20th Anniversary #BlogTour- J.J. Connolly- Layer Cake @vivajjconnolly “Layer Cake remains a classic of London crime, and a lucid and compelling tale of the criminal underworld.” @Duckbooks

Layer Cake, a metaphor for the many murky layers of the criminal world, is set in modern day London and features smooth-talking drug dealer X who has a plan to quietly bankroll enough cash to retire before his thirtieth birthday. Operating under the polished veneer of a legitimate businessman, his mantra is to keep a low profile and run a tight operation until it’s time to get out .

When kingpin Jimmy Price asks him to find the wayward daughter of a wealthy socialite who’s been running around with a cokehead, he accepts the job with the promise that after this he can leave the criminal world behind with Jimmy’s blessing. Oh, and he needs to find a buyer for two million ecstasy pills acquired by a crew of lowly, loud-mouth gangsters, the Yahoos. Simple enough, until an assassin named Klaus arrives to scratch him off his list, revealing this job is much more than it seems at first…

In much the same way as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting defined a generation in Scottish fiction, I believe that Layer Cake did much the same for London based crime fiction. The influence of this book on some of the best known London noir crime writers is inescapable, and J. J. Connolly really set the bar high for those following in his wake. It’s been a real pleasure dusting off my old copy of this and entering this violent and visceral world once again…

The characterisation of this disparate band of gangsters and wannabe gangsters is superlative from beginning to end, and they are, without exception so vividly drawn that the reader can picture each of them in all their sullied glory. Connolly plays close attention to how these men hold themselves, their physicality and manner of dress, and in this world where the appearance of confidence and strength is the key to success, it becomes easy to identify the weak and powerless who will definitely not make it to the end of the book. Despite having the moral code of a band of backstreet alley cats, I love that these men have a taste for the finer things in life be it smart threads, flashy motors and the finest food and drink. Much of their business is conducted in the rarefied air of high end restaurants and exclusive clubs, but equally in dodgy cafes and unsavoury boozers.

Our unnamed narrator, has all the street-smarts and at a relatively tender age is assured in his mission to retire at 30, unscathed and unpunished for his more nefarious drug dealings behind his appearance of respectability. Throughout the book, he not only cleverly negotiates the world of the gangster kingpins, but is more often than not, manipulated at the whim of others and things begin to get very dodgy indeed for him. I like the way that Connolly uses him as a mirror to the unsavoury cohorts encircle him, and through his perception of them, and their outbursts of violence, we get an even more vivid picture of these sometimes desperate and always dangerous men. In this world where money is all and double dealing the way to get on, there is little in the way of honesty, but there are flashes of loyalty and friendship that transcend this tough, dog-eat-dog and immoral world. The sudden and visceral outbursts of violence are as natural to these men as breathing, and as they alternately turn on each other, or band together to defeat outside forces, The psychological aspects of their personalities really fleshes them out for the reader, and poses puzzles all of its own as their behaviours change and by extension our perception of them.

The raw earthiness of Connolly’s prose is relentless, so for those of a sensitive disposition and an aversion to profanity, you would probably best avoid this. Even for a hardened reader the sheer weight of colloquialisms, street slang and swearing, added to the pace and rat-a-tat dialogue and narrative can be a little overwhelming at times, but the breath-taking scope of Connolly’s vocabulary and prose is a marvel. The prose is harshly rhythmical with a beat and musicality all of its own and although I have read the book a few times over the years, and I never tire of the snappy prose and the raw rhythm of the language  that the book marches along to.

Admittedly, some of the book seems a little dated now in terms of how time has moved on and how technology plays a much bigger part in the world of cross border drug dealing, but of its time, Connolly’s Layer Cake remains a classic of London crime and a lucid and compelling tale of the drug underworld. There is a raw sophistication instead of a sleek one, as the book does untangle a little in terms of tight narrative, and goes off in tangents at some points, but it’s all part of its charm. This is probably why I’ve always loved it, and will always return to it when the opportunity arises, Highly recommended.

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Check out the exclusive signed editions available from NO ALIBIS BOOKS

(With thanks to Duckworth for the PDF ARC, although I read my twenty year old beaten up, well loved copy!)

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#BlogTour Will Carver- Hinton Hollow Death Trip “I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.” @will_carver @OrendaBooks

It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened. Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120. Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow. Because something was coming.
Narrated by Evil itself, it recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.

Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan…

If I thought that reviewing Will Carver’s previous book Nothing Important Happened Today was damn tricky, it was a walk in the park compared to Hinton Hollow Death Trip which poses infinitely more stumbling blocks to coherent reviewing. As tempted as I am to just say this one freak-ass weird book, which you definitely need to read, that doesn’t really give you much to go on, does it? So dear reader, I feel duty bound to do this properly… cue sharp inhalation of breath and cracking of knuckles…

Centred on a  rural community of 5000+ souls, “a quaint little nowhere,” this is so much more than an everyday tale of small town folk, as Evil walks among them coercing and cajoling these most ordinary of people to behave in ways completely alien to them, and to lay themselves bare to the depraved machinations of this malevolent force. As Evil says, “Fear is my greatest tool. It can be used to make a person do almost anything…It is a slow and deadly poison,” and as he bestrides this small town, gradually infecting and influencing its residents, you are pretty sure from the outset that this will not end well. As Evil recounts a host of horrifying events and disasters, that it has been party to, it blames the small minded, selfish beings that we have become, and through Carver’s examination of our fatuous obsession with social media, our pettiness, narcissism, our destruction of the planet, and cruelties to each other and animals too, you kind of get to thinking that Evil has a point as it observes, “You keep pushing and pushing. Wanting more and more. Listening less and less…Humankind has created evil at a rate that even I cannot keep up with.” 

As with his previous book, I delight in Carver’s diatribes on the sheer bloody uselessness of the majority of human beings, and found myself nodding sagely at some of the more barbed and amusing observations of the human race. very little in modern culture escapes Carver’s microscopic analysis, and this book is full of them. The calorific breakdown of biscuits is, of course, an essential need to know. However, balanced with the more throwaway and blackly funny observations, this book is cut through with the seriousness of our stupidity, and using the trope of Evil to filter this, brings a mixture of thought provoking and poignant meditations on our failings, hopes and how far we would sacrifice ourselves for others. As much as there are individuals in this book pushed into acts of cruelty, Carver never loses sight of their ordinariness, not all of these people are inherently bad, indeed some of them sacrifice themselves quite nobly, but I found it interesting that in some cases, the smallest nudge from Evil really does lead to some quite depraved deeds from where you would least expect it.

Consequently reading this book Carver is playing with and manipulating our emotions from start to finish, and I found this quite fun- I do like a bit of reader participation. An initial perception of a character can be changed in an instant, people you wouldn’t feel sorry for are suddenly made sympathetic, people in similar situations act in different ways, leading you to think what you would do and so on. Obviously some characters are just odious eejits, and your hackles are raised, your indignation aroused, and then someone dies. And then more people die. And then a couple more just for luck. It’s great.  Held together by the first person narration of Evil, as it moves everybody around in a sadistic game of chess, we once again encounter the hangdog and hapless DS Pace still reeling from the events of the previous book. I have a great affection for Pace, so woebegone, so incapable of relating to anyone, but an almost worthy adversary for Evil itself, but can this really end well for him?

As you’ve probably realised, I’ve told you next to nothing about the plot of Hinton Hollow Death Trip, so my own evil plan has worked well. Instead, I would encourage you to read this yourselves, much as I did with not the faintest clue of what would lie ahead. All manner of human life is contained within it, with people behaving badly, bravely, stupidly or nobly. You will gasp, you will laugh, you will quizzically wrinkle your brow, you will ponder the dark inner workings of Carver’s brain, but I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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FINAL Hinton Hollow BT Poster

#BlogTour- Rod Reynolds- Blood Red City- @Rod_WR @OrendaBooks “Reynolds immerses us in a world where money talks, the media whitewashes, and a seemingly impenetrable cabal of powerful figures pull the strings.”

When crusading journalist Lydia Wright is sent a video of an apparent murder on a London train, she thinks she’s found the story to revive her career. But she can’t find a victim, much less the killers, and the only witness has disappeared. Wary she’s fallen for fake news, she begins to doubt her instincts – until a sinister call suggests that she’s not the only one interested in the crime. Michael Stringer deals in information – and doesn’t care which side of the law he finds himself on. But the murder on the train has left him exposed, and now he’ll stop at nothing to discover what Lydia knows. When their paths collide, Lydia finds the story leads through a nightmare world, where money, power and politics intersect, and information is the only thing more dangerous than a bullet…

Having enjoyed Rod Reynold’s previous series set in the United States, Blood Red City marks a change of direction for this author. Now firmly ensconced in the greedy and grimy streets of London, this book has shades of both State Of Play and McMafia, enlivened by Reynold’s unique and compelling writing style…

In writing a thriller with a storyline such as this, there is always a danger that a writer will drift too far down the Hollywood road, relying on coincidence and unbelievable twists to push the action on and provide that high octane pace that comes with the territory. What Reynolds gives us is a skilfully crafted and perfectly balanced thriller that feels incredibly rooted in reality without the bells and whistles that others rely on. From the opening scenes of an apparent murder on the London Underground, the drawing in of a tenacious and determined journalist, and the shadowy figure of a man for hire, what unfolds before us is a tale of duplicity, greed and corruption that sucks you in and spits you out at the end, drained, yet satisfied.

For my money, and having a read a few thrillers this year which circle the same kind of plot as this, I think this is the best of the recent bunch. The plotting is so finely controlled with just the right amount of change of gear in terms of pace, and reveal, that although it doesn’t stint on the page count, I found myself reading big, meaty sections of it in one sitting. Giving nothing away I’m sure most of us are extremely aware of the correlation behind the scenes of crime and politics, so what perturbed me the most was how believable this all felt, with the incredible influence of money and power at the root of the story, and at the very heart of the corruption that plays out before us. Reynolds immerses us in a world where money talks, the media whitewashes, and a seemingly impenetrable cabal of powerful figures pull the strings.

I loved the front and centre role that London occupies in this book where, whether you are familiar or unfamiliar with it, Reynolds neatly captures the most resonant features of the metropolis. The rush of stale air before a tube train arrives, the streets, the noise, the pace, the grinding poverty, the glittering, grasping riches, and the very essence of the city. By paying such attention to the location itself, and like his previous books, the author transfers us into his very visual and almost tactile rendition of the city, and as his characters live, work and are pursued through its streets in extreme danger, the city is the constant and completely perfect backdrop for the web of corruption and danger he places his characters within.

So into the pulsating heart of the living, breathing city and its shadowy, scheming powerbrokers, Reynolds gives us two main characters, diametrically opposed to each other, in almost every way possible, but with a growing sense that together they are stronger. Lydia Wright, dedicated journalist with a strong moral code, fiercely loyal to those she holds dear, but unafraid to go off in pursuit of a story with wrongs to be righted. Her character is underpinned by a  tendency to trust the wrong people, particularly one scurrilous individual whose card I had marked from early on, and a slightly too gung-ho attitude in the face of some considerable danger. I liked her very much, flaws and all, and I also admired the way that Reynolds didn’t manipulate her character to make her act unfeasibly out of character, keeping a sense of ordinariness about her, but not shying away from her sense of determination and loyalty, when the pressure is on. Which brings us to Michael Stringer, a man for hire, whose true intentions and character are more of a closed book for a fair amount of the book, perhaps because of his bad start in life, and by his current shady employment. Who is he and who is he working for, and as the more secretive aspects of Stringer’s character are gradually revealed, can Lydia really trust him?…

So, Blood Red City more than proves itself as a thriller with edgy tension, a powerful and well constructed plot, and a stark insight into a world of violence, greed and corruption within the echelons of power.

Intrigued? You will be.

Gripped? Definitely.

On the edge of your seat? Oh yes…

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Lockdown Reads Round Up- Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted/ Craig Robertson- Watch Him Die/Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers/ David Jackson- The Resident @gobergmoser @CraigRobertson_ @lkauthor @Author_Dave

One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…

GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . . 

Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted.  I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.

I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…

Highly recommended…if you dare…

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

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CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die… 

I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.

Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle. 

Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.

I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)

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DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…

I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…

What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces.  And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.

What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.

 (With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- Iain Maitland- The Scribbler “A compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read.” @IainMaitland @SarabandBooks @RKbookpublicist

DI Gayther and his rookie colleague DC Carrie have been assigned a new caseload. Or rather, an old one: cold cases of LGBTQ+ murders dating back to the 1980s and beyond. Georgia Carrie wasn’t even born when the notorious serial killer began his reign of terror across the East of England. Roger Gayther was on the force that failed to catch him and remembers every chilling detail. Now, after all these years, there’s a sudden death featuring The Scribbler’s tell-tale modus operandi. Can Gayther and Carrie track the murderer down and bring him to justice before the slaughter starts again?

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing two of Iain Maitland’s previous books, Sweet William and Mr Todd’s Reckoning, both of which impressed me greatly with Maitland’s ability to draw the reader into seemingly ordinary lives with a real darkness lurking beneath. Consequently, being offered the chance to review The Scribbler, the first of a projected series was hard to resist…

Aside from the darker content of the book, which I will come to later, the real hook with this one is how character driven it is. Maitland establishes the relationships between his main police protagonists incredibly quickly, instantly drawing the reader into the working relationship of the older and greyer DI Roger Gayther and his younger colleague DC Georgia Carrie. It was hugely satisfying to feel an instant camararderie between them, and the teasing nature of their interactions, denoted by the tendency of both to slightly mock the other afforded by their relevant age and experience. Hence, Gayther at times seems somewhat of a dinosaur when it comes to technology and youth culture, but with a wealth of knowledge, and Carrie is humorously immune to his outdated showbiz references, a little naïve with her keenness and her slightly gung-ho attitude, but also incisive. It was incredibly refreshing to encounter a detective duo not driven solely by emotional trauma, and there was a lightness of touch about Maitland’s depiction of them, that leads to a real sense of reader empathy with them as the plot progresses. Hold that thought, as there is real trouble ahead. Bolstered by a couple of wet-behind-the-ears trainee detectives, who Maitland hints will have a greater role as the series progresses, Gayther and Carrie were absolutely central to my enjoyment of the book.

Just dwelling on character a little bit longer, I was also impressed by the roundness and depth that Maitland affords to his bad guy of the piece, the serial killer himself. Whilst trying desperately to avoid any spoilers, what I will say is that the author avoids those terribly cliched black and white depictions of a monster in human form, and instead builds up a picture of a damaged soul with deep psychological disturbance, that makes his actions as clear to us, as plainly as his own damaging motivation. There is a core of morality at his centre, and as we gain insight into his familial connections and his upbringing, we find our perception of him changing and, dare I say, softened. In common with Maitland’s previous books, his characters are exceptionally well-defined with surprising undercurrents and reveals that cause us to assess and reassess them as the story unfolds.

With the book centring on cold cases, and more specifically murder cases and disappearances involving LGBTQ+ victims, Maitland has successfully ploughed a new furrow. I have certainly read crime novels involving LGBTQ+ victims and detectives, but none that combine these additional elements. As we bear witness to a catalogue of failings and oversights on the original cases, where crimes of this sort were invariably not afforded the same time and resources as others, we begin to appreciate the small steps that the police have made since then to rectify these prejudices. Gayther and Carrie hold no such prejudice, and despite some internal pressure begin to unravel the complexities of these cases, the poignant secrecy and shame of the victims, and the detectives’ progress towards the apprehension of the perpetrator himself. The Scribbler is well-paced, engaging and punctuated by both episodes of extreme pathos, and by turns, unexpected humour, leading to a compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read. Watch out for that ending which will bite you on the nether regions… Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

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Trevor Wood- The Man On The Street

It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight. Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story. The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new. But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose…

There is little that gladdens the heart more than encountering a debut novel that absolutely strikes a chord with you as a reader, but also promises that you have discovered an author that will probably remain a firm favourite for years to come. With The Man On The Street, Trevor Wood has achieved just that, with a crime novel that is both compelling and unerringly perceptive…

Up to this point I had only read crime novels that if a homeless person appeared in them, it was always as a periphery character, either as a witness to a crime or as a snout, an occasional source of information to the main investigator. What Wood does is put the character of Jimmy front and centre, a homeless man, deeply scarred emotionally and haunted by his military service in the Falklands, as his main protagonist. Rarely, have I read such a well-formed and utterly believable character, and felt such a deep-seated compassion and empathy as a result of this. Accompanied by his constant companion Dog, Jimmy drifts through the city with a cloak of invisibility, trying to keep anonymous and to not attract the attentions of those who derive pleasure from meting out violence on the homeless community. Estranged from his wife and daughter, Jimmy is obviously suffering from PTSD, tormented by nightmares, and with events from the war being triggered by sensory factors like sound or smell. As he unwittingly becomes involved in a murder investigation, Jimmy proves that the old adage that, “a true hero is not measured by the size of his strength, but the strength of his heart.”  Despite his tough past, Jimmy has a strong moral core, and when weighing up how far to get involved in events, and how this could impact on him, is drawn to doing the right thing, be it tracking a killer, or protecting those he has a personal alliance with. I also liked the way that Wood dialled down the intensity of Jimmy’s character in his interactions with a couple of his homeless pals, giving wonderful little chinks of humour and lightness to the book.

With the book being set in Newcastle Upon Tyne, this obviously struck a note with me personally having lived there for several years. There was a certain particular joy that as Jimmy circumnavigates the city, it evoked a fond remembrance in me of places I am very familiar with. However, thanks to the clarity of Wood’s description of each locale, Newcastle is vividly drawn, capturing the spirit and verve of this unique city, but also unashamedly depicting the more downtrodden and threatening aspects of it too. Psychogeography plays a real part in the book I noticed, where Jimmy’s mood and fight or flight instinct is very much influenced by the areas of the city he traverses, so there are definite spaces of calm or threat for him, and this worked incredibly well. I also found the scenes depicting Jimmy’s traumatic experience within the confines of a naval ship incredibly powerful and so vivid that you were absolutely rooted in the heat, the noise and panic in the midst of an attack. Consequently, the flashbacks that Jimmy experiences throughout the book take him, and by extension us, back to this scene of trauma in an intensely deep way, arousing empathy in the reader. On a smaller scale I grew up in a naval city during the Falklands and the sight of those damaged ships limping back to port and my school friends losing brothers or fathers in this conflict will never leave me either. This makes the emotional depiction of Jimmy’s trauma all the more affecting and poignant for me personally, and certainly for readers generally.

As I like to give nothing away about plots, guess what? I’m giving nothing away about the plot, but suffice to say as you sail along on a story that keeps you utterly gripped, there is an absolutely bobbydazzler of a reveal at the latter end of the book; unexpected, dark and beautifully done. Taking this in conjunction with the characterisation, location, and the wonderful fluidity of Wood’s writing, The Man On The Street is genuinely one of the most unusual and affecting books I have read for some time. A dead cert for my Top 10 of the Year, although it’s only April, and I will be champing at the bit so see what Wood writes next. No pressure…

Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

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: