April 2015 Round- Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Need to take a breath after the cut and thrust of a busy month of reading, reviewing, and blog touring! Started the month with Joanna Briscoe talking about her new book Touched, a quick stop on the blog tour for Graeme Cameron’s quirky crime thriller Normal, an extract from Liz Nugent’s Highsmith inspired debut Unravelling Oliver, a cover reveal for Tim J. Lebbon’s The Hunt, a birthday bash for Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and a guest post by M. J. Carter celebrating the release of The Infidel Stain. All accompanied by a great month’s reading, which has given me an incredibly tricky dilemma for nominating my book of the month. May is sure to be an equally busy month as there are four blog tours on the horizon, my annual outing to the brilliant CrimeFest event in Bristol, and a teetering stack of review copies in need of some serious reading. Can’t wait…

Books read and reviewed:

Graeme Cameron- Normal

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

Thomas Mogford- Sleeping Dogs (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Bernard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

Bill Daly- Double Mortice (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

Tod Goldberg- Gangsterland

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

Dolores Redondo-The Invisible Guardian

Mark Henshaw-The Snow Kimono

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

berEven stevens, level pegging and totally impossible to decide between aredeath Bernhard Aichner’s gritty and spare Woman of the Dead, alongside Anna Jacquiery’s Death In The Rainy Season, an evocative and emotional follow up to her accomplished debut The Lying Down Room. Two very different reading experiences for different reasons, but both completely compelling and thought provoking. European crime fiction at its finest…

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

deathAlways a tense time to be reviewing a second book from an author whose debut you absolutely loved. Anna Jaquiery’s haunting debut The Lying Down Room was a joy to read and review, so much so that it was second in my Top Read of 2014, and is one of the books that I most consistently recommend in my day job as a bookseller, when people are looking for a new slice of Euro crime.

Death In The Rainy Season is the next book to feature Jaquiery’s charismatic and thoughtful French detective Commandant Serge Morel, and marks a change of location from France to the hot climes and unique atmosphere of Cambodia, where the modern socio-economic problems of this country are counterbalanced by its spiritual core. Morel is taking a well-earned sojourn after the vents of the previous book, a welcome break from caring for his father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and a chance to further come to terms with a failed relationship. He finds himself unwillingly drawn into a local murder investigation, when the son of a prominent French minister is found murdered in a down-at-heel hotel room. The victim, Hugo Quercy, oversees a local NGO providing charitable support to street children, and is generally a well-regarded figure in the local community, and  respected by his colleagues. However, as Morel under pressure from his boss back home, joins forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit, also enlisting the help of grumpy local medical examiner Sok Pran, it quickly becomes clear that Quercy is not quite the man everyone had perceived him to be, and that the conspiracy behind his murder reaches further than Morel and his cohorts could possibly imagine…

Perhaps my first point of reference for my enjoyment of this book should be an appreciation of Jaquiery’s style of writing. Throughout the novel the sense of serene simplicity that her narrative style evokes in the reader is beautifully evinced not only in her evocation of location, but also through the character of her police protagonist Morel. The multi-dimensional facets of the Cambodian setting are sublimely juxtaposed, as Jaquiery carefully balances not only the deep spiritual core of this intriguing country, with the social ramifications of political corruption and misguided economic policies on the Cambodian populace. Where some authors blatantly crowbar in the depth of their research at the expense of the needs of the plot to keep the reader’s interest, Jaquiery intertwines her social detail simply, adding to the richness of the strong central plot, and I learnt much from the quality of this research.

As Morel becomes immersed in the pulsating and bustling atmosphere of Phnom Penh after his initial calm retreat in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional way of life, the sights and sounds of the city form a vital backdrop to his investigation. Likewise, the change of location impacts on Morel himself, as he wanders deeper into the underbelly of the city, and the pressure of the investigation and the demands of home, begin to unsettle his formerly peaceful equilibrium. He is a mesmerising character throughout and one cannot fail to find him empathetic, morally strong and entirely likeable. As he deals with the wife, friends, and colleagues of the victim, whilst slowly establishing a close working relationship with his Cambodian counterpart Sarit, the strength of his character always stands front and centre. Sarit too was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book, as his initial reticence and secrecy at the beginning of the investigation is slowly broken down by his interaction with Morel, and brings instead a sense of understanding and respect between the two men. We share in their frustrations as the investigation progresses, and I loved the slow reveal of the various dynamics of Quercy’s relationships with the possible suspects, and the gradual unfolding of Quercy’s true character as the man behind the myth.

I really cannot fault Death In The Rainy Season in any way, as it contains so many aspects of human interest, emotion, and intrigue along the way. Not only is it a intelligent and compelling tale of murder and corruption, but the quality of the writing and the evocation of its setting and characters make it a rich, multi-layered and totally rewarding piece of crime fiction. I am singularly impressed once again, as I was with The Lying Down Room, and have no hesitation in wholly recommending this one too.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Raven’s Round Up 2014 and Top 5 Books of the Year

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another brilliant year of books and blogging, so thanks to all my visitors, the support of my fellow bloggers and the wonderful publicists who provided me with a veritable smorgasbord of reading delights throughout the year! 2014 proved a bumper year of reading with 152 books read over the last twelve months with 70 reviews posted here, and 24 at CrimeFictionLover.com. I did have 30+ books that failed to overcome the Raven’s harsh 40 page rule (if you haven’t grabbed me by then all hope is lost!), and the year comprised of both crime fiction and fiction in a ratio of 3:1.

2015 promises further great reads, and I can see the focus of my blog shifting more towards debut authors, and more crime in translation. I will also be participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare Challenge  from January to March in a vain attempt to conquer the summit of my mountainous To-Be-Read pile! There are some crackers lurking in there as yet unread…

So here for your delectation and delight are the Raven’s Top 5 reads of the year. A Happy New Year to you and hope 2015 is full of great new reads for you all!

 

spring5. Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents… With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours…

 

few4. Nadia Dalbuono- The Few

A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that is embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. As the possible links between the cases are revealed, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable, that will appeal to all fans of the more hardboiled Italian crime fiction. Impressive indeed, and with such a mesmeric central character, I see more great things to come from this author…

 

 

 mm3. Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

With my ardent admiration of Mackay’s previous Glasgow Trilogy, (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter; How A Gunman Says Goodbye and The Sudden Arrival of Violence)  this standalone proved the equal of its predecessors in every way.  This crime novel put me in mind of a kind of twisted Bildungsroman, as it is heavily centred on the adverse fortunes of two young men, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass. Both are paving their way in the seedy and violent world of Glasgow’s criminal community- a hotbed of violence and criminal rivalries. Completely unflinching in its depiction of violence the book never shies away from the stark realities of life within the criminal fraternity. Oddly dispassionate, with a spare and staccato prose style, Mackay once again illustrates his original and refreshingly different take on the crime genre. Not a comfortable read, and one that will cleverly play with your perceptions of, and attitudes to, the characters within its pages which, I for one, find a much more rewarding reading experience. An excellent read…

 

the-lying-down-room2. Anna Jaquiery- The Lying Down Room

Having talked interminably about how truly brilliant this book is since June, its inclusion in my Top 5 was never in doubt. This is a thought provoking and atmospheric debut, set in France, which opens with the brutal murder of an elderly woman to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem. The reasons for this murder, and the choice of victim, baffle Chief Inspector Serge Morel and his team. As more killings occur, Morel makes a connection between the victims and two individuals who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. His enquiries are taken into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. It’s a superbly multi-faceted thriller that plays with your emotions, and preys on the mind long after reading…

 

getImage21. Pierre Lemaitre- Irene

After the pure pleasure derived from Lemaitre’s UK debut Alex (the second in the Verhoeven series) , I was relishing the release of this, the first book. Quite simply this book is terrific, in the first instance with the superb characterisation of the central detective protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the diminutive but dogged police officer on the trail of an insidious serial killer, dubbed The Novelist.  I loved the balance that Lemaitre achieves between the stalwart doggedness of this character, the natural sarcasm and humour that arises from his character, and the utter fear that overtakes him as all that he holds most dear is threatened by this barbaric killer. Likewise, I was overawed by Lemaitre’s humility and reverential treatment towards other seminal works of fiction within the crime genre. It is quickly revealed that the killer- The Novelist- is recreating scenes from cult crime novels (be warned- some are exceptionally violent), and throughout the course of the book, Lemaitre also pays homage to some of the finest crime novels produced, with a reverential tone and an altruistic attitude to writers that is rarely encountered. And there’s a twist- brilliant in its execution- that knocked me sideways. Lemaitre’s  control of the narrative, plotting and characterisation is beautiful throughout , and with his more literary writing style, produces a reading experience that truly engages the reader and immerses you fully in the trials and tribulations of his protagonists. Quite simply- perfect…

 

Raven’s Crime Debut of 2014

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, what an incredibly close-fought competition this was and having read so many debuts this year, a mammoth task to select one clear winner! So, in the spirit of fairness, I will give some very honourable mentions to the following before revealing my winner…

 

neelyNeely Tucker- Ways of The Dead: I had a sneaky eye on this one from the minute it arrived into the bookstore where I work, due to the dual temptations of a cover recommendation from Michael Connelly, and a Washington setting promising echoes of George Pelecanos. To be honest, I could not have been any more delighted with this book, as it not only delivered in spades from this starting point, but also imbued all the social critique and wry humour of The Wire too. I know. You’re intrigued now too aren’t you?

Read my review  here

fewNadia Dalbuono- The Few: A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut that I cannot recommend highly enough. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. With the possible links between both cases revealing themselves to our suave detective, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable.

Read my review here

springCilla & Rolf Bjorlind- Spring Tide: Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. An assured Scandinavian debut that kept me completely gripped…

Read my review  here

 

And the winner is…

 

the-lying-down-roomThe Lying- Down Room is an astounding, emotive and utterly gripping French debut thriller by Anna Jaquiery that it was my great pleasure to review in June. I didn’t think that there was anyone to challenge Pierre Lemaitre (author of Alex and Irene)  in my affections as a French crime author par excellence but delighted to discover that there is. I implore you to discover this one too!

The Lying Down Room introduces us to the charismatic and dedicated Chief Inspector Serge Morel. The story opens in Paris in the stifling August heat, and Morel is called to examine a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been brutally murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, and her body grotesquely displayed. The reasons for this murder and the choice of victim baffle Morel and his team.

But our detective has problems of his own. His father, such an influence in his life, is descending into the grip of senility. If that weren’t enough for him, Morel is having an affair with a friend’s wife, but has become unsettled by the reappearance of his lost love, Mathilde. Like so many other fictional detectives, Morel has a quirky interest to relieve his angst and focus his mind. In his case it’s origami.

As the investigation continues, and further murders happen, his fingers fold faster and faster. He makes a connection between the victims and two individuals – a middle aged man and a young boy – who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. Soon his inquiries take him back into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. A tragic story begins to unfold.

In terms of characterisation, The Lying Down Room contains all the key ingredients needed to herald the arrival of a new detective in the crime fiction genre. Morel is a very carefully constructed and wonderfully realised character. He combines natural charm and humour that immediately resonate. His interactions in both his professional and personal lives allow the many different facets of his character to shine – like the focused and dedicated police officer, and the man thwarted in love. There are some intensely moving scenes between him and his father. This relationship is filled with pathos, adding poignancy to Morel’s situation. Morel is a man of contradictions with his character being all the more emotionally interesting for it, and consequently the scene is set for further exploration of this detective.

The narrative is particularly impressive, with nice, clean delineation between the various strands that come into play within the plot. Not only is the central murder storyline well paced and realistic, but as Jaquiery expands the story to encompass the personal narratives of the perpetrators themselves, she weaves together various locations and timelines. What emerges is an incredibly human tale of lost opportunities and wicked twists of fate that can put an individual on the path towards murder. Cleverly, this aspect of the novel invokes natural sympathy in the reader as we bear witness to the incredibly sad events in our antagonists’ pasts, evinced in the stark portrayal of life in Soviet Russia, and the mental and physical wounds this produces. At times, Jaquiery handles the sheer emotional heartache of some of these scenes more in the vein of literary fiction rather than a genre crime novel.

There is little to fault in this debut, combining as it does a superbly plotted and emotive criminal investigation with the introduction of a police protagonist more than imbued with enough charm and interest to carry the weight of a series. Anna Jaquiery demonstrates all the natural flair and quirks of French crime fiction that fans of Vargas, Lemaitre, et al, will relish reading. More than proud to proclaim this as my debut of the year.