Raven’s February Round Up #PetronaAward2020

Hello everyone!

A fellow blogger chum, Dave at Espressococo was bemoaning the fact on Twitter that he couldn’t keep up with the ratio of reading books: reviewing books, and we have decided that we shall hence forth be known as #TheLeagueOfLaggardBloggers. I managed the giddy total of one review this month for the excellent Death Deserved- Thomas Enger & Jorn Lier Horst but I have actually read 15 books. Three more for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, (Jussi Adler Olsson- The Washington Decree, Thomas Enger- Inborn and Stefan Ahnhem- Motive X) five for blog tours scheduled for March ( better get my reviewing groove on for those!) and the little smorgasbord of delights below. I’m attributing blame to the stress of flooding which has badly affected where I live, so much so that we are debating to add the monicker On-Sea to our town, and the general hurly burly of stuff going on in my personal and work life at the moment. March will be calmer, and weather permitting, my reading/reviewing equilibrium will be restored…

With my current fetish for Japanese crime I read The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo back to back, which introduce the shambling, head-scratching private investigator Kosuke Kindaichi. Very much in the tradition of, and relecting the Japanese obsession with, the locked room mystery genre, both books are cleverly plotted, replete with red herrings and mind tickling twists in the narrative. I slightly preferred The Inugami Curse (trans. Yumiko Yamakazi) as the other book seemed a little more slight in its plotting, but would heartily recommend both as a sterling introduction to this author. As an aside, The Honjin Murders (trans. Louise Heal Kwai) also includes in the story a go-to list of other Japanese mystery writers which I have started exploring, and am looking forward immensely to the next Yokomizo to be produced by Pushkin Vertigo.

A world away from Japan I read three thrillers rooted in the UK and more specifically the North of England. I would absolutely recommend a debut thriller by Chris McDonald- A Wash of Black introducing DI Erika Piper. I sometimes find police procedurals a little samey, but McDonald has not only introduced a character to the genre who genuinely endeares herself to the reader, but is also involved in an investigation that keeps your attention, takes some unexpected turns, and some equally unexpected deaths. A nice bit of gore factor, a bit of movie gold dust and pacy plotting added to my satisfaction. Doesn’t hurt that I was also reminded of the Manchester crime novels of the woefully underrated Chris Simms too. Recommended.

Next up was The Alibi Girl by C. J. Skuse who can always be relied upon to produce an enjoyable, cynical and genuinely entertaining crime thriller. To me personally she also has the mantle of being one of the funniest people on Twitter with her acerbic observations and fabulous sarcasm as demonstrated by her brilliant book Sweetpea. I loved the premise of this really quite emotionally fragile woman inventing a host of personas, slewing them on and off like a snake skin, but ultimately of them being a very necessary form of armour for her as her back story unfolds. Sharp, perceptive and despite some of its lighter moments, has some interesting observations on the nature of family loyalty, the persistence of childhood memory and how it shapes us as adults. Recommended.

Last, but not least was Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. I must admit I did toy with reviewing this, but having talked about this book for a solid month as a promotion for work, I’ve tired of it somewhat, although I did enjoy reading it. Having such a gap in a character series I was gratified by how quickly it was to get back into Jackson Brodie world. He’s back, the excellent/annoying parenthesis are back and drawing on elements of the infamous Yew Tree investigations, Brodie is soon inveigled in a sinister case with what could be sinister repercussions. Atkinson once in demonstrates her flexibility as a writer, bringing her adroit style and fluidity to this genre as she does to her more ‘literary’ fiction.

Also managed to squeeze in a couple of non-fiction titles too with Monisha Rajesh Around The World In 80 Trains, her follow up to the brilliant Around India In 80 Trains,  which sees her tracking a course through Europe, Asia and the Americas. Filled with beautiful observations, some alarming interactions, and her genuine love for life on the tracks, I really lost myself in this one. The irony being that I read a good chunk of this which covered the amazing efficiency of the Japanese rail system, whilst stuck on a replacement bus service for a couple of hours!

Also read An Ode To Darkness by Sigri Sandberg (trans. Sian Mackie) which is a slim but fascinating assessment of how our lives are lived too much in the light, and how we need to embrace darkness on a psychological and emotional level. Referencing figures like Christiane Ritter (A Woman In The Polar Night) as emblematic of how to overcome the fear and isolation of darkness, Sandberg also makes a good fist of addressing her own irrational fear in the isolated reaches of Norway, surrounded by a world of darkness. Contemplative and thought provoking too.

 

With thanks to Orenda Books and Red Dog Press for Death Deserved and A Wash of Black respectively.

I bought The Honjin Murders, The Inugami Curse, The Alibi Girl, Big Sky, Around The World In 80 Trains and An Ode To Darkness

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C. M. Ewan- A Window Breaks- Extract

Today marks the publication of A Window Breaks by bestselling crime author Chris Ewan ( Safe House, Dark Tides, The Good Thief’s Guide To…) with a new nom de plume. Following the growing trend for British and Irish authors to diversify into tense Hollywood style action thrillers, Ewan has produced a genuinely nerve shredding tale full of breathless action that romps along at a fast clip like an increasingly violent adult version of Home Alone. You’ll be on the edge of your seat. Guaranteed. 

You are asleep. A noise wakes you.
You stir, unsure why, and turn to your wife.
Then you hear it.
Glass. Crunching underfoot.
Your worst fears are about to be realized.
Someone is inside your home.
Your choices are limited.
You can run. Or stay and fight.
What would you do?

Extract

CHAPTER 12

‘Tom?’

Rachel shook my shoulder.

‘Tom, wake up.’ She  whispered, close to my  ear: ‘I think I heard something.’

I groaned and mashed my face into my pillow.

‘Tom, it sounded like a window breaking. I think there’s someone downstairs.’

I groaned some more. Rachel is a light sleeper. She hears bumps in the night. And I’m the one she’s turned to – again and again – to get out of bed and creep downstairs to investigate.

‘Tom?’

It was warm and fuggy under the covers – my legs were tangled in Rachel’s legs – and I could so easily drift off again. I could hear the hitch of fear in  Rachel’s voice but it wasn’t quite enough to tug me back to full consciousness.

Then a vague distant noise made me stir. It could have been the sound of glass crunching underfoot.

My heart clenched as Rachel yanked on my upper arm. ‘Tom? Wake up. Please.’

Eyes open, listening hard.

The room was black. The only light was the faint glow of my wristwatch. It was just after 2 a.m.

Another slight crunching sound.

Oh God.

I blinked and stared into the pulsing darkness as a great sucking fear invaded my  chest. In my mind I was watching a kind of home movie rendered in fuzzy greyscale. I was picturing a long, uninterrupted tracking shot – the visual equivalent of the auditory hunt I was carrying out with my ears. The camera in my mind’s eye went snuffling across the carpet and out of the bedroom door. It sped low along the unlit hallway, sweeping left and right in small, tight arcs, like a bloodhound following a scent. When the camera reached the mezzanine it pitched up and then down over the polished steel banister rail overlooking the vaulted space below. It dropped on a wire, spinning and sweeping, sniffing out the source of the gritty crunching I had heard.

‘I’m scared, Tom.’ ‘Shh.’

Was that the whisper of the sliding glass door on to the deck being pulled back? And now the dull thud of the door hitting the rubber buffer?

Rachel clutched my arm again. I didn’t have any clothes on under the covers. And all right, it shouldn’t have been a big deal right then, but it’s amazing how being naked can make you feel more vulnerable.

Silence. I waited.

My heart jackhammered in my chest, pushing me up off the mattress. Rachel’s fingers dug into my flesh.

The silence persisted, but this was no natural hush. It felt loaded. Felt forced. Like somebody was holding their breath downstairs.

I was listening so intensely it was as if I could hear the throbbing of the very air itself – the sound of millions of tiny molecules rubbing and vibrating against one another.   It was a sound like no other. The sound of pure fear in the middle of the night.

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A gargantuan round-up! Parker Bilal, Adrian McKinty, Alex North, Trevor Mark Thomas, Guillaume Musso, Luca D’Andrea,

Stumbling upon a massive pile of books that I have read and failed to review, desperate measures are called for to address the problem, before I get even further behind! So, in an attempt to clean down the decks, so to speak, what follows is probably a rambling and longer than average round up of a veritable smorgasbord of thrillers. Hopefully there will be something for everyone here, and concealed within the round up will be a couple that will make a reappearance later in my Top Reads of 2019. Although some reviews will be briefer than others this is more to do with the stress level of being so far behind, although I’m sure this will fall by the wayside as I start to rave! 

So eyes down and here we go…

 

PARKER BILAL- THE DIVINITIES- When two bodies are found brutally murdered at a building site in Battersea, DS Calil Drake is first to the scene. He sees an opportunity: to solve a high-profile case and to repair his reputation after a botched undercover operation almost ended his promising career in the Violent Crimes Unit. Assigned to work with the enigmatic forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, and on the hunt for an elusive killer, Drake’s investigations lead down the dark corridors of the past – to the Iraq war and the destruction he and Crane witnessed there. With a community poised on the brink of violence, Crane and Drake must put their lives on the line to stop the killer before vengeance is unleashed…

I absolutely loved this opening salvo to a new London set crime thriller series from Parker Bilal, author of the Markana Investigations. Not only capturing the chasm existing between rich and poor in our capital city, and the general feel, spirit and energy of London, Bilal has produced the best police procedural I have read so far this year. The Divinities quickly reveals itself as a multi-faceted thriller, encompassing a gamut of issues and social observation, that gives layers of interest to what could have ostensibly been a straightforward narrative. I was intrigued, shocked and genuinely curious about the issues that Bilal raises, once again demonstrating how so much more of ‘real life’ can be encapsulated and distilled in a crime novel than more traditional forms of fiction. Drake and Crane are two of the most complex and interesting characters, working through and coming to terms with events from their chequered pasts, but adding a vitality and emotional heft to the narrative, sadly lacking from many police procedurals at the moment. What I also liked was the sensitive and compelling handling of the scars both mental and physical left on our protagonists through their prior involvement in warfare, and how difficult it is to make that transition from this life to their civilian careers. Both characters react and act to their own defined moral compass, and Bilal depicts the contrast between them beautifully, as they struggle at first to work together in a complex and testing investigation. This will probably be one of the few crime thrillers that I will re-read in later life (there’s no higher praise than that), but for now I would highly recommend this one, and am anticipating a similarly brilliant book two. No pressure…

(With thanks to The Indigo Press for the ARC)

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ADRIAN MCKINTY-THE CHAIN- Your phone rings. A stranger has kidnapped your child. To free them you must abduct someone else’s child. Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child. If any of these things don’t happen your child will be killed. You are now part of the chain… 

Without a doubt the most hyped crime book of the summer with stunning endorsements by Don Winslow, Steve Cavanagh et al, and to be honest, there is probably little more to be said about this tense, twisty and nerve wracking thriller. It’s great to see McKinty finally getting some of the kudos that is long, long overdue with this breakout book, and hopefully will gravitate people to some of his earlier books which I can heartily recommend having read them all. With shades of Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, McKinty has produced an accomplished page-turner with a unique premise, and although I was not quite as swept away as the majority of my fellow reviewers, I can see why The Chain has attracted the stellar reviews that it has as bringing something fresh to a very overcrowded sub-genre, and it’s tailor made for a film adaptation.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

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ALEX NORTH- THE WHISPER MAN- Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a much-needed fresh start. But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago, a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as ‘The Whisper Man’. Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He says he hears a whispering at his window . . .

Alex North is the pseudonym of an established crime novel whose work I have always admired greatly. With a change of name, publisher and style, North has produced a thriller that will very much appeal to a wider crime reading audience, and is definitely a chilling read to temper the summer heat. With shades of the great James Herbert combined with an interesting exploration of life beyond bereavement and the bond of father and son in the wake of the loss of their mutual anchor, North has produced a sinister and intriguing story with supernatural overtones. I will be a little bit of a party pooper and say that I did find parts of it a little slow and slightly lacking the darker, quirky finesse of the author’s previous books, but for the most part it worked well, and would definitely recommend.

(With thanks to Michael Joseph for the ARC)

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TREVOR MARK THOMAS- THE BOTHY- Tom is grieving for his girlfriend. Her powerful family, convinced he is responsible for her death, place a bounty on his head. On the run, Tom seeks refuge in the Bothy, a dilapidated moorland pub run by ageing gangster Frank. Tom tries to keep the bounty a secret, but news travels fast, even in the middle of nowhere…

Described by yours truly on Twitter as akin to Magnus Mills on meth, The Bothy proved to be something quite special from the outset. Tapping into the rising reputation and visibility of working class writing in the UK of late, Thomas has, with a limited cast of characters, constructed a dark, and unsettling book, packed to the gills with atmosphere and an overhanging miasma of violence. As Tom is sucked deeper into the strange, isolated world of the Bothy, and its attendant visitors and employees, one can’t help but wonder if he would be better off facing the music back home. Thomas’ sharp, punchy dialogue and his use of description to beautifully convey the cold, dirty shabbiness of Tom’s warped place of sanctuary, is absolutely first class. Throughout the book you feel completely immersed in the chaotic beauty of this isolated landscape, the sheer grit and grind of life, and the less than moral code that defines the lives of these characters. As this is a such a sinister and extremely claustrophobic tale of not your everyday country folk, I can’t reveal more about the violent chain of events that come to pass, but if you’re stout of heart and strong of stomach, I would absolutely recommend this to you.

(I bought this copy of The Bothy published by Salt Publishing)

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GUILLAUME MUSSO- THE REUNION- FRENCH RIVIERA, WINTER 1992 On a freezing night, as her high school campus is engulfed by a snowstorm, 19-year-old Vinca Rockwell runs away with Alexis, her philosophy teacher. No one will ever see them again. FRENCH RIVIERA, SPRING 2017 Formerly inseparable, Thomas, Maxime and Fanny – Vinca’s best friends – have not spoken in twenty-five years. But when they receive an invitation to their school reunion, they know they must go back one final time. Because there is a body buried in that school and they’re the ones who put it there…

Oh what tangled webs we weave with the folly of youth, as we soon discover in the dual timeline of The Reunion and a web that will prove particularly tricky for three former students with more than one secret between them. This is a top notch psychological thriller, effortlessly keeping the reader in a state of anticipation as Musso slowly drip, drip, drip feeds the events leading up to the disappearance of femme fatale Vinca, which gradually reveals a tale of jealousy, lust and greed, spanning families and decades. There are tricksy little twists in the narrative that genuinely caught me unawares, and there is a real assured sense of control as to how and when these little surprises are revealed to the reader.  Musso writes with a real sensitivity and intensity about the dilemmas of youthful emotion and obsession, and the changing perception we have of ourselves, and self realisation that we all experience as we grow older and look back on our younger selves. There is a real finesse to this one, and again a wonderful translation by Frank Wynne. Although it is hard to feel any kind of empathy with Musso’s cast of, it has to be said, quite self absorbed individuals, I was genuinely entranced by this clever and knotty thriller. Recommended.

(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)

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LUCA D’ANDREA- SANCTUARY- Marlene Wegener is on the run. She has stolen something from her husband, something priceless, irreplaceable. But she doesn’t get very far. When her car veers off a bleak midwinter road she takes refuge in the remote home of Simon Keller, a tough mountain man who lives alone with his demons. Here in her high mountain sanctuary, she begins to rekindle a sense of herself: tough, capable, no longer the trophy on a gangster’s arm. But Herr Wegener does not know how to forgive, and in his rage he makes a pact with the devil. The Trusted Man. He cannot be called off, he cannot be reasoned with and one way or another he will get the job done. Unless, of course, he’s beaten to it . . .

I read this some time ago, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. It’s a very strange story, somewhat reliant on coincidence, but there is something I can’t quite put my finger on that made it very readable. I’m not helping am I? Maybe, I’ll start with what I definitely liked, which was the isolated mountain setting of Marlene’s place of safety, and the slowly building relationship between her and the incredibly odd Simon Keller- a man at one with nature, with unsettling mystical healing powers and a frankly alarming sty of quite terrifying pigs- yep, said it was strange. Anyway, aside from this quite bizarre aspect to the story, there is all the tension of woman pursued by hitman with unlikely saviour, and there are some genuinely perilous moments for Marlene along the way. As much as this central premise works, there are some odd diversions in the course of the plot about ancient mystical healing, more about the murderous pigs, and a slightly baffling denouement, which further illustrates my general confusion to how much I enjoyed this. I liked it well enough, I think…

(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

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M. P. Wright- A Sinner’s Prayer

1970, Bristol. What’s buried doesn’t always stay buried. It’s a new decade and JT Ellington has taken himself out of the investigation game. But when an old friend asks him to help a doctor whose son disappeared hours after his wedding, JT’s commitment to a life lived under the radar is tested. His quest hurls him back into the underworld he’s worked so hard to leave behind. Charred remains in a churchyard, and a series of cold-blooded threats are stark warnings to JT, and to everyone he holds dear. Amid his terrorised community, JT locks horns with the vile underbelly of British far-right politics and a notorious gangland king. It’s not until JT uncovers a name from his own tragic past that the pieces of the investigation slot into place. But, with dark forces intent on destroying him, JT is pitted against an extraordinary enemy. He must play as dirty and dangerous as those who want him dead…

This is such a consistently excellent series that I would say from the outset it is an incredibly valuable use of your time to backtrack and begin from the beginning if you get the opportunity : Heartman, All Through The Night and Restless Coffins.  However, if you’re diving in to this one, The Sinner’s Prayer first, have no fear as you will soon become very well acquainted with Mr J. T. Ellington, his turbulent past and the very real dangers that threaten his present. Transporting us to Bristol in the 1970s, with an impeccable realisation of the city and the seamless inclusion of cultural and social references to root us firmly in this period, Wright leads us into a false of security with Ellington ( an ex colonial police officer hailing from Barbados) leading a quiet life as a school caretaker and caring for his adopted daughter, but trouble swiftly arrives on Ellington’s doorstep, and his natural impulse as an ex police officer and a ‘resting’ private investigator takes a hold when his newly acquired peace is threatened.

What defines Ellington as a character is his unerring sense of morality, the sense of atonement he carries from the dark events of his past, and his general compulsion to ‘do the right thing’ and give comfort to those that innocent victims leave in mourning. Sometimes his heightened sense of morality leads to him acting in ways slightly contrary to the law, but throughout the books there is just this resonance of goodness about him, whatever ends may justify the means. Of all the crime series I’ve read this is one of the few where I have a real picture of Ellington in my head, as due to the vividness of Wright’s characterisation I instinctively picture how Ellington dresses, moves and hear the cadence and rhythm of his speech. I hesitate to use the word flawless, but if any budding writer wants to know how to convey a character with absolute clarity to their reader, using relatively slight descriptions and implied characteristics that imprint on the reader’s imagination, this is a good place to start. Just to linger on characterisation for a little longer, this aptitude for an incredibly visual realisation of his central character is also extended to Ellington’s family, friends and criminal acquaintances, and tempted as I am to rattle on about Ellington’s colourful, criminal, unscrupulous and violent gangster cousin Vic, I will contain myself. I adore Vic, despite his borderline psychopathy, and the fact that the minute he enters the fray, you know that the danger and violence will be ramped up to the nth degree…

Once again, the storyline is tightly plotted, weaving in echoes of past events and people previously encountered as Ellington finds himself in the crosshairs of a powerful and influential local figure. Tasked with tracking down those responsible for two particularly insidious murders, Ellington faces a tricky task to discover who is be trusted or not, and how this case could be the dangerous he has faced to date. By engaging us so comprehensively with his characters, the twists, turns and inherent dangers of Ellington’s quest, become totally consuming as you feel very invested in him, and his less than honest associates. There are a more than a few unexpected twists in the narratives, and one demise of a character was followed by an audible gasp from me. On a bus. Full of people. In the course of Ellington’s investigation, outside of keeping up the necessary pace of the story, you are given space as a reader to think about and absorb some of the wider issues that Wright brings to the narrative, so it’s an incredibly satisfying blend of thriller and social and cultural observation.

I’m actually writing this review with a slight sense of loss hanging over me, as it would appear that this series is being put to bed for a while, with M. P. Wright stating that he wanted to deliver a sense of peace to Ellington and his kinfolk at the close of the series. All well and good, but by heck, does he put some of  them through an emotional and violent wringer first, once again proving the author’s prowess at plot, pace, characterisation, and his absolute ability to capture the zeitgeist of the period that he sets this series within. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a dip in the pure readability of all the previous books, and The Sinner’s Prayer is no exception to the rule, completely mirroring the obviously very high standard of writing that this author consistently produces. Absolutely recommended, and do bear in mind my advice to read all of the series. You won’t regret it…

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Raven reviews: Heartman / All Through The Night / Restless Coffins

An interview with M. P. Wright

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- A. A. Dhand- One Way Out

A bomb detonates in Bradford’s City Park. When the alert sounds, DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt.

The worst is yet to come. A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtaroon – the chosen ones. The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.

There is only one way out. But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtaroon, to offer the Patriots his own deal.  Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them…

Of late there have been a couple of “completely unputdownable, the only thriller you need to read this year, blah…” action thrillers, hyped to buggery that sadly have actually been quite disappointing. Oh no, you say, surely there must be a book that combines the pace of a high octane thriller, underscored by an incisive commentary on the nature of radicalism, with a thought provoking and touching meditation on family conflict and forgiveness. Well, funny you should say that. Having read the first three of Dhand’s DI Harry Virdee series, this being the fourth, I can honestly say that these books have quickly secured their grip on me, and boy, does this one ratchet up the action, with a backdrop of a terrorist atrocity in Bradford, and a race against time to prevent a further one.  Also, where the first three books are intrinsically caught up with Harry and his criminal brother Ronnie (the devil and the angel of Bradford with a nice blurring of these seemingly straightforward definitions), this book sees Ronnie absent, and Harry, his wife Saima and Harry’s parents, Ranjit and Joyti, firmly in the spotlight. So, let the fun begin…

Right let’s start with the pow, kaboom aspect of this book, and that is quite clearly, the energy, pace and tension that Dhand so assuredly weaves into the tick-tock race to foil another terrorist attack in Bradford. This is proper high-octane thriller writing as the clock ticks down towards a potential attack that could cost the lives of many people. I must admit throughout the entirety of this book, I was astounded by Harry’s mental flexibility, and physical prowess, as he is tasked by the Home Secretary, Tariq Islam, to round up a group of terrorists, before disaster strikes. Harry is nothing if not tenacious, quick thinking and seems to be able to absorb a fair amount of physical punishment along the way too, and I can totally guarantee that as each twist in the plot hits home, you will be reading breathlessly throughout. It’s fast and furious, compounded by some sublime plotting, and yet moments of solemn pause for thought, as Dhand explores the theme of radicalism, in all its guises, be it through religion, right-wing prejudice, or for the manipulation of society by political chicanery. This is definitely a plot filled with thrills, spills and compelling action, that, to use a well worn adage, will keep you on the edge of your seat, but also with some beautifully weighted moments of reflection on the greater forces at work behind this abominable course of events.

Having been on the periphery of the opening attack with his mum, Joyti and young son, Aaron, Dhand uses this as a recurrent motif in the book, that being the fundamental impulse of Harry as a husband, father and son, to protect his family, and something that not only influences his actions in the book, but also, importantly distracts him periodically from the task in hand. The theme of family, as in previous books, sounds loud as having Harry and his wife Saima so deeply involved in the main thrust of the action, Dhand dedicates an equal part of the book to the ongoing familial conflict that Harry has experienced through his marriage as a Sikh to his Muslim wife Saima and the seemingly unbridgeable gap this has caused in his relationship with his parents, and most significantly with his father Ranjit. Tasked with caring for Harry and Saima’s young son Aaron as events unfold, Harry’s parents Ranjit and Joyti provide perhaps the most emotionally charged element of the book, as Ranjit tries to come to terms with his prejudice and dislike of Harry’s involvement with a Muslim woman. There is an incredibly enlightening account of Ranjit’s experiences as a child which shines a light on his fear and prejudices, and what we witness is a man in a huge amount of emotional turmoil, where hatred and love clash so deeply in his psyche, particularly in such close proximity to his grandson. Dhand depicts this beautifully, putting both his characters, and us as readers, through an emotional wringer, and I felt myself increasingly moved by Ranjit’s struggle to come to terms with his ingrained prejudice, with some truly heart wrenching and poignant writing in this part of the narrative.

So, as you’ve probably gathered this was a superb read, and demonstrates once again, how Dhand excels in particular with the issues that surround family conflict, and how relationships flounder and stall when prejudice raises its ugly head. Equally, this is a terrific thriller, with a verve and energy that sits as a wonderful counterpoint to the more soul searching dilemmas that arise as a consequence of the unfolding terrorist plot, so relevant to the increasing grip of radicalism across the world today. What I love about Dhand as a writer is the obvious pressure that he puts himself under as an author, and there is a real sense of him pushing himself a little bit further with every book, that is leading to some absolutely superlative writing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Transworld/Bantam for the ARC)

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- William Shaw- Deadland

The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it.

On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law. However,  as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide… 

The latest addition to William Shaw’s superlative DS Alexandra Cupidi series following The Birdwatcher and Salt Lane, Deadland returns us to the haunting coastal area of Dungeness, and two compelling investigations for Cupidi and her colleagues…

It’s no secret that I think William Shaw is one of the most accomplished, and consistently good crime authors at work in Britain today, and I always embark on his new books with a slight nervous tingle, hoping that each will be as satisfying as the previous. Which brings us to Deadland which was everything I hoped it would be (massive sigh of relief). What I love with this series (and his previous trilogy featuring DS Cathal Breen and PC Helen Tozer) is the way that Shaw, in common with his coastal location, ebbs and flows with his characters, moving them around like chess pieces bringing them back and forwards to the centre of the storyline with Capaldi being at the rooted centre. Consequently, this book reintroduces us to disgraced ex-police officer William South from The Birdwatcher, and where Salt Lane was very much involved with the generational differences of Capaldi, her mother and her daughter, this book switches the focus more onto Capaldi’s colleagues, alongside the central investigations.

I think it’s worth drawing attention to this, to emphasize the sheer quality of Shaw’s characterisation, and how roundly and believably drawn his characters are. Capaldi is a professional working mother with a recalcitrant teenage daughter, South is a man obviously tarnished by his prison experience, constable Jill Ferriter experiencing professional and personal difficulties, a diversion into the weird and wonderful inhabitants of the ‘art’ world and, at the heart of the book two wayward teenage boys, Tap and Sloth, with their own trials and tribulations. Without a doubt, each and every one of these characters are brimming with realism, so that you feel totally part of their contrasting experiences and world views. The narrative voice of each is precise, and authentic, and this is particularly true of Tap and Sloth, and the changes we see in their brash teenage bravado as the book progresses. With subtle changes in rhythm and syntax, Shaw brings all these voices to life, and with it an even greater connection to them for the reader.

Another element of this book that I enjoyed was the striking juxtaposition of the two investigations that Capaldi and her colleagues are tasked with. Throughout his books Shaw has always tackled difficult social issues be they of the 1960s or now, and the fact that this book straddled two very economically and materially different worlds was an interesting facet of the book. From the dripping wealth and pretentiousness of the art world, to the very different world inhabited by the teenage protagonists, Shaw retains the tension of both, and how crime bridges all social strata and class. It’s also interesting to observe the changes of attitude in the police characters between both investigations, and where their sympathies lie, and how their own attitudes reveal themselves. Indeed, the fears and frustrations at play in this book, in both their professional and personal lives too, are as finely balanced with the arc of the plot, holding the whole book in balance, as Shaw assuredly takes us between these contrasting worlds and characters. Sometimes with two storylines playing out there is a tension in the reader to return to one more swiftly than the other, but I think this was neatly avoided with both strands of the story having their own particular pace and moments of peril. I must confess that my former blissful ignorance of the art world kept me wholly engaged as the book progressed, and admittedly none of my preconceptions about the inhabitants of this world were largely disproved. Which was nice.

So a glowing review for Deadland and another heartfelt plea to discover this author for yourselves. With pitch perfect characterisation, immersive storylines, a striking use of location, and accomplished writing and plotting, there is so much to enjoy in this series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

#BlogTour- Iain Maitland- Mr Todd’s Reckoning

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.

The father- Mr Todd is at his wits’ end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home… with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.

The son- Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?

The unholy spirit in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again…

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Iain Maitland’s previous book Sweet William which I thoroughly enjoyed, so jumped at the chance to read Mr Todd’s Reckoning and participate in this blog tour, for what looked to be a deliciously dark and disturbing read. I was not disappointed…

When I was a child, I had the very good fortune of an open-minded mum who allowed me to watch programmes not entirely suited to my young age, Tales of the Unexpected being a good example of this. Perhaps because of this my taste in crime fiction has always swayed to the darker content, and from the outset this book provoked in me a strong remembrance of the brilliant and unsettling twisted tales of Mr Dahl, where a situation that appears to be fairly normal and ordinary is slowly revealed to be something much more disturbing indeed. As I entered the world of disgraced ex-tax inspector Malcolm Todd and that of his troubled son Adrian, my antennae were twitching and for good reason, as Maitland constructs a particularly chilling tale of murder and sexual obsession from the most commonplace beginning…

Once again, this review presents its own serious dilemmas in what to reveal and withhold, but suffice to say as the character of Malcolm Todd is stripped down and exposed to the world, what comes to light is not only the chagrin of a middle aged man consigned to the employment scrapheap, but a man who harbours some incredibly dark secrets indeed, and an incredible aptitude for dealing with life’s awkward or inconvenient episodes in his own inimitable style. He is possessed of a wonderful narcissism that disabuses him of any perception of how his words or actions may be received, and I found the incredibly dry wit with which Maitland recounts these episodes through his character was uncomfortably hilarious. Which is a good thing.

Throughout the book there is an incredibly matter of fact tone to Todd, who confronts any inconvenience head-on, quick to justify his actions, as he little or no self-awareness of how this affects others, and with an incredibly measured acceptance that it’s all for the good. Despite what is slowly revealed throughout the book, I experienced a considerable amount of reading pleasure from this character, as his solipsistic behaviour becomes more and more extreme as the book progresses, and the narrative builds up the claustrophobic relationship between us and him, as we bear witness to his increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour. I think it’s fair to say that he is dislikeable in the extreme, and as the general air of threat and violence unfolds, our antagonism towards him increases steadily, until the wholly satisfying conclusion.

This book is dark to the nth degree, dealing with a broad compass of human frailties, from jealousy to obsession to perversion to revenge, and there is a good deal of fairly graphic violence too, and speaking from experience, perhaps best avoided on your lunch break. However, I think that this level of uncompromising violence worked extremely effectively, as the day to day humdrum of Todd’s suburban life is increasingly interrupted, by situations and people that need to be dealt with, for real or imagined transgressions. Maitland is so adept at portraying the finer details of this dull and down-at-heel household, with it’s shabby furnishings and peeling wallpaper, that by stressing the ordinariness of the Todds’ existence, the reader is so adroitly unsettled when particular incidents occur.  I admit that the darker aspects of this book were wonderfully surprising, and with a couple of real gasp-out-loud incidents, I loved being drawn into a seemingly normal life that was anything but, and the sheer depth of evil that was lurking behind the grubby net curtains.

Recommended…if you’re brave enough…

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Catch up with blog tour at these excellent sites: