Raven’s Yearly Round Up and Top 10 Crime Reads 2017

And so another year of ups, downs, swings and roundabouts draws to a close and, quite frankly, I’m rather glad to see the back of this one. Having had a whole barrelful of stress for most of the year, I’m now basking in a positive glow, and with the clear intention of working round the demands and frankly stupid hours of working and travelling, hoping that I can get my reading and reviewing back on track.

I have not yet experienced the life changing magic of getting myself organised,  but plans are afoot, and I march bravely into 2018 with a Dodo Pad, oodles of caffeine, leftover Christmas chocolate, some great forthcoming books, and a renewed sense of purpose.

Watch this space…

THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS

As the events in the world at large have been as unerringly depressing as 2016, I’m sure many of us crime readers grabbed a book, shut out the world, and lost ourselves temporarily in slaughter, cruelty, and bloodshed- hmmm- art or life?! Anyway, this year has been a complete cracker, hence the need to extend my regular Top 5 of the year to a Top 10, and which could easily have  been a significantly higher number.

Once again, I have been taken on a voyage of discovery from continent to continent, to the past, to the present, to the future, to different cultures, but always witnessing people with the darkest intentions, and the sometimes noble, sometimes dark individuals who pursue them. And a thoroughly enjoyable year it was too, replete with splendid debuts, superb follow ups, and some surprising new discoveries.

And remember this little nugget from last year’s round-up…

“Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore. Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.”

I only read one, and with some glee, I can announce J. P. Delaney- The Girl Before  was legitimately the worst book that I have read this year. With another slew of these girl/woman/wife/mother/sister/auntie books hitting us in 2018, I’m going to stick with this resolution! 

So with no further ado these are the chosen 10 books that have delighted and thrilled me the most. Just click on the jacket covers to go to the reviews, and don’t forget to add them to your wish-lists…

10.

9.

8.

 

7. 

6. 

5. 

4. 

3.

2.

 

1.

When I read this in the late summer I said it could quite possibly be my book of the year- and so it is.

It was just a completely wonderful emotional rollercoaster,  suffused with historical detail, and a totally authentic evocation of place. It is a hugely complex and challenging novel, addressing themes of war, religion, revenge, human connection and emotional strife.”

 

AND FINALLY- SOME SPECIAL THANKS…

Just wanted to end my round up to say thank you to my fellow bloggers, publishers and publicity assistants for feeding my reading habit, and being as supportive as ever in sharing my reviews as sporadic as they have been this year. Also for significantly increasing my wish-list, and my TBR mountain.  You’re the best.

Thanks also to the witty and good looking (!) band of authors who quite selflessly share my reviews of others, and have sent me some very heartening messages, and hilarious tweets this year…

Biggest thanks of all to Mari Hannah, who was a total rock at a time when I needed it the most, and although our cunning plans did not come to fruition, a big thank you for all your efforts- much appreciated!

I shall escape to the wild wastelands of the North. Be afraid… Ha!

Happy New Year everybody! 

 

Getting That Blogging Groove Back (2)…Myers, Hirvonen, Tuomainen, Jonasson, and Sigurdardottir.

Right, eyes down and here we go again with the next instalment of my sorely neglected reviews. These are short, sweet, and to the point, as my propensity for rambling will return in the fullness of time, I’m sure…

 

First up one of my favourite deliciously dark authors, Benjamin Myers with These Darkening Days. Taking as his inspiration a real life crime case from the north of England, Myers once again lures us into the deepest disturbing psychological realms of his characters, delivering more than a few grim sucker punches along the way. A series of women become victims of a vicious assailant, plunging this close knit community into a miasma of suspicion and accusation.

I absolutely loved it. 

From the cynical world weariness of embittered reporter Roddy Mace, fighting off the temptation of the demon drink, to the reappearance of fastidious, OCD suffering detective James Brindle, and a cornucopia of dislikeable victims and suspects along the way, Myers (as in previous books) draws us in, shakes us up, and then spits us out the other end slightly soiled by our reading experience, but guiltily satisfied by it too. As always the book is suffused by Myers strange mix of sometimes lyrical, oftentimes unerringly brutal imagery of the natural environment against which his characters roil, fight, and will to survive.

Perfection. 

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Next we go the quirky, dry-humoured latest offering from Finnish author, Antti Tuomainen in the shape of The Man Who Died, a marked diversion in style from the intensely emotive, and lyrically profound psychological novels that we normally associate him with. Other reviewers have drawn comparison with Fargo, but I was strongly propelled back in time to the devilish Tales of The Unexpected by Roald Dahl, coupled with the brilliantly black humour of one of my favourite books ever, ever, Beyond The Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen. Tuomainen’s unlikely protagonist, Jaako Kaunismaa takes us on a surreal journey in rural Finland of tracking down his murderer whilst fighting the clutches of death by poisoning, to the sheer cutthroat mentality of competing mushroom harvesting businesses, instances of potential death by samurai sword, and exceptionally scheming women.

It’s all a bit mad, but in a good way, and with Tuomainen’s natural propensity to draw his reader into his exploration of the essence of humanity, just from a slightly different angle, his lightness of touch, and manipulation of absurdity work a treat. Who could possibly know that the world of mushroom growing was such a hotbed of evil intentions? Highly recommended. 

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Staying with Finland, I can confidently say that When Time Runs Out by Elina Hirvonen is champing for a place in my top five of the year. I was absolutely mesmerised by the pure intensity and sensitivity of one family’s turmoil in the wake of a mass shooting. With shades of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Hirvonen meticulously and stealthily portrays the increasing emotional dislocation of a family, over a period of time, to the devastating effects of this inability for them to communicate and connect on an emotional level.

Hirvonen broadens the sweep of the book even further with incisive comment on global human crises, and the ravaging of the environment which really engaged me and enraged me, but was wonderfully unflinching and truthful in its depiction. I am already recommending this left, right and centre, thrilled by its power as both a clear sighted narrative of familial breakdown, but also of the larger issues it encompasses in a comparatively condensed read.

Superb.   

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We’ll go for an Icelandic head-to-head now with Ragnar Jonasson- Whiteout and Lilja Sigurdardottir- Snare, the former being a continuation of the very successful series featuring policeman Ari Thor, and the latter the starting point of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy.

Ragnar Jonasson’s quality as a crime writer need no further commendation from me, but truthfully, I would say that this has been my favourite of the series to date. I found the writing wonderfully understated, and the whole book exuded an air of English Gothic fiction, with women hurling themselves from cliffs, and the sinister backdrop of the all-seeing lighthouse, compounded by the revelations of very dark pernicious behaviour indeed. I found it tense, involving, and as usual there was a great harmony between the intensity of the criminal investigation itself, and the playing out of Ari’s domestic situation, and his eagerness to progress in his police career.   

Snare proved a curious mix for me, as my overriding feeling that this was almost two books running parallel to each other, with a gripping story of drug running, running alongside a slower Borgen-esque feeling of financial impropriety, and double dealing. I’ll be honest, and say that I didn’t take to the latter thread as much as the former, finding it a little turgid against the relative excitement of the drug smuggling narrative, and although I was slightly questioning of the veracity of single parent Sonja’s involvement in drug running, this was certainly the more compelling of the two storylines, and led to some real heart in the mouth moments. I also enjoyed playing witness to the touchingly sentimental ‘other’ life of customs officer Bragi, whose game of cat and mouse with Sonja was another enjoyable strand of the book. However, the emotional handwringing of Sonja’s romantic involvement with Agla, the bank executive under investigation, became increasingly tiresome, but cleverly the seemingly anodyne ending of the book must signpost further developments for the second part of the trilogy. A little unsure, but curious, and intrigued to see how the story progresses in the next instalment.  

 

(With thanks to Moth Publishing for These Darkening Days, Bonnier Zaffre for When Time Runs Out, and Orenda Books for The Man Who Died, Whiteout and Snare

 

September 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Apologies again for being so off the pace in providing fulsome reviews during September,  due to a period of personal and professional  upheaval in  Raven’s world. Thanks to all of you who’ve sent lovely messages of support- much appreciated. Things are still a little up in the air, but having recovered my reading mojo in the last couple of weeks, I am going to use this post to catch up with everything and hopefully come bouncing back into October. So along with these:

William Ryan- The Constant Soldier

Sarah Ward- A Deadly Thaw

Thomas Mullen- Darktown

here are just a few more of my September reads that you really must seek out for your teetering reading piles. Hope that these short and sweet reviews pique your interest… 

51v0u7ucipl-_ac_us160_I reviewed Matthew Frank‘s compelling debut If I Should Die last year featuring ex-soldier turned trainee police detective, Joseph Stark, and was absolutely enthralled. Between The Crosses sees Stark having cut his teeth, so to speak, and is now a fully badged DC, with a reprisal of police characters from the first book, including the wonderfully feisty DS Fran Millhaven. Again, Frank provides the perfect balance between a gritty and tense police procedural, with a testing investigation for Stark and his cohorts, and his faultless characterisation of Stark himself, haunted physically and emotionally by his past experiences, and the travails and triumphs of his new career. Frank really digs into the day-to-day frustrations of the rank and file in this one, and I strongly felt that the aspects of the book revolving around Stark and Millhaven’s personal and professional tribulations really held the weight of interest in the book, with the actual investigation feeling a little drawn out this time around. Frank excels in his characterisation throughout, and as the parameters of both main protagonists subtly shift at the close of this book, I am looking forward to see how this plays out in the dynamics of the next in the series. Highly recommended.

41a-DHkeVXLI bought this deliciously dark and disturbing read blind, and what a revelation Benjamin MyersTurning Blue turned out to be. A glorious mash up of the staccato darkness of David Peace, fused with Ross Raisin, this book was not only utterly original, but infused with a beautifully realised balance of naturalistic imagery, and a totally compelling tale of sordid murder in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Drawing on the theme of the infamous Yew Tree investigations, Myers has conjured up a cast of emotionally damaged characters across the spectrum, with blood chilling moments of revelation, that will haunt your dreams. His use of the brooding bleakness of his Dales’ setting works perfectly in tandem with the very real and flawed characters that he presents to us, shifting our empathy back and forth with each twist and turn in his perfectly plotted drama. Although, I felt that the plot was just a little too extended towards the final third of the plot, at odds with the brevity and sharpness of his writing, I would still highly recommend this to the more stout hearted amongst you. I felt grubby after reading it, but in a wickedly enjoyable way. Excellent.

waking-lions-front-647x1024Next up is Waking Lions from Ayelet Gundar-Goshen billed as a novel with a psychological edge set in Israel centring on the fall out of a hit and run incident, where a privileged doctor, Dr Eitan Green, kills an Eritrean migrant. The book then revolves around his intense involvement, and developing relationship with, the migrant’s widow, and his entry into a world of the desperate and the poor, as she blackmails him into providing medical assistance for the unseen migrant community. Indeed, Gundar-Goshen’s portrayal of Sirkit, and the revelations of her migrant experience were incredibly vivid and compelling, and added a huge emotional weight and interest to the book.  As much as I liked the central premise for the book, I did find it incredibly slow moving, and truth be told, felt no particular empathy for the flaky Dr Green, even when the scales fall from his eyes, and he starts to lose some of his prejudices. His wife, who just happens to be a detective investigating the hit and run, bears little plausible resemblance to a real police officer, and was frankly quite annoying, so this was a real mixed bag for me.

murderabilia-9781471156595_hrBack onto familiar ground with Murderabilia by Craig Robertson, and regular visitors will know I’m an ardent fan of Robertson’s series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police scene of crime photographer, Tony Winter. Finding herself house-bound and therefore bored witless, Narey becomes immersed in the dark and disturbing world of the Dark Net, following a truly grim murder at the opening of the book (fabulously done), which she is anxious to investigate from the confines of her bedroom, and its link to a cold case which her father worked on many years previously. Focussing on the trade in macabre items associated with murder scenes, Narey, and us as readers, are introduced into a world, that its hard to fathom exists, beneath the everyday familiarity of the internet. This book felt slightly different in style to previous books, in terms of the emotional tension that Robertson layers in to the plot, as the darkness of the central storyline,  the emotional turbulence of Narey’s confinement, and other traumatising events (that I won’t reveal here) all come to a nerve shredding conclusion. Packed full of what no doubt was quite disturbing research, Murderabilia also effectively develops the enforced changes in Narey and Winter’s relationship, but also sees another regular character disappear in distressing circumstances. A one sitting read, and another winner from Robertson. Recommended.

tall-oaks

I absolutely loved this debut- Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker– and from the rather humdrum synopsis on the back of the book, I have an awful feeling that the casual browser may miss out on a rare treat. Missing child from small American town, and seemingly cardboard cut out characters, did not really sell it to me from the jacket alone. But what a delight this was, revealing itself as a brilliant cross between Twin Peaks and Fargo, and with some beautifully paced reveals that definitely caught this reader on the hop. It made me smile wryly, laugh out loud and gasp in appreciation throughout, with a colourful cast of characters that Whitaker introduces and pivots between seamlessly, slowly drawing us into the connections between them. There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommended.

honourableAnd finally, An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich, a Cold War thriller set in 1950’s Washington, where a disillusioned CIA officer embarks on his final case tracking down a notorious American/Soviet double agent. Sharing the name George Mueller, with my favourite character in Boardwalk Empire played by the wonderfully hangdog Nelson Van Alden, was a distraction from the start, and to be honest, although I fair whipped through this one, I didn’t really feel that it brought anything new to a well-trod genre. I did enjoy the wonderfully dispassionate writing style and clipped dialogue that Vidich employs, but found the reveals a little obvious, and less well-disguised than the clever narrative tricks of say John Le Carre, the master of the Cold War thriller. An interesting distraction but not quite satisfying enough.

Raven’s Book(s) of The Month:

510-vjvl8ql      tall-oaks     constant

After much rumination, I will go for a three-way split this month between Thomas Mullen‘s Darktown, set in 1940’s Atlanta, with its brooding racial tension, the sheer entertainment factor of Chris Whitaker‘s Tall Oaks and William Ryan‘s elegiac and beautifully written wartime drama The Constant Soldier. A round of applause chaps- well deserved.

 

(With thanks to Faber, Simon & Schuster, Mantle, Pushkin Press, Twenty7, Penguin, Little Brown and No Exit Press for the ARCs)