rather endearing. I loved this blend of characteristics within him, and equally the reaction of others to him. His long suffering secretary, Esther Froelich, proves a feisty defender of her self imposed position of arbiter of Checkpoint Charlie, as she calls her office, and is a wonderful foil for the shenanigans of her employer, particularly in the realm of hypothetical situations. She very much reminded me of the redoubtable Mrs Landingham from West Wing with her sharp tongue and no-nonsense approach, and the scenes between her and Dante were a joy. There are some pointed and bitter encounters with some in Dante’s personal circle that lead to some caustic and darkly funny episodes, and also those that manage to make us reassess the character of Dante completely. Throughout the select band of supporting characters generally,  we observe a host of contrasting reactions with, and respect for Dante, which fills out our general impression of him, but will our strutting peacock of a main man take some of this criticism on board and mend his ways? That would be telling, but I think there’s more than enough scope for us to waltz with Dante once again…

The book spans Dante’s personal and professional involvement in three contrasting cases, and the case of a contested will, revealing some pretty ugly and acrimonious familial relations is dwelt on the most. Although this legal battle was interesting in, and of, itself focussing on jealousy, manipulation and miscommunication, I felt there was a slight imbalance in the narrative, as the two other cases, one of an emotionally damaged war veteran, and an incarcerated serial killer, had the potential to hold more of the ground in the book, and I felt the former case in particular was worthy of greater focus, as I was interested in this young man’s experiences and his route to a moment of madness. However, on discovering that this was originally written as a screenplay, I totally understand the need to stretch the narrative over three stories and to focus on one in particular to hold the viewer’s interest, but in a novel I would have adjusted the balance slightly with the luxury of more room to explore the perpetrator’s motives and mind-sets. To be honest though, this is just a minor quibble in what proves to be a thoroughly engaging tale of dubious morality, emotional turbulence and the search for resolution, or revenge, in differing ways.

With its feel of John Grisham meets Elmore Leonard, I would heartily recommend Legacy as a bit of a must read for fans of contemporary American crime fiction. Looking forward to Mr DiMarchese’s next cases however he is coiffured…

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

#BlogTour- J. M. Gulvin- The Contract

In New Orleans, Texas Ranger John Q is out of his jurisdiction, and possibly out of his depth. It seems everyone in Louisiana wants to send him home, and every time he asks questions there’s trouble: from the pharmacist to the detective running scared to the pimp who turned to him as a last resort. Before John Q knows it, he looks the only link between a series of murders. So who could be trying to set him up, and why, and who can he turn to in a city where Southern tradition and family ties rule?

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing J. M. Gulvin’s debut thriller, The Long Count  featuring Texas Ranger John Quarrie- a tough guy who could out-tough Jack Reacher.  The Contract sees John Q uprooted from his native Texas to the pulsing heart of New Orleans in this tale of corruption and exploitation echoing the reverberations of the Kennedy assassination…

John Q is a brilliant construct, oozing masculinity and toughness in a highly self-contained way, and like the heroes of the American Western tradition, imbued with a rigid core of morality and decency that permeates his dealing with those that have sinned and are sinned against. In comparison to other tough guy figures of modern crime thriller writing, he doesn’t go in for mawkish naval gazing, having found himself a sole parent, does not get drawn into unbelievable love entanglements, and when he does occasionally get his butt kicked we know that it does actually smart a bit.  Gulvin has characterised him with a laconic speech pattern that also plays into this hero tradition, and the brooding quality of the moral avenger. It works incredibly well, as Quarrie proves a menacing opponent for the cast of amateur hitmen and corrupt society figures that his jaunt to New Orleans uncovers.

The absolute stand out feature for me of the two books to date is the exceptionally visual nature of Gulvin’s writing. As he transports the reader between the two disparate locales of Texas and New Orleans, the depiction of both is beautifully realised. The stretching, arid and barren landscape of Texas where Quarrie dwells with his young son is the extreme opposite of the sultry, sensual New Orleans where violence always seems to dwell just beneath the surface. As Quarrie takes up temporary residence in New Orleans, Gulvin moves us effortlessly around the thoroughfares, taking snapshots of the architectural heritage, and immersing us in the culture, politics and spiritual traditions of this unique city. There’s racial tension, sexual exploitation, corruption, and the shadow of the Vietnam War. Coupled with the use of Jim Garrison- a lead figure in the investigation into the Kennedy assassination- and other cultural and social references that firmly fix this book in a period of space and time, Gulvin’s research and attention to detail raises this book above the simple tag of thriller into a richly rewarding read. In common with Tim Baker’s Fever City,  Gulvin provides little teasing references to future seismic events, that the modern reader quickly recognises, again adding another layer of interest into the story. It’s neatly done, but not to the point that it feels contrived.

Tapping firmly into my affection for the more literary, less overtly bish-bash-bosh crime thriller, and replete with period detail and sense of place, Gulvin has confidently matched the success of The Long Count for this reader. On tenterhooks to see what John Q will become entangled in next… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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Hester Young- The Shimmering Road

A woman is driving through the desert wasteland. Ahead of her, the road shimmers in the heat. She is running from a dream that is so terrifyingly real that it haunts her waking hours. The pop of a bullet, the rush of blood through water … Is her vision a premonition, a message that she and her daughter are in danger? Then Charlie learns that the mother she never knew has been murdered in Arizona. Soon she must confront her past, and untangle a web of secrets that will reveal the truths of her own nightmare…

Having enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline the debut novel by Hester Young, I was very keen to see what this author would produce next. The Shimmering Road takes us on a journey through the border states of America, exposing the grim realities of those whose lives are defined by their proximity to one of the richest nations on earth, whilst weaving a compelling tale of family, poverty, retribution and the search for emotional closure.

The character of Charlotte is the real epicentre of the book, and she confidently holds the reader’s interest throughout. As a woman from a broken background who has strived and achieved success as a journalist, Young now places her in an entirely different geographical and emotional situation on the cusp of motherhood, yet drawn back into the dark history of her family with the murders of her estranged mother and sister. Charlotte is haunted by violent visions of death, and with the news of these murders is drawn into the desperate lives of her former family, uncovering a dark and sordid tale of sex, drugs and violence. Charlotte possesses all the wisecracking toughness and doggedness of her former career, but by the same token displays credible moments of self doubt and emotional uncertainty, which draws us as readers to her. As she delves deeper into her late mother’s work in the Mexican border towns, we see her assumptions challenged, and her willingness to stop at nothing to expose the mistreatment and exploitation of the members of these communities. I loved her caustic wit, her undulating relationship with her partner Noah and the underlying emotional baggage of his previous marriage, and the very real uncertainty she displays with impending motherhood and the tentative adoption of her late sister’s child. Young cleverly uses her character as not only a conduit for the anger and emotional responses for the other characters, but also uses her as a prism for us to be exposed to the social deprivation she observes as she embarks on the mission to uncover the facts behind the murder of her family. In common with The Gates of Evangeline, as a plot device, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Charlotte’s borderline supernatural visions that draw her in deeper to the demise of her family, but appreciate that this becomes invaluable to her investigations in Mexico later in the book.

Having had a long-held interest in the socio-political aspects of Mexico, I was completely hooked by the clear and precise, though not necessarily comfortable, portrayal of life amongst the destitute inhabitants of Nogales. Here, Young draws us into a gruelling world of extreme poverty and sexual exploitation, that is uncompromising, and sadly, all too accurate. What proves interesting is how Young so clearly shows the difference in morality that enables people to survive in dire circumstances, and how some toil in the most indescribably harsh and dangerous conditions to ensure the survival of their families. Others however, through greed and lack of compassion, are more than happy to make a buck by exploiting young girls either for men’s sexual gratification, or to take part in ‘baby farming’ for rich and childless American couples. As Charlotte begins to explore this world, through the charitable work of her reformed late mother, she tends to reflect the sheer horror at these people’s lives that we experience as readers, and to mirror our emotional reactions to these desperate circumstances. This aspect of the book was intense, incredibly well-written and utterly compelling.

I thought this for the most part an extremely accomplished book, with its vivid characterisation, intense emotion, and a wonderful expose of those whose lives are in such stark contrast to our own. Undercut by moments of humour and extreme pathos, Young has produced not only an effective thriller, but a book that is packed with issues of family, poverty and revenge. Recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin Random House for the ARC)

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