June 2015 Round-up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)With the twin misfortunes of malfunctioning technology, and a particularly busy month at work, I must apologise for the sporadic content posted this month *hangs head in shame*. With only five reviews posted, I have been a bit slack, but fear not as there are some in the bank,  so to speak, to get July back on course. I have not been idle with my reading, and despite some encroachment on my crime reading with a bit of fiction/non-fiction dabbling, (just to remind myself that I am an all-round bookseller), I have read some terrific books scheduled for release in July, so watch this space. There is one in particular, that I can’t wait to share with you. Intrigued, you will be… There’s also been a quite a few non-starters, but think that says more about how fussy I’m getting than the quality of the writing!  Good news is that there are more blog tours on the horizon too, including one for fellow crime blogger Sarah Ward (Crimepieces) with the release of her debut thriller In Bitter Chill, and am also looking forward to a Q&A coming up with Simon Sylvester- author of The Visitors– in advance of the  Bloody Scotland crime festival. I’ve also had fun putting together my feature on the 5 books that got me hooked on crime, which will be appearing soon over at Crime Fiction Lover, so watch out for that too. With the feeling that finally summer has arrived, hope you all find some thrilling summer reads- July’s going to be a hot one…

Books Reviewed:

William Shaw- A Book of Scars

 Joe Ricker- Walkin’ After Midnight

Gunnar Staalesen- We Shall Inherit The Wind

Anya Lipska- A Devil Under The Skin

Tim J. Lebbon- The Hunt (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

51fHJXVRc-L_SX316 Sometimes I regret having set myself up to nominate a book of the month, as Anya Lipska and Gunnar Staalesen both provided me with two brilliant reads *round of applause*, and on any other day could have pipped the venerable Mr Shaw and A Book of Scars to the post. However, Breen and Tozer have fought off the competition once again, in the altogether darker, but no less compelling, addition to Shaw’s brilliant series. The sights and sounds of 60’s Britain, and in this case further afield, compounded by the sympathetic and engaging central protagonists, kept those pages a-turning, and emotions running high. A good cliffhanger too, so more to come. Hurrah!

 

 

 

 

Anya Lipska- A Devil Under The Skin

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Having reviewed  Where The Devil Can’t Go and  Death Can’t Take A Joke , which were both excellent, I was awaiting the latest in the series with a keen sense of anticipation, as the ballad of Kiszka and Kershaw continues…

A Devil Under The Skin opens with contrasting fortunes for Lipska’s two main protagonists, Janusz Kiszka, a hard on the outside, soft on the inside, ‘fixer’ for the London Polish community, and Natalie Kershaw, a feisty police officer, recently assigned to the armed response division of the Met. Having been linked together by the events in the previous books, their paths are fated to cross again. Kiszka is floating on air at the prospect of his on/off married lover, Kasia, finally leaving her ne’er-do-well husband Steve, and them setting up home together. Kershaw, however, finds herself temporarily suspended from the force after taking down an assailant, with the inevitable investigation and obligatory counselling that follows. But then Kasia goes missing, and there are a series of brutal East End murders connected to his lover’s disappearance, throwing Kiszka into an intensely personal investigation. Kiszka seeks the help of maverick cop, Kershaw, to unravel the reasons for Kasia’s abduction, entering the seedy underbelly of the East End, and risking everything to ensure his lover’s safe return, but at what cost?

One of the joys of Lipska’s writing is the consummate ease with which she engages the reader into the lives and actions of both Kiszka and Kershaw. It is a delight to encounter such real and vibrant characters, who despite their inherent differences in gender, race and day to day lives, form such an effective duo, throughout this book and the series to date. In her depiction of the burly and taciturn Kiszka, Lipska is given free reign to not only pepper the plot with some wonderfully fruity Polish expressions (glossary included!), but to shine a light on the contrasting aspects of his character. She carefully uses his interactions with Kasia, and his best friend, the loquacious and utterly brilliant Oskar, to reveal to us what lies beneath his seemingly hardcore exterior. Likewise, there is an interesting relationship between Kiszka and Kershaw, that seems rooted in a sense of mutual respect, despite their being on different sides of the law, and a slow burning attraction that Lipska does not overplay, but merely teases the reader with. Kershaw is also wholly believable, and there is a wonderful sense of her carrying a devil on her shoulder, that sometimes overtakes the more sensible course of action she should adopt, leading her to act more impetuously than she should, and rooting us firmly on her side. The character dynamics are a real strength of this book, and give the reader a real sense of engagement. You will find yourself surreptitiously adopting pantomime jeers at the actions of some- yes, I am referring to Kasia’s husband rat-faced Steve- or laughing along with, or fearing the fate of, Kiszka and his cohorts…

With any book being so character driven, there is always an inherent danger of the strength or impetus of the plot being slightly lost in the mix. Not so here. As we are led into some unerringly unsavoury back street goings on in Kiszka’s search for Kasia, and enveloped in the dark, violent world of the East End, the plot unfolds perfectly in terms of place and resolution. Interweaving a series of contrasting locations from rundown pubs, to grubby garages under railway arches, to the seeming respectability of a health club in the country, the action and sense of urgency moves apace. Working completely in tandem with the aforementioned characterisation, my now expanded knowledge of the Polish vernacular, and the careful interplay of lighter and darker moments, this book is pretty much perfect. Doskonały!

anya2Anya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @AnyaLipska.

GIVEAWAY! ****NOW CLOSED***

Well, well, well what has Raven got to offer you? Only a set of all three books- Where The Devil Can’t Go, Death Can’t Take A Joke, and A Devil Under The Skin– and all signed too! And it couldn’t be easier to enter to get your mitts on this brilliant trilogy.

Just leave me your contact email in the comments section (don’t worry I won’t make them visible) or tweet me @ravencrime with the tag #Lipska…. Easy peasy! The giveaway is UK only and submit your entries by midnight Wednesday July 1st. A random entry will be selected as the winner, and your prize will quickly follow. Good luck everyone!

Blog Tour- Anya Lipska- Death Can’t Take A Joke- Review/Extract

 

When masked men brutally stab one of his closest friends to death, Janusz Kiszka – fixer to East London’s Poles – must dig deep into London’s criminal underbelly to track down the killers and deliver justice.

Shadowing a beautiful Ukrainian girl he believes could solve the mystery, Kiszka soon finds himself skating dangerously close to her ruthless ‘businessman’ boyfriend. Meanwhile, his old nemesis, rookie police detective Natalie Kershaw is struggling to identify a mystery suicide, a Pole who jumped off the top of Canary Wharf Tower. But all is not what it seems…

Sparks fly as Kiszka and Kershaw’s paths cross for a second time, but they must call a truce when their separate investigations call for a journey to Poland’s wintry eastern borders…

After bursting onto the British crime fiction scene last year with her perfectly hewed debut Where The Devil Can’t Go, it is a delight to be immersed once more in Lipska’s interweaving of Polish and British culture in this thoroughly enjoyable follow-up. Oh- and watch out for those twists- they’ll get you every time….

One of the strongest features of Lipska’s debut was the relationship developed between Janusz Kiszka, the grouchy Polish PI with his unique brand of tough guy underscored by a heart of gold, and ambitious young detective Natalie Kershaw. This novel drives the development of this relationship further as once again their individual investigations overlap, with the murder of one of Kiszka’s closest friends, and a mysterious death in Docklands that proves to be no common suicide, necessitating a sojourn to Poland for our unlikely crime fighting partners. As the story develops, Lipska injects an enjoyable smattering of the more personal issues affecting the pair, with Kershaw on the cusp of moving in with her partner and  fellow police officer, Ben, and Kiszka falling under the spell with a European gangster’s mole, the mysterious femme fatale Varenka. To my great delight, outside of their own investigations and affairs of the heart, Death Can’t Take A Joke, also re-introduces Kiszka’s friend, the ebullient Oskar, who lights up every scene he appears in with his blunt charm, and less than politically correct behaviour. His interactions with the more taciturn Kiszka are once again a joy to behold, as Oskar ingratiates himself into Kiszka’s pursuit of Varenka’s lover in his own Polish Keystone Cop style. I think that even if you are coming to this book as a new reader, the strength and natural style of Lipska’s characterisation will instantly draw you into the characters and the different worlds they inhabit.

As with the first book, I was once again exceedingly impressed with the fluidity of Lipska’s writing style from the unfolding of the plot and the twists contained within, the free-flowing dialogue and the seamless insertion of the Polish vernacular. Although, there is less concentration on the strands of Polish history, so prevalent and effective in the first book, the reader is completely absorbed in this mix of two cultures, and how these cultures shape the main protagonists. Likewise, Lipska’s manipulation of pace and plot made this is a book that was extremely hard to put down, and I was grabbing any spare minute to delve back into the plot, but without losing any sense of where the story was up to, or what had happened just previously.

So as you can gather, I quite enjoyed this book. Great characters, a compelling plot, and a skilful blend of pathos and humour that not only captured the gritty side of the immigrant experience in London, but evinced all the essential components of a solid police procedural. Genialny odczytu!

Here is an excerpt from Death Can’t Take A Joke for your delectation and delight…

Prologue

If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.

Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.

I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.

And I realise the somebody is me.

One

Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.

Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.

Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.

As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.

Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.

Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.

Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.

Image of Anya LipskaAnya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit www.wherethedevilcantgo.com  and Anya writes an occasional blog on The Literary Platform . You can also follow Anya Lipska on Twitter @AnyaLipska.

Read Raven’s review of the first book in the series: Where The Devil Cant Go

(With thanks to Nic Forster at LightBrigadePR for the ARC)

Anya Lipska- Where The Devil Can’t Go

Product DetailsA naked girl has washed up on the banks of the River Thames. The only clue to her identity is a heart-shaped tattoo encircling two foreign names. Who is she – and why did she die? Life’s already complicated enough for Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ for East London’s Polish community: his priest has asked him to track down a young waitress who has gone missing; a builder on the Olympics site owes him a pile of money; and he’s falling for married Kasia, Soho’s most strait-laced stripper. But when Janusz finds himself accused of murder by an ambitious young detective, Natalie Kershaw, and pursued by drug dealing gang members, he is forced to take an unscheduled trip back to Poland to find the real killer. In the mist-wreathed streets of his hometown of Gdansk, Janusz must confront painful memories from the Soviet past if he is to uncover the conspiracy – and with it, a decades-old betrayal.

Fantasyczny! That would be my resounding verdict on this gripping debut by Anya Lipska, set both in the Polish community of East London with a interesting sojourn back to Poland itself. This is one read that definitely rises above the simple classification of police procedural in Lipska’s capable hands, and proves itself to be a multi-layered and culturally interesting reading experience as well.

I think what I liked most about the book was the unveiling of a culture and way of life that I had very little knowledge of. Unafraid to confront the less savoury aspects of Polish society, but illustrating the parallel affection and respect for Polish culture, Lipska lays bare the traditions and mindset of an immigrant community where its inherent traditions are strongly adhered to, but not at the expense of adapting to life in its adopted city. The book is peppered with references to the intrinsic qualities of Polish culture, politics and history and what I loved is that although its evident how much Lipska knows about Polish life  she didn’t fall into the writer’s trap of crowbarring in too much factual detail, or give an air of ‘showing off’ how much she knows, and personally I felt the balance between fact and fiction was perfectly weighted. From the smattering of original Polish words, to food, to religion and so on,  and a greater exploration of Poland’s tempestuous political history, I found this insight into Polish life significantly enhanced my enjoyment of the book, when juxtaposed with the central murder mystery itself.

Janusz Kiska is a powerfully constructed character, reflecting perfectly the duality of the immigrant experience being tied to the needs and demands of his community, but also acutely aware of the concessions that need to be made residing in a foreign city. When tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young Polish waitress, Janusz proves himself to be a man of great honour with a terrier-like determination to track her down. In the course of his unofficial investigation, Janusz finds that painful memories of his pre-London life are reawakened, and an ill-fated trip back to Poland immerses him in a political conspiracy amongst the highest echelons of power. Janusz is an extremely empathetic character despite his gruffness,  and a man that you would absolutely want on your side in times of trouble.  I liked the way that Lipska used the character of the jocular and verbose Oskar as a foil to the natural solemnity of Janusz’s demeanour. Oskar is hilarious, foul-mouthed and a total liability, lifting the whole mood of the book whenever he and Janusz cross paths and I enjoyed their robust verbal sparring which proved an indicator of the depth of the friendship. Likewise, Janusz also comes to the attention of an eager young detective, Natalie Kershaw, investigating the death of a young girl. Kershaw again is a well-realised character, with a perfect balance of intuition and naivety, desperate to prove her credentials as a police officer, but at times subject to impulsive and dangerous actions that annoy her superiors. At first she has an inherent distrust of the charming Janusz, with the development of their relationship over the course of the book being nicely handled, and more importantly has an air of credibility, reflecting the differing constraints of their roles as civilian/police. I liked the way that Kershaw is subject to the demands of proving herself as a female detective in an extremely male-dominated workplace, and the occasional exposure of chinks in her armour exposing her tendency to doubt herself in matters of the personal.

So absolutely no qualms from me about recommending this as a good read with a perfectly weighted balance between fact and fiction, raising the stakes of this debut police procedural. You will not be disappointed…

Image of Anya LipskaAnya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit www.wherethedevilcantgo.com  and Anya writes an occasional blog on The Literary Platform:  www.theliteraryplatform.com/tag/anya-lipska You can also follow Anya Lipska on Twitter @AnyaLipska

(With thanks to Anya and HarperCollins for the ARC)