A. D. Flint- The Burning Hill

On the run from unjust court-martial back home, a young British soldier gets robbed and shot on Copacabana Beach. The bullet in Jake’s head should have been fatal, but miraculously, it saves him from a previously undetected condition that soon would have killed him. Jake doesn’t believe in fate, nor does he feel he owes anything to anybody, but he does hate injustice. Vilson, the teenage favela kid who fired the bullet, is a victim of injustice, in a corner with a corrupt cop and a sadistic drug-lord after his blood. With a turf war erupting in Vilson’s favela, fear stalks every narrow alleyway, and anyone dragged up to the notorious Burning Hill had better hope they’re dead before they get there. But it’s not just fear that shapes life in the favela, belief is also powerful, able to both save and destroy…

I seem to have acquired quite a taste for Brazilian set fiction of late, so The Burning Hill looked to be a bit of a tempter from the outset. With a screwed up central protagonist, razor sharp observations of life among the dispossessed, and positively throbbing with the rhythm and atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro, what more could you ask for?

Based on the author’s experience of living in Brazil. I think it’s fair to say that this location has obviously made a real impact, in terms of what has been observed and remembered from their time there. The book oozes authenticity from its opening pages depicting the woeful living conditions and threats from authority endured by the street kids, going on to the shockingly misjudged attempted robbery of a western tourist by two young boys from the favela. Flint clearly demarcates the problems experienced by the kids in their dealings with the less than moral representatives of law enforcement, and the dangerous forces at work within the favela itself at the hands of unscrupulous gang members. Little wonder that these kids dream of a better life, far away from a life of destitution, thievery and violence.

Throughout the book Flint uses the character of Vilson, a young boy abandoned by his mother, and having recently lost his brother, to represent life on the margins of society, and this works incredibly well as we bear witness to his anger, frustration and his futile attempts to overcome the feeling of abandonment. Through his turbulent interactions with Jake (the aforementioned tourist) and a female lawyer Eliane, the layers of Vilson’s character are exposed in dramatically different ways, revealing a tough street kid persona underpinned by all the vulnerability that his life experience has caused. Equally, by aligning his character with that of Jake, a disillusioned British ex-soldier with more than enough demons of his own, these two characters are a real tour de force and drive the narrative throughout. As much as Vilson and Jake are united by incurring the wrath of an utterly corrupt police officer, their relationship is defined by suspicion and misguided communication, where even the grandest of gestures inevitably go wrong, but even still serves to make their relationship compelling. This is the real hook of the book, as you become more and more inveigled in their trials and tribulations.

Flint is an incredibly visual writer, be it his depiction of the slums, the noise and hudy gurdy of vibrant Rio, the rural outreaches of the farming community, a truly terrifying rodeo or a visceral and tense boxing match. His pace of writing and attention to detail exerts a steely grip on the reader, and you genuinely find your reading speed increasing in the interludes of pure tension and dramatic action. Most importantly though he manages to keep the reader on the backfoot all the time, as the story took several unexpected and violent turns along the way, ramping up the tension and putting his central characters under extreme pressure, and by extension the reader too, which is all to the good. I enjoyed this book immensely with its multi-faceted characters both the good guys and the bad guys, and those that veer perilously between the two. Flint unerringly gets right beneath the skin of his characters. The book has a nervous energy, that increases the sense of danger and threat throughout, and with the vibrant and intuitive depiction of life in this most colourful of cities, that at its heart has a huge and unbridgeable chasm between the haves and have-nots, there is a real raw feeling of truth about the book too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Unbound for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Joe Thomas- Gringa

São Paulo, 2013: a city at an extraordinary moment in its history. Mario Leme, a detective in the civil police, has developed a friendship with a young English investigative journalist, Ellie. When she goes to meet a contact in central São Paulo, Mario observes from the street as she walks into a building and doesn’t come out. Inside, he discovers the dead body of a young man he doesn’t recognise, and Ellie s phone lying on the floor.

Set during five days in the redevelopment of the centre of São Paulo in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Ellie’s disappearance links characters at every level of the social hierarchy, from the drug dealers and civil and military police to the political class she witnesses, and charts the feral brutality of urban breakdown…

This time last year I had the pleasure of reading  Paradise City , Joe Thomas’ gritty debut, introducing us to mercurial Brazilian detective Mario Leme. Being both an intuitive and compelling read, I was more than keen to see what lay in store for Leme, and to become even further immersed in the impoverished locale of downtown Sao Paulo…

One of the stand out features of Thomas’ debut was his ardent attention to the social, financial and political spheres of Brazilian society, and by using the backdrop of the urban regeneration needed to host the World Cup, Gringa puts the corruption and neighbourhood cleansing into sharp focus. As happened in South Africa, the book particularly focuses on the destruction of a shanty area of Sao Paulo, dubbed Cracolandia, where developers, legal personnel, and politicians, run roughshod over the lives of the less fortunate, to achieve their vision. With his innate feel for the hardboiled, pared down style of prose, Thomas consistently unsettles the reader with his depiction of these greedy, and not entirely legal practices, and those who suffer in its aftermath. Fortunately though, this is counterbalanced by a series of murders connected to those involved in the area’s development, and the disappearance of a young female journalist eager for a scoop. I found the level of factual detail intertwined with the main ‘thriller’ plot absolutely fascinating, and felt my hackles rise on more than one occasion at the social injustice that the book centres on. The level of corrupt nefarious practices that Gringa exposes was a real eye opener, and I appreciated the way that Thomas consistently exposes the naked truth behind the power and oppression of the more vulnerable in society. It was both powerful and thought provoking.

The weighty social issues of the book, are more than balanced with the superb characterisation, which I felt was even more assured than in the first book. Detective Mario Leme in particular has achieved a certain level of settled equilibrium in his personal life, after the emotional trauma of losing his wife, but in the style of all good crime thrillers, his new investigation threatens to turn this swiftly on its head. I like the slightly morose air of Leme, who is one hundred percent one of the good guys,  and his jocular partner Lisboa, who are set apart from their less reputable police colleagues. Leme reminds me strongly of a kind of world weary American detective, and his self questioning, but keen sense of morality,  reflects this further. There is a consistent attention to all of Thomas’ characters, from bright eyed but singularly naïve journalist Ellie, to Fernando and Leandro, two eager young chaps embroiled in  illegal practices relating to the slum clearance, and a host of other ne’er-do-wells who reek of violence and corruption.

With reference again to Thomas’s writing style, Leme’s and Lisboa’s interactions, along with all the dialogue in the book is sharp, snappy, and has a rhythmical fluidity consist with the sound and cadence of the Brazilian tongue. The book is punctuated with the Brazilian vernacular, some in the glossary at the back, some not, but with the flow of the prose you begin to take the meanings on by osmosis, and I have learnt some very choice Brazilian expressions of disgust or outrage that I’m sure will be valuable at some point! Joking aside though, I thought the structure and language of the book was perfect, and I loved those small episodic interludes of whipcracker paced streams of consciousness that punctuate the book. A great read for those who like their crime on the darker side of the tracks, and dare I say it, even better than the debut. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

February 2017 Round-Up + more… and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)After a little hiatus in January, my reading rate has improved significantly, but alas, I am still a little off the pace in terms of reviewing. So, I’m going to cheat a wee bit, and incorporate a few additional reviews into this round-up, before I storm into March where five reviews await already, as there are some cracking releases coming up.

Happy reading!

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

Jonelle Patrick- Painted Doll   Claire Macleary- Cross Purpose  Andrew Taylor- The Ashes of London  Kate Rhodes- Crossbones Yard  J.P. Delaney- The Girl Before  Rory Clements- Corpus   Su Bristow- Sealskin  SJI Holliday- The Damselfly  Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

I was mightily impressed by Paradise City by Joe Thomas, which takes us deep into the throbbing heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the violent favela known as Paraisopolis. Low ranking detective Mario Leme drives through this favela everyday, as this is where his wife, Renata, a lawyer, was gunned down a year previously, the victim of a bala perdida– a stray bullet. One morning at the same spot, Leme witnesses a car careering out of control, but sees that the driver has several bullet wounds, although the incident is written off as a traffic accident. Leme finds himself embroiled in a tale of murder and corruption at the highest level, which puts him at odds with his superiors, and onto a dangerous path. What I liked most about this book was the colour and exuberance that Thomas injects into his vivid realisation of the pulsating favela, albeit suffused by violence. There is a wealth of local vernacular sprinkled throughout the book, and for those, like myself, who know little of Brazil, Thomas paints a broad and wide reaching picture of the social and financial chasm that exists between the different stratum of San Paulo society. Also, Leme, is an incredibly empathetic character, regularly overcome and clouded by grief by the loss of his wife, but also portrayed throughout as a decent man, a fair detective, and more importantly feeling his way back to normality, and the recovery of a life torn apart. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

Having made a new year’s resolution to myself that I would endeavour to read more historical crime fiction, I was made aware of E. S. Thomson and Beloved Poison by one of my bookselling colleagues, who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the crumbling St Saviour’s Infirmary in the 1850’s the story centres on Jem Flockhart, an apothecary’s daughter who disguises herself as a man to practice her medicinal craft. It is a world of stinking wards, visceral medical procedures, and professional rivalries. As the demolition of the hospital looms, six tiny coffins are discovered, which provide a strong link to Jem’s past, and as a series of murders ensue, she finds herself in terrible danger. I thought this was a terrifically bawdy romp, with a host of beautifully named characters that Dickens would be proud of. Thomson’s precise and graphic description of the disinterment of bodies from the graveyard attached to the hospital,  the medical practices of this time, and the detail of the more natural cures available to apothecaries of the era, were rich and lively in a darkly delicious way, bringing a colour and vivacity to the whole affair. This worked perfectly in tandem with a well plotted and sporadically shocking plot, as Thomson so adroitly immerses us in a tale of murder, sex and jealousy peopled by blundering doctors, whores, sharp tongued servants, and the wonderfully empathetic Jem herself, disguised as a man with the necessary toughness of demeanour, but at the mercy of her finer feelings as a woman. I fair scuttled through this one, with its colourful characters, menacing atmosphere and brilliant period detail. Sordid, rumbustious and totally enjoyable. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Beloved Poison)

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. Typical Carter fare, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of the Month

Without a single moment of doubt, hesitation or procrastination, it can only be…

sealskin

Mesmeric and lyrical writing, weaving a folkloric tale

that will enchant you from beginning to end.